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Gorges State Park

Life in Western North Carolina comes with abundant opportunities to get out and enjoy the beauty and diversity of nature. We have mountains, lakes, rivers, gorges, waterfalls, and immense biodiversity among our cove forests, coniferous woodlands, and riverine aquatic communities.

At Gorges State Park in Transylvania County, you can experience all that this incredible area has to offer with over 7,700 acres of temperate rainforest, 26 waterfalls, the northern boundary of Lake Jocassee, and a portion of the 70-mile Foothills Trail. Endless opportunity for year-round recreation offers everything from camping and hiking to backpacking, horseback riding, biking, fishing, picnicking and more.

The park is well known and renowned for its jaw dropping waterfalls, diverse wildlife and plant species, rugged river gorges and sheer rock walls. It is one of North Carolina’s westernmost state parks, and one of its newest. It is also conveniently located just 25 minutes from Cashiers, NC!

History

When the dam containing Lake Toxaway burst in 1916, it sent record amounts of water rushing southward down the Toxaway River, destroying everything in its path, including the communities who called the area home, and left in its wake piles of debris, some 15 to 20 feet high. With their homes and livelihoods decimated, many locals sold off their land, and it was eventually acquired by Duke. Energy Corporation due to its potential for hydropower project development.

In the late 1970s, conservation studies began in the Jocassee Gorge, and by 1982 almost 275 acres of land was placed on the NC Registry of Natural Heritage Areas. Duke Energy later decided that it was no longer in need of large portions of the Gorges and offered the land for sale to the natural resource agencies in North and South Carolina in the 1990s. In 1999, The North Carolina General Assembly authorized the creation of a new state park and the adjacent state game land. 10,000 acres were purchased by the state with 7,100 acres designated for Gorges State Park and 2,900 for the state game land. The park was officially opened to the public in 2009.

Ecology

With its vast array of habitats differing in geologic formation, elevation and climate, Gorges State Park is an ecological haven. Within the park there are roughly 125 rare plant and animal species and 12 endangered or threatened plant and animal species. There is an abundance of plant and wildlife commonly found in southern Appalachia, including white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, coyote, fox, and wild boar. Mountain laurel, rhododendron, white pine, red oak, hickories, and the very rare and endangered Oconee bell flowers can be found within Gorges. The park is also home to North Carolina’s largest known population of secretive green salamanders, in addition to the rare Swainson’s warbler – an exciting sight for bird enthusiasts.

Recreation

There are countless ways to enjoy Gorges State Park, from hiking to the various waterfalls and exploring the visitors center, to fishing in Bearwallow Creek or Toxaway River and picnicking or camping in the forest.

Popular among visitors, Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls are technically outside of the park on adjacent Pisgah National Forest land but can only be accessed through the park’s Grassy Ridge Access Area. Following alongside the Horsepasture River, it is a 1.5-mile (3-mile roundtrip) hike to Rainbow Falls, adding on an additional 1-mile will get you upriver to Turtleback Falls. Rainbow Falls presents a stunning, and powerful 150-foot cascade offering a refreshing and cool mist in the heat of the summer. As always, use caution when navigating the trails, and do not attempt to climb the falls - wet rocks can be very slippery!

Throughout the park, there are numerous locations for camping, both accessible by car/RV and hike-in. In 2022 the park opened a 13-acre family campground featuring five camper cabins, