Located along the southernmost reaches of the Blue Ridge escarpment in southwestern Transylvania County, elevations in Gorges State Park fall some 2,000 feet in only a 4-mile span. This landscape owes its existence to the unique geology and the amount of precipitation, receiving an average of more than 90 inches of rain each year. Established in April 1999 through a partnership of industry, the environmental community and the state, 7,000 acres were designated as Gorges State Park. Currently, the park has grown to about 8,000 acres in total size.
Whether it is your first visit to the park or you have been returning for years, you are certain to find something new and refreshing to enjoy at Gorges. The park boasts more than 25 miles of hiking trails, suitable for every level of ability, along with picnic areas, rustic campsites and a 7,100-square-foot Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified visitor center.
The visitor center has an exhibit hall, gift shop, auditorium, classroom and outdoor amphitheater. The facility houses numerous interactive displays focusing on the cultural and natural history of the park, while a fireplace and rocking chairs provide relaxation after a day on the trail, and the gift shop/reception area offers visitors a place to gather information on the park and Transylvania County. The covered wrap-around decks offer long-range southern views of the escarpment, Lake Jocassee and other properties. Gorges State Park can be accessed from two entry points:
The Grassy Ridge access off N. C. 281, about three-quarters-of-a-mile south of U.S. 64 in the community of Sapphire, or the Frozen Creek access area on Frozen Creek Road, 3.5 miles south of U.S. 64, just west of Rosman. The Grassy Ridge access area includes the park’s developed features, including the visitor center, two picnic shelters, modern restroom facilities, the Raymond Fisher primitive campground and the park’s most popular trails. A very popular trail begins at the visitor center and connects with the Bearwallow Valley observation deck, Bearwallow picnic shelter and the Upper Bearwallow Falls. This 2.2-mile moderate trip is great for all ages. New picnic sites have been added to the Grassy Ridge Parking Lot, home to the Rainbow Falls Trail. The Rainbow Falls Trail is a 3-mile roundtrip that is strenuous and travels west out of Gorges State Park into Pisgah National Forest to the Horsepasture River and two of the most scenic waterfalls in the region, Rainbow and Turtleback.
A new campground is currently under design and is anticipated to open in 2021. The campground will feature full hook-up sites, primitive RV sites, several small cabins and a shower house. The Frozen Creek access area provides an entry point to the rugged interior of the park. The Frozen Creek trailhead provides access to numerous trails, including the Auger Hole and Canebrake Trail, both accessing the Foothills Trail, along with four new trails – Heath Pine Ridge, Lime Kilns, Indian Camp and Wintergreen. The Auger Hole Trail remains closed at the confluence of the Wintergreen Trail due to an imminent landslide. State park staff is working to identify a re-routing of the trail. Other primitive backpacking sites can be found along the eastern shores of Lake Jocassee and at the terminus of Heath Pine Ridge, Indian Camp and Wintergreen trails. Mountain bikers and horseback riders are welcome on the Heath Pine Ridge, Indian Camp and Wintergreen trails.
The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with some areas closing daily a half hour before dark. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year round. For additional information, call (828) 966-9099 or go to www.ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park.