The most popular waterfall (and hike) in Jones Gap State Park has to be Rainbow Falls. And I get it. It’s beautiful. But that’s also a pretty hard hike. There are other options (and ones that are far less popular/crowded). So why not hike to the smaller sister (and namesake of the park) – the Jones Gap Waterfall.
A couple of notes before we jump into the trail guide. Jones Gap State Park is a smaller state park. There is very limited parking. Due to this, you may need to make a reservation for visiting the park on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday to ensure you get a spot.
To make a reservation look for the orange Travel Advisory box on the park’s website for details. This will give you an overview of how it works and how to make a reservation. There is a cost with the reservation. This is in addition to the normal park fee.
One last caveat here before I talk about the hike. We actually camped at Jones Gap the weekend we did this hike. There are a few primitive campsites in the park and several are accessible on this trail (but pretty far in – as in a 1.5 mile hike to our campsite). So if I’m wearing a big backpack in some of the photos, that’s why.
Jones Gap Waterfall Hike
To find the trailhead simply follow the signs towards the hiking trails. You’ll go over a bridge, pass by a trout pond, some restrooms (the only ones, so go if you need to), and the visitor center. Then you’ll cross back over the river and see a large kiosk with a map of the park.
You’ll want to follow the blue blazes of the Jones Gap Trail (also called the Palmetto Trail) all the way to the waterfall. The trail will split about halfway there, so be sure to stay to the left on the blue blazes when that happens.
Now the first half of the hike is fairly easy. The trails follows the Middle Saluda River so it’s pretty level. However it is quite rocky in a few places so be sure to watch your footing.
However you’ll soon come to a junction (there’s even a little stand with a map on it so you can’t miss it). The Jones Gap Trail is the left one that turns away from the creek.
The trail gets a bit narrower after this. There are also a few steeper sections through here as the trail winds its way up.
Several times it heads back towards the river before diverting away up the hillside a bit. These little up sections actually gave us a pretty good view of the forest around us (as well as a reason to stop and catch our breath a bit).
Once you cross over a bridge, you’ll know you’re getting close. Plus fun fact, our campsite was just up the hill from this bridge!
Less than a quarter of a mile later and you can’t miss the sign for the waterfall. The main Jones Gap / Palmetto Trail continues to the left, but if you’re just here for the waterfall, go to the right. It’s just a little bit up this hill and then you’re there.
Now the Jones Gap Waterfall is smaller. It cascades down a steep cliffside ending in a small pool that trickles further down the hillside. The pool didn’t even come up to my knees. Which meant I could actually sit in the waterfall.
If you plan to do the same, be sure to bring water shoes (there are rocks) as well as shorts/bathing suit.
Now there ins’t much space to hang around at the waterfall after you’ve gotten your fill. So after we took a few photos and tried to convince Ellie to get her paws wet, we decided to head on back to the campsite.
The way back will be mostly all downhill. Always a plus.