|From HorsePasture River Falls|
I always feel a little guilty when I talk about something not in Georgia, like I’m abandoning my adoptive home state for something I think is better in a new state. It’s not like I’m cheating on my wife or anything. The point of this website is to show really cool places to hike or visit within a reasonable drive of Atlanta, normally 3 hours. This place Google maps puts at 3 hours and 16 minutes from downtown Atlanta, but you know the way we drive, if you can’t make up the 16 minutes on the road, then you’re probably not from Atlanta. And this place is really cool, I am talking about the Waterfall Hike on the Horse Pasture River very near Gorges State Park in Sapphire, NC, North Carolina.
I read about this hike in the Back of the Dillard House Cookbook. It seemed almost too good to be true with 4 waterfalls in such a short distance. But If you are going to spend three hours in the car, you want something kind of special. When we got there, it was just a pleasing as advertised. I must note that you should beware of other information on getting to these falls. North Carolina State Parks closed one path in May of 2009 and set up the new path out of Gorges State Park (the Cookbook’s directions were to the old spot). You drive into the park about two miles, and the parking is clearly marked and as of Oct 2010 free. There are two paths leading out of the parking area, and the way to Horse Pasture River is the one on the right. The path actually takes you out of Gorges State Park and into Pisgah National Forest, so when you see the signs saying you are leaving the State Park, you are going the right way.
The first 1.5 miles of the trail is rather uneventful. At about 1 mile you start seeing the river downstream of the falls. In this area, there is a small falls (about 5 feet) called Hidden Falls. At 1.5 you see the granddaddy waterfall of the trip Rainbow falls, dropping a majestic 150 feet. You can view this fall from just about any angle you want but be careful, as this point is the only point that has any kind of precautionary railings.
About .25 mile up from Rainbow Falls, you come upon Turtleback falls, this is one of those falls just perfect to play in. I’ve seen kids slide down the 20 foot falls and cool off in the waters below. There isn’t the kind of danger here that the 150 foot falls presents. If you continue about .25 miles up from here you will get to the edge of the public land and can view Drift Falls. Remember, Drift Falls in on private property and if you get caught in it, you will be fined. Somewhere downstream from Rainbow Falls is Stairstep Falls, to which I didn’t travel. It is supposed to be about a mile downstream from Rainbow Falls.
So if you, like me, like waterfalls and a good hike and don’t really mind a three hour car ride, Gorges State Park offers tremendous bang for your buck by these criteria. I know a lot of folks have recommended several places for me to visit in NC. If they are half as good as this one, then you know I will be back.
(in the video I mistakenly refer to Hidden Falls as Stairstep Falls)
Approximate Time: 2-3 hours
Approximate Distance: 4.5 mi round trip
Features: Waterfalls, Riverside Walk
Overall Rating: A
Scenic Quality: A+
Hours of Operation: Daylight hours for Parking
Facilities: None (Oct 2010, but there are plans)
Maps: Downloadable on this page
County: Jackson County, NC