Rainbow Falls is an impressive 125-foot waterfall that is found along the Horsepasture River. Located just south of Lake Toxaway, in Sapphire, NC, Rainbow Falls is a nice stop for anyone visiting the area…and is a must see for those exploring the beautiful and bountiful waterfalls that inhabit this part of North Carolina. Let’s find out what Rainbow Falls has to offer!
Gorges State Park was established in 1999, thanks to the help of local citizens and the North Carolina General Assembly. Originally planned to be used by Duke Power for future hydropower projects, the land was sold to become a state park after public outcry over concerns the natural area and unique topography would be ruined.
The 1.5 mile trail to Rainbow Falls begins inside of Gorges State Park, along the Grassy Ridge Trail. There will be map boards and kiosks detailing the trails and surrounding area. After a short distance, the trail comes to a T-junction, and Rainbow Falls Trail follows the orange blazes to the right. After another short distance, the Gorges State Park property ends, and Pisgah National Forest begins. From here, the trail heads towards the river, and then follows it upstream the remainder of the trip. The strenuous part isn’t the distance, it’s the amount of ups and downs you’ll encounter along the way. The path is easy to follow, and there is plenty to see…especially if you visit in the spring or fall months. Wild flowers, rhododendron, and mountain laurel line a good portion of the trail.
As you get closer to the falls, you’ll ascend some stairs and the overlook is at the top. In my opinion, the best view is going to be from this spot. You’ll get a great panoramic view of the large rock face the water spills over, the large plunge pool it falls into, the sweeping bank that separates you from the river, and the forest above and around the falls. It isn’t hard to see why people rate this waterfall as one of the prettiest in the region.
But the main draw of this particular waterfall, besides the beautiful setting and the size, is where it gets its namesake from. If you visit during sunny days (especially mornings), when the water is high (good possibility as it rains an average of 80 inches yearly, resulting in the area becoming a temperate rainforest), and at the right angle, a rainbow will appear in the spray mist. It’s really a beautiful sight…and worth the sometimes strenuous journey it takes to get there.
If you continue following the trail up, there will be a path to a lower overlook platform, and beyond that, a trail that leads to top of the falls. Be extremely careful when traversing this area, as it only takes one misstep to be, all of a sudden, somewhere over the rainbow…and spread out all over the rocks below. There are opportunities to scramble to the bottom of the falls, but the bank surrounding the area is in a constant state of wetness, and it’s fragile and slippery. My suggestion would be to enjoy the waterfall from behind the fences. If you’re just too hot from the journey and need to take a soak in the water, continue on the trail above the falls for a quarter of a mile to Turtleback Falls…a popular spot for people to swim during times of lower water levels. Be cautious when wading around in the water, as the currents can be strong in places, and rocks can be slippery.
One could easily spend several days exploring what the Gorges State Park area has to offer. It truly is a unique place…featuring camping, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, and several waterfalls to visit. And being only about 55 miles from Asheville, it is easily accessible. For more information about Gorges State Park, click here.