a giant plume of water plunges over a granite cliff, racing across large boulders on its way to the middle saluda river 1,000 feet below. the trek to rainbow falls is challenging, but the water is worth it.
Rainbow Falls is a 5 mile round-trip, out-and-back trail in Western South Carolina’s popular Jones Gap State Park. The sunlight shining through the park’s leafy foliage overhead casts shadows that dance atop the rushing waters that run through this special place.
Get ready: From Greenville, South Carolina, Jones Gap State Park is a 45 minute drive, mostly along U.S. 276. Stop in Traveler’s Rest for anything you might need on the trail (this is a good place to grab a bite or drink post-hike, too). After you pass through Cleveland, look for a sign pointing you to the park on the right – take a right onto River Falls Road at the F-Mart. Follow the road for about 4.5 miles – the road will take you right into the park.
Get set: If you’re heading to the trail on a weekend day, don’t be surprised to be stopped at the gate by a ranger.
There are only 37 cars allowed in the parking lot, which helps control the foot traffic on the trails. If the spots are filled, rangers will have you wait in your car until the next party leaves.
Pro tip: if you have to wait, don’t fret. turn your car off and explore the banks of the middle saluda river that runs alongside the road – she’s a beauty!
Once you do park (through the gates, second turn on the right), pay your day use fees – $5 per person – and hit the trail.
Go: The trail is on the east side of the lot. Follow it until you reach the visitor’s center (the bathrooms are nearby!). Then cross the river and turn right to set off on the Jones Gap Trail (blue blazes). After about .75 miles of walking along the river, you’ll see red blazes appear to the right – follow the red and continue on to tackle the Rainbow Falls Trail.
Over about 1.5 miles, you’ll climb 1,000 feet. This trail will test your endurance! We took a couple breaks to catch our breath. About halfway up, stop to rinse your hands off in Cox Camp Creek as the water falls over a giant boulder. As you near the falls, you’ll catch a glimpse of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains to the north.
When you get to the falls, your jaw just might drop.
This waterfall is impressive – it drops some 100 feet over black and tan striped granite.
Grab a seat on one of the many boulders and gaze up at it. Or, if you dare, cross the pool of water farther up (VERY CAREFULLY – it’s a strong current), and climb up to the giant rock that sits at the waterfall’s base. This makes for a stunning photograph. When you’re done, return the way you came.
Effort: While the mileage might not intimidate the more experienced hiker, you’ll soon realize the 1,000 feet in elevation gain will do the trick of testing your physical might. Beginners should plan on bringing ample water and taking lots of little breaks. While the ascent will challenge you, the trip back to your car will be much easier. It’s always amazing how much quicker it is to get back down – especially if you’re hungry!
Takeaways: This is a fabulous hike to do in the spring, when the foliage has returned to trees, and the azaleas are starting to bloom. If you’re looking for an exciting, visually-beautiful trail in Western S.C., I would highly recommend including this trek into your Greenville S.C. trip itinerary.