When you park, you can head out on the trail that leaves on the car exit end of the parking lot and do a simple loop around a pond of the Jones Gap salmon hatchery. Or, head more directly into the park by heading out on the end of the parking lot that you entered into, which is a road that leads to RV and handicap parking closer to the visitor center.
It was about 10:30 in the morning when we started out at the trailhead, and we headed out on the Jones Gap Trail (#1, blue blazes) for about .7 miles. This part of the trail is really easy, and follows a beautiful segment of the Middle Saluda River.
There are a lot of stairs built into the trail (dare I say, a few too many) and a lot twists up the mountain. You gain 1000 ft in 1.6 miles. It can be pretty hard work, so absolutely make sure you bring plenty of water and some food. Steven and I had PB&Js in my pack for our arrival at the falls with granola bars! There is a lot of water, as the trail does follow a stream on some of your cycles around the mountain, so please beware of snakes; a guy we passed warned us of one, but we didn't come across any ourselves.We did see a pretty cute lizard; or rather, Steven spotted it and spent about ten minutes trying to point it out to my blind ol' eyeballs! I started thinking he was making it up around the same time it poked its little head out and I finally caught a glimpse!
We got to a part of the trail that leads you along a steep ridge with amazing views out into the Blue Ridge!
The rest of the trail leads into the granite walls of Rainbow Falls! There is plenty of shade, and the cool breeze we had on that day made us feel worlds better after the strenuous hike. Let me stress something, now: I hadn't intended on hiking this trail. Indeed, it wasn't really a priority. None of the pictures I had seen in books and online had really endeared me to it.
I was totally wrong.
My husband did comment that all of the stairs started to take a toll on his knees, especially on the hike back down; keep things like that in mind if you have weak ankles, knees, etc. I suppose there are so many stairs to aid your climb, so that you don't feel like you're going to have to scramble up. I don't know that I have an opinion either way, but obviously my husband does!
Overall, the trail is very clear up the mountain, and blazes are pretty frequent. I stress the importance of taking plenty of water and some grub, as this trail took us about two and a half hours round trip. The hike rounds out to roughly 2.4 miles. It's a beautiful time to have at Jones Gap, and I highly recommend it!
Trail Recap to the glorious Rainbow Falls area:
Jones Gap Trail (blue blazes, #1)
Rainbow Falls Trail (red blazes, #4)
return back along Jones Gap Trail (blue blazes, #1)
Sometime in the next week I will try to post some information on two SC hiking books I've been using. Also, I haven't forgotten to add a picture of my new pack; I was just so excited to post about a fresh hike! If anyone has suggestions or comments, please feel free to use them! If you've hiked in the area, share your story! Trail anecdotes can be pretty great!