Gorges State Park NC (+ The Best Things to Do!)

Last Updated on November 12, 2022

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Gorges State Park in Sapphire (near Brevard and Cashiers) is our westernmost NC State Park and is in a waterfall-heavy sweet spot in North Carolina.

The two biggest names here are Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls and our guide covers them, but there are plenty of other great things to do in Gorges State Park.

Here is how our guide is organized:

You can skip ahead to any of those sections or keep reading about how to find Gorges State Park in Western NC.

Read More: 75+ Great Hikes Near Asheville (Within a 2-Hour Drive)

Where is Gorges State Park?

Grassy Ridge Access and Visitor Center: 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774
Frozen Creek Access: Frozen Creek Road, Brevard, NC 28712

Gorges State Park NC
  • Gorges State Park is located in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The park sits near Jackson County, borders Pisgah National Forest and Toxaway Game Lands, and also borders the State of South Carolina.
  • The Horsepasture River looms large over the park, and 4.2 miles of the body of water is recognized as a National Wild and Scenic River. Overall, the river is 18 miles long and drops 2,000 feet, creating lots of beautiful waterfalls and rapids. More than a few of them reside in Gorges State Park or just outside its boundaries.
  • Parts of Lake Jocassee reside within the boundaries of Gorges State Park, too.
  • The area that includes Gorges State Park notably receives more than 80 inches of annual rainfall, and is classified as a temperate rainforest.
  • The state park is a perfect day trip from Asheville and is near some more of our favorite mountain towns.

Here are a few places near Gorges State Park:

  • Cashiers (25 minutes away)
  • Brevard (30 minutes away)
  • Highlands (40 minutes away)
  • Hendersonville (1 hour 5 minutes away)
  • Asheville (1 hour 20 minutes away)

You can visually plan a trip to Gorges State Park via our North Carolina Travel Map.

Read More: Western North Carolina Map (400+ Wonderful Places Listed)

The History of Gorges State Park

Gorges State Park NC Raymond Fisher Trail

There is no surprise there is an intriguing history behind this place.

  • In 1916, there was a dam where Gorges State Park is located today. It held Lake Toxaway but malfunctioned and sent forceful amounts of water down the stream.
  • The rushing water destroyed communities and left nearly 15-20 feet of debris.
  • Locals began to sell their land and left their property for this reason.
  • Fast forward to the 1990s when the landowners, Duke Energy, placed the land for sale.
  • The land was sold to the Natural Heritage Agencies.
  • In 2009, Gorges State Park was established, making it one of our newest state parks.

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

How to Visit Today

After opening in 2009, Gorges State Park has become a popular outdoor destination in North Carolina.

The park spans 7,709 acres through Transylvania County, with 56 miles of hiking trails, epic waterfalls (including Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls), mountain biking trails, fishing spots, rugged river gorges, and much more.

Gorges State Park is also home to unique species of plants and animals. They include the Appalachian Flatrock plant and the rare Hickory Nut Gorge Green Salamanders.

Hours for this state park vary according to the time of year:

Read More: 50+ Beautiful Waterfalls Near Asheville (Within 2 Hours)

Leave No Trace Reminder

As always, when you visit Gorges State Park, please remember to “leave no trace.” Leaving no trace includes the following:

  • Whatever you bring on your hike, remember to take it with you.
  • Stay on the designated trail. User-created “social” trails cause lots of problems, including erosion, damage to fragile and endangered plants, and reduced space for wildlife. Please avoid them.
  • Also, if you’re bringing a dog along for your hike, North Carolina State Parks, federally managed public lands, and some privately owned lands require them to be kept on a leash.
  • Be considerate so that the next person (or animal) can enjoy this park and all of our public spaces.

Read More: 12 Wonderful National Parks Sites in North Carolina

Safety Information

Gorges State Park NC Safety Warnings
  • Safety is your responsibility when visiting Gorges State Park.
  • Inclement weather may prevent access to some of these trails. Before you go, please consult with trailhead maps, official maps, and official offices for closures, safety information, and any specific restrictions.
  • Many of the trails at Gorges State Park are for all levels of hikers and some will be more advanced. Our guide will cover those details. If you have any doubts about your health or physical capabilities, consult a medical professional.
  • There are also real dangers, including steep drop-offs and life-threatening waterfalls. Please respect and follow any signage and stay on officially designated trails. Your life WILL depend on it in some cases.

Things to Do at Gorges State Park

Most things to do at Gorges State Park can be enjoyed at our other parks, but the beautiful scenery and famous attractions makes this place a bit more special.

