The Upstate is overflowing with outdoor activities. There is something fun for everyone to experience, especially for all levels of hiker. With great views and great trails, you just can’t beat the biodiversity that the Upstate has to offer. This week, we decided to check out Jones Gap State Park. Read all about our experience below.
Fresh Air Friday: Jones Gap State Park
Tips to Breathe In
- Difficulty: Various trails range from easy to strenuous. You can learn more about each trail’s difficulty on their website before visiting. There’s something for everyone!
- Price: $5 adults; $3.25 SC seniors (age 65 & older); $3/child age 6-15; Free for children 5 and younger. This admission includes access to the designated swimming area when it is open.
- Pet-friendly?: Pets are allowed in most outdoor areas provided they are kept under physical restraint or on a leash not longer than six feet. Owners will be asked to remove noisy or dangerous pets or pets that threaten or harass wildlife.
- Parking: One lot within the park, with additional parking areas from the Caesars Head side and the Fall Creek Falls trailhead.
- Wheelchair/Stroller Accessible?: Not so much.
- Seasonal?: 9am-9pm, daily, during Daylight Saving Time. Winter hours: 9am-6pm, daily.
- Amenities: Bathrooms and ranger office.
- Nearby: Caesars Head State Park, Downtown Travelers Rest, Various Restaurants and Shops
- Fact 1: Jones Gap is home to what was the first state-owned fish hatchery in SC, in fact, parts of it still remain in the park today.
- Fact 2: The park gets its name from Trailblazer Solomon Jones. Legend has it that Jones blazed these trails with only a hatchet.
- Fact 3: Jones Gap is home to 60 species of mammals, 160 types of songbirds, and 600 varieties of wildflowers.
When it comes to hiking the Upstate, it is hard to pick a better destination than Jones Gap State Park. At roughly 13,000 acres with more than 60 miles of hiking trails, there is just about every type of terrain imaginable at all levels of difficulty to be found inside the park. As we continue this series we will take a closer look at some of the individual trails and destinations within the park, but for right now, let’s just look at Jones Gap State Park as a whole.
From the main parking area, hikers pass a trout pond that was once part of the first state-owned fish hatchery in South Carolina. The Middle Saluda River that runs through the park is full of the elusive sport-fish but, for most of us, this stocked pond is the only way we will see one in-person at Jones Gap. From here, continue on to the trailhead for the Jones Gap Trail which serves as the main artery to the parks expansive network of trails. It is basically like those “choose your own adventure” books we adored as children as this trail offers plenty of opportunities to take strikingly different paths on any given hike.
Jones Gap Trail –
For those seeking an easy stroll through the woods, the Jones Gap Trail itself is as low on the difficulty level as one could ask. As it parallels the Middle Saluda River, it offers little in the way of elevation change and can be conquered by hikers of most ages and skill levels. A spur trail will guide you to Jones Gap Falls for a 2.6 mile round trip to an immensely pleasing 50’ waterfall. For those that want a hike heavy on distance without the gut-busting ascents, hike the whole trail out and back for a 10.6 walk in the woods.
Rainbow Falls Trail –
Another waterfall can be found by a nearby turnoff onto the Rainbow Falls Trail. This one requires a bit more effort on the 5-mile round trip but it is entirely worth it as the waterfall is arguably the prettiest one in all of South Carolina. The 100-foot plunge of water spills over a rock backdrop that leaves no question as to how the falls earned its name. In warmer months the rock face is an explosion of color out of the lush green surroundings and it truly must be seen to be believed. The trail does offer a good bit of elevation change on the way out but the sight of the falls combined with the assurance that it is all downhill on the return home makes this an easier pill to swallow.
Rim of the Gap and Little Pinnacle Mountain Trails –
For those really looking for a workout – and some spectacular views – there are always the Rim of the Gap and Little Pinnacle Mountain Trails. Both require some heavy map study as there are a number of ways to approach them using a variety of connector trails throughout the park. However you choose to conquer them, there are no wrong answers provided you bring plenty of water and a willingness to be a bit sore the next day. Little Pinnacle Mountain offers the highest views of the valley below while Rim of the Gap earns its name by giving hikers the feeling of hiking on the edge of a teacup, with a sheer rock face to your right and a sharp fall to the valley below to your left. Throw in some stairs, ladders, and cable crossings and you know you are going to earn that post-hike bite and beverage. Neither of these trails is for the faint of heart but both are incredibly satisfying to the more serious hikers that choose to conquer them.
These are but a few of the nearly 20 hiking trails that make up Jones Gap State Park and the larger Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, which also includes neighboring Caesar’s Head State Park. Beyond just hiking, though, there are also 18 backcountry campsites and all of those trout just daring a fly fisherman to try to catch them in the Middle Saluda River. If you are not an experienced angler, however, our money is on the trout.
The Early Bird Gets The Worm
If there are any drawbacks to Jones Gap State Park, it is that the main parking lot tends to fill up rather quickly on the weekend. If you wake up on a Saturday morning and say “it sure is a nice day to get out in the woods,” please know that you are not the only one with such an idea. We have had many visits where we have pulled up to the main gate to be greeted by a line of cars and a friendly park ranger kindly telling you “it might be a little bit” as they let one car in for every one that leaves.
Here is the good news, though: No matter how long the ranger says the wait is going to be, our experience suggests that it is never that long. For every slacker like us that rolls in at noon, there is a go-getter that started at sunrise and is already wrapping up and heading home to mow his lawn, paint his house, and probably do some Crossfit just for the heck of it. For the rest of us, a 15 to 30-minute wait next to a scenic river lined with rhododendron is never a bad thing… call it a pre-hike meditation experience and enjoy the time with your companions.
However you choose to immerse yourself in Jones Gap, there is never a bad time to do it. Plus, with the network of trails so expansive, you can visit every weekend and never have the same experience twice. Fresh adventure awaits time and time again at Jones Gap State Park.