Last Updated on April 13, 2021
Last Updated on April 13, 2021
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Located in Pisgah National Forest (PNF), Rainbow Falls is one of the best waterfalls in North Carolina and deserves a spot on your NC bucket list. A short day trip from Asheville, this waterfall stands 150 feet tall and is beautiful all year round.
Known for the aptly named rainbows that often appear here, Rainbow Falls has multiple vantage points, with each one being better than the last.
During this out-and-back hike, you will start in Gorges State Park and wander upstream, venturing outside the park into PNF. The Horsepasture River drops 2,000 feet in 18 miles, making lots of beautiful waterfalls and rapids.
If you’re looking for something specific, here’s how we have organized things (Categories in Bold followed by Sub-categories):
- About the Falls
- Driving Directions
- Rainbow Falls Trail Info
- Safety Info
- Starting the Rainbow Falls Trail
- Hidden Falls
- Hidden Falls to Rainbow Falls
- Turtleback Falls
- Hiking Rainbow Falls with Kids
- When to Visit
- More Things to Do at Gorges State Park
- Places Nearby
If you simply plug in “Gorges State Park” in your GPS, the directions may take you to a spot that’s on private land with a sign telling you to turn around.
To avoid that, please follow us on this one: The correct address you should input into your GPS is 976 Grassy Ridge Rd, Sapphire, NC 28774.
Rainbow Falls Trail Info
The Rainbow Falls trail is a steady downhill toward the waterfall with just a few steep sections with stairs. That means the way back to the parking lot is steadily uphill.
It is listed as “strenuous” and, while we disagree with that label, it certainly wasn’t a walk in the park.
Note that you must stay on the Rainbow Falls trail. While it is tempting to wander off to get a better picture or view, the rocks here are often slippery, and it’s a treacherous fall.
Deaths at Rainbow Falls happen annually, so exercise caution.
Starting the Rainbow Falls Trail
Starting from the Grassy Ridge Parking area in Gorges State Park, follow the orange blazes on a 1.5-mile trek to Rainbow Falls.
There were some steep sections so you should be in good physical shape before hiking. In less than a mile, the trail crosses out of Gorges State Park and enters Pisgah National Forest.
On your way, you’ll come across two creek crossings. These may be sloppy if there has been a lot of recent rainfall.
Hike up the river for about a mile, and you’ll come across Hidden Falls. This is a great swimming spot with a 10-foot waterfall hidden just off to the right before the last hill to Rainbow Falls.
There is no sign, but you’ll notice a clearing to your right and large rock outcroppings that make for the perfect picnic spot.
Hidden Falls to Rainbow Falls
The last incline is a big one. But, when you finally reach the top and the sky opens, your breath will be taken away by the views, and you’ll forget about that last climb.
Continue along the trail wandering down to the base of the waterfall. At the time of our last visit, the falls had experienced a lot of rainfall, resulting in photos of the waterfall at its peak fullness.
It was also very wet, and we were unable to access some parts of the trail because of fallen debris and mud.
If you want to extend your hike, continue to the right a quarter-mile upstream to Turtleback Falls. While once a popular swimming hole, it is not recommended to swim at Turtleback Falls anymore.
Many deaths have occurred by being swept downstream. The rocks are slick with strong currents that could rush you down Rainbow Falls.
Hiking Rainbow Falls with Kids
While our 3.5-year-old did walk half of the way last time, I probably would not recommend this hike for younger children. The inclines are rough at times, and the trail has several spots where there are narrow paths next to steep drops.
We ended up putting our daughter in our hiking carrier for most of the hike for both speed and safety. It’s not completely undoable, but it’s best if only experienced young hikers try this trail.
When to Visit Rainbow Falls
There’s only one answer to this question, “When should you visit Rainbow Falls?”
That is “now!”
Rainbow Falls is beautiful all-year-round. While the trail may be haphazard after a good rain, the falls will billow with power.
It is framed with greenery in the spring and summer and colorful leaves in the fall, and it continues to awe even in the winter. Start planning your waterfall adventure today and head to Rainbow Falls!
More Things to Do at Gorges State Park
Gorges State Park spans 7,709 acres through Transylvania County and is a playground for those who love stunning views and breathtaking trails. It is one of the newest state parks and notably receives more than 80 inches of annual rainfall, classifying it as a temperate rain forest.
Take the short but steep trail to Bearwallow Falls, or gaze at the vast Jocassee Gorge from the accessible overlook.
There are two entrances: Grassy Ridge (where Rainbow Falls is) and Frozen Creek, which has longer trails, including the Foothills Trail that runs through Upper Whitewater Falls.
Places Nearby Gorges State Park
Upper Whitewater Falls
Upper Whitewater Falls is just a short drive from Gorges State Park and Rainbow Falls. This waterfall is one you won’t want to miss. Follow a short paved path to get a look at the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies!
Climb down some stairs for an even better view of the 411-ft Upper Whitewater Falls.
When driving to Rainbow Falls, you will more than likely pass Lake Toxaway. This man-made 640-acre lake is the largest private lake in North Carolina. Homes and rentals dot the 14-mile shoreline and make for the perfect romantic retreat near Rainbow Falls.
Come in the summer and enjoy Sapphire National Golf Course or zip-lining through the valley at Sapphire Valley Resort.