At Gorges State Park, located along the southernmost reaches of the Blue Ridge escarpment in southwestern Transylvania County, elevations fall some 2,000 feet in only a 4-mile span. This landscape owes its existence to water, accumulating 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 visitor center, which has been recognized for its environmentally friendly design.
The visitor center encompasses an exhibit hall, gift shop, auditorium, classroom and outdoor amphitheater. The exhibit hall 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 provides 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 with grills have been added to the Grassy Ridge trailhead, home to the Rainbow Falls Trail.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is a 3-mile round-trip 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. 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 trails, both accessing the Foothills Trail, along with four new trails — Heath Pine Ridge, Lime Kilns, Indian Camp and Wintergreen. 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 Auger Hole, Heath Pine Ridge, Indian Camp and Wintergreen trails.
On Sept. 10, visitors will have the chance to enjoy “Grandparents Day.” At 10 a.m. at the visitor center, join Steve Pagano for a 2-mile easy-to-moderate walk along the trails to Upper Bearwallow Falls. This will be a rain or shine event, with no reservations required. The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to midnight, with some areas closing daily at dusk. The visitor center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., longer on weekends. For additional information, call (828) 966-9099 or go to www.ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park.
Each year, there are reports of injuries or fatalities at waterfalls or waterways in Transylvania County. The following are some key safety tips:
•Know the potential hazards of waterfalls.
•Stay on developed trails and don’t stray from observation decks and platforms.
•Stay back from the edge — the top of the falls is the most dangerous.
•Watch your footing — dry rocks can be just as slippery as wet ones, especially if they are covered in algae.
•Do not climb on rocks near waterfalls.
•Wear stable shoes.
•Don’t jump or dive off waterfalls — submerged rocks, trees or debris could be immediately below the surface of the water.
•Don’t swim in waterfall pools.
•Watch children carefully.
•Stay out of restricted areas.
•Always carry a map of the area.
•Use extreme caution when walking along riverbanks.
•If you find yourself accidentally swimming in fast-moving water, do not try to stand up. Most drowning incidents result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge or between boulders. The force of the water will push you over and hold you under.