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Rainbow Falls Trail – Gorges State Park

Rainbow Falls NC
Rainbow Falls, the main destination of this hike – Photo by willyk

Rainbow Falls Trail located in Gorges State Park, NC is a rally nice deep woods hike, that begins in Gorges State Park and ends in Pisgah National Forest at either Rainbow Falls or Turtleback Falls.   The hike is rated strenuous, not due to the length, but due to the hilly nature of the trail itself.

Location: Gorges State Park near Sapphire NC
Roundtrip Distance: 3.0 – 3.5 mile roundtrip
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Features: Two beautiful waterfalls, a swimming hole, dense wood hiking, riverside hiking
Directions: The trailhead begins in Gorges State Park, located off Highway 281 South near Sapphire NC. From Brevard, NC, take 64 South, turn left onto 281 South. The Gorges State Park will be on your left. Follow the road to the very back parking lot (Grassy Ridge).  The address for the Gorges State Park visitor center is: 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774.
Recommended Gear: Good hiking boots or shoesDaypackDayhiker First Aid KitSunscreen, some snacks, plenty of water,[easyazon_link keywords=”Water shoes” locale=”US” tag=”blueridgemountainlife-20″]Water shoes[/easyazon_link]and a bathing suit if you think you might want to swim or slide.

Rainbow Falls Hike

The hike begins at the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, located at the very far end of the Grassy Ridge area of Gorges State Park.   Walk to the end of the main parking lot, and you’ll see numerous billboards with information about the trails and area.  The trail blazes are small metal circles colored blue and orange.

The trail begins with a gravel base and a gradual decent downwards and after a short time, splits.  Rainbow Falls trail goes to the right, and uses an orange trail blaze.

You’ll very soon hear the roar of the Horsepasture River as it echoes off of the gorge to your left.  The trail continues it’s decent downwards and becomes a bit steeper until it reaches a small stream crossing, then goes upwards for short period.

Entering Pisgah National Forest

Shortly after crossing the stream, you’ll see signs indicating your area leaving Gorges State Park.  The trail continues on the other side into Pisgah National Forest.  You’ll continue to decend and cross another creek. The gravel base stops shortly after leaving Gorges State Park, and becomes a dirt base, which can get a little slick and muddy after a rain.

The trail blazes also stop once you cross into Pisgah National Forest, but the trail is easy to follow.  There are a couple of small secondary trails that lead off in various directions, just continue on the wider more heavily walked trail.

As you continue to walk, you’ll pass through a campsite – You’ll see the campfire, continue through.  The trail at this point is very close to Horsepasture River and begins it’s climb upwards.   You’ll see a number of small and unofficial trails to the left towards the river.  These make for some great photo opportunities.

Rainbow Falls NC

Rainbow Falls NCContinue to walk for another 1/2 mile, and you’ll arrive at a clearing, with a long wooden fence on the left side.  You’ll see, hear and feel the mist from Rainbow Falls.   The view here is above and directly in front of the Falls, and it’s stunning.  Rainbow falls is a tall and majestic waterfall.  This perspective also provides the best opportunity to see the rainbow that is often visible in the mist during them morning light.

Continuing past the fence, the trail will split.  The trail to the left leads to an overlook that provides a close-up view of the falls.  The trail to the right and upwards continues on up to wards Turtleback Falls.  The trail continues a pretty steady climb upwards from here to Turtleback, and contains lots of stairs.

Shortly after passing the top of Rainbow Falls, you’ll pass through an open area with access to the river above Rainbow Falls.  This area provides a unique view of the top of the waterfall.  But be very very careful, the current is strong, and the falls are not far down.  The view is beautiful, but people have died here.

Turtleback Falls NC

You’ll arrive at Turtleback Falls after about a quarter of a mile.  You can continue up past Turtleback Falls to see Drift Falls, but much of the property around the falls is private, so we elected to not go up that far.

Turtleback Falls NC

You return to the trailhead and parking lot by following the same path back.

About the author

Larry Deane is co-owner of Blue Ridge Mountain Life. He has spent more than 20 years exploring the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and has a deep passion for nature, history, storytelling, and adventure. Along with his wife Jenn, they combined these passions to create Blue Ridge Mountain Life, a travel guide to these stunning mountains they are fortunate to call home.

Larry has more than 20 years of experience as a writer and journalist, and has established himself as a leading voice and expert for Blue Ridge Mountains. He is also an avid hiker, photographer, and videographer. He loves sharing his mountain adventures and knowledge with more than 500,000 people per month on Blue Ridge Mountain Life.


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