Here’s a breakdown of places to go and activities inside the park:

  • The Visitor Center
  • Waterfalls
  • Hiking Trails
  • Mountain Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Paddling
  • Fishing
  • Picnicking
  • Camping

The Visitor Center

Gorges State Park NC Visitor Center Entrance

The visitor center is large and displays museum-quality exhibits with scene setups and educational boards. There is also gift shopping on the inside with plenty of souvenirs.

Front desk assistance is also provided. They give out maps and have a friendly and trained staff that helps with information about the trail conditions.

Bathroom facilities are well-maintained, and the parking lots are big, providing room for all visitors at any time. If you need directions to the visitor center, the address for the location is 976 Grassy Ridge Road Sapphire, NC 28774.

Waterfalls

North Caroina State Parks Rainbow Falls Pisgah National Forest Gorges State Park
  • Rainbow Falls: Rainbow Falls is technically outside the park boundaries, as it sits in Pisgah National Forest. However, the Rainbow Falls Trail starts inside Gorges State Park. This amazing waterfall lives up to its name when the sun is out. That’s when a beautiful rainbow can be seen running through this 150-foot-tall waterfall.
Turtleback Falls NC Gorges State Park Pisgah National Forest
  • Turtleback Falls: Only about a quarter-mile upstream from Rainbow Falls is Turtleback Falls. Injuries and deaths have been reported here but many people still come to slide down this waterfall. We do NOT recommend swimming here and we think it’s a wonderful waterfall to view from the land.
Hidden Falls
  • Hidden Falls: About a mile into the Rainbow Falls Trail, you’ll come across Hidden Falls. This 10-foot waterfall is “hidden” just before the last hill up to Rainbow Falls. Hidden Falls is a mostly safe swimming spot, except during periods of heavy rainfall.
  • Upper Bearwallow Falls: The short but steep 0.2-mile-long Bearwallow Falls Trail will take you to Upper Bearwallow Falls.

Read More: 25+ Beautiful Waterfalls near Brevard (Within 1 Hour)

Hiking Trails

Gorges State Park NC Rainbow Falls Trail

This park offers over 7,500 acres and 56 miles of designated trails to hike! This makes Gorges State Park great for weeklong camping and hiking.

Here are just a few of our favorite trails and waterfalls:

  • Grassy Ridge Access
    • Rainbow Falls Trail (3.9 miles roundtrip, strenuous): The Rainbow Falls trail is a steady downhill toward three named waterfalls—Hidden Falls, Rainbow Falls, and Turtleback Falls. There are a few inclines and steep sections with stairs near the end. Note that you will leave Gorges State Park and enter Pisgah National Forest before seeing the waterfalls.
    • Bearwallow Falls Trail (0.5 miles roundtrip, strenuous): The short but steep Bearwallow Falls Trail is notable for Upper Bearwallow Falls, but also for the gorgeous forest that you’ll encounter within this quick hike.
    • Bearwallow Valley Trail (2.3 miles roundtrip, moderate): The Bearwallow Valley Trail starts from the picnic shelter through some switchbacks and up a ridge. The end of the trail is a viewing platform above a steel tower.
    • Picnic Connector Trail (0.8 miles roundtrip, easy): Picnic Connector lives up to its name by connecting two picnic shelters, but there are some nice sights along this short trail. Ferns and mountain laurels are two of them, especially when the latter is blooming in spring.
    • Raymond Fisher Trail (1.5 miles roundtrip, moderate): This trail spurs off the Rainbow Falls Trail and will take you to eight primitive campsites.
  • Frozen Creek Access
    • Auger Hole Trail (14.4 miles roundtrip, strenuous): This path runs through the heart of the Frozen Creek side of the park. This lengthy trail provides enough space and length for horseback riding, hiking, and biking.
    • Canebrake Trail (10 miles roundtrip, strenuous): The Canebrake Trail is a strenuous 5-mile trail that ends at campsites on Lake Jocassee and at an intersection with the Foothills Trail.
    • Foothills Trail (6.7 miles one way in Gorges State Park, strenuous): Speaking of the Foothills Trail, this 77-mile-long path stretches from Upstate South Carolina through Western North Carolina. Its difficulty varies according to the section, but the section within Gorges State Park is strenuous.
    • Heath Pine Ridge Trail (0.8 miles roundtrip, easy): The Heath Pine Ridge Trail spurs near the Frozen Creek Parking Lot and is much shorter than its counterparts on this side.
    • Indian Camp Trail (2 miles roundtrip, moderate): Indian Camp Trail spurs near the park’s boundary with Toxaway Gamelands. It leads to a campsite and is also a nice 2-mile addition to your Auger Hole hike.
    • Lime Kilns Trail (0.5 miles roundtrip, easy): You can also add a half-mile to your Auger Hole Trail hike with the short Lime Kilns Trail.
    • Winter Green Trail (2.2 miles roundtrip, moderate): Winter Green Trail takes you along the Toxaway River toward a campsite at its end.

Read More: 100+ of the Best Hiking Trails in North Carolina

Mountain Biking

Biking is allowed on the Auger Hole Trail (14.4 miles roundtrip) on the Frozen Creek Access Side.

We recommend packing some bottled water and snacks because it can be a long ride!

Horseback Riding

Auger Hole Trail also welcomes horseback riding or training. All owners must have proof of their negative equine infectious anemia (Coggins) test while visiting all North Carolina State Parks.

Paddling

The Horsepasture River is a perfect place if you are ready to get your paddles wet and have some fun. The river runs 4.2 miles long inside Gorges State Park and the hike to it can be tough if you’re carrying a boat.

Fishing

Fishing is allowed within the state park but prohibited around its waterfalls. Fly fishing and trout fishing are great inside Gorges State Park.

One of the highly-rated fishing spots by locals is the Toxaway River (Winter Green Trail). Bearwallow Creek is another beloved fishing creek because of its abundance of trout.

Remember that a North Carolina Fishing License is still required to fish anywhere in NC.

Picnic

If you’re ready for a nice picnic, then head over to Gorges State Park’s picnic areas. Unreserved shelters are free to use on a first-come, first-serve basis.

However, for larger groups, Gorges State Park has shelters available to accommodate up to 100 people. The shelters have restrooms, fireplaces, grills, electricity, and water.

The picnic areas are open every day (except for Christmas Day) from 8:00 am to 7:30 pm. For specific picnic reservation information, call the visitor center at (828) 966-9099 or visit this page.

Camping

Gorges State Park NC Camping Info

Gorges State Park offers 6 primitive backpacking spots along the Foothills Trail. These areas are free of charge to use and not for reserving. As we mentioned, access to the Foothills Trail is through the Frozen Creek parking lot in the southern portion of Gorges State Park.

There are tent and RV campsites, and 5 small cabins with electricity and running water. For reservations and more information, you can call the front visitor center at (828) 966-9099 or visit this page.

Ready to Visit Gorges State Park?

We love visiting Gorges State Park and can’t wait to return for our next hike and picnic. Many people (including us) come to see Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls, but as you can see, there are even more things to do and places to go inside this amazing park.

Have you ever visited Gorges State Park? We’d love to know what you think of it. Let us know in the comments or by email.

Don’t forget to share your hikes and waterfall adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

Nearby Places to Visit

Being in Transylvania County and in the heart of Western NC, there are plenty of amazing places to go near Gorges State Park. Here are a few of them.

Waterfalls

Upper Whitewater Falls from the Upper Observatory
Upper Whitewater Falls

Gorges State Park offers some of the most beautiful waterfalls in North Carolina, but there are even more nearby, thanks to the NC Waterfall Byway that runs through the area.

Read More: Map of Waterfalls in Western NC (50+ of the Best and Most Beautiful!)

Brevard

Things to do in Brevard NC toy stoore

Brevard is 30 minutes away from Gorges State Park and is a great base for exploring the park. Downtown Brevard is packed with amazing small businesses like DD Bullwinkel’s Outdoors and the toy store O.P. Taylor’s.

Known as the home of the White Squirrel, there is also an annual festival that celebrates these little animals.

Throughout the year, grab some food at local restaurants like The Square Root and Rocky’s Grill & Soda Shop, among others.

Read More: Driving the Forest Heritage Scenic Byway (+ 7 Wonderful Things to Do!)

Cashiers

Cashiers North Carolina Village Green
The Village Green.

Cashiers is filled with shops, boutiques, and the beautiful Village Green. We definitely recommend stopping at Whiteside Brewing for a pint and a burger (or wings!).

The town is also the gateway to one of our favorite mountain escapes, Bear Lake Reserve.

Read More: The Pines Country Inn Near Brevard: 7 Things We Loved

Highlands

North Carolina Waterfall Byway Stops Highlands

The outskirts of Highlands are known for spectacular waterfalls like Dry Falls and the scenic Lake Sequoyah, but the town itself is equally beautiful!

Spend a luxurious weekend at The Old Edwards Inn and roam the charming shops.

Read More: 10 Beautiful Roadside Waterfalls in North Carolina for Everyone!

Beyond Gorges State Park (NC Travel Guides)

We’ve created many more NC travel guides that cover Gorges State Park and its surroundings in Transylvania County.

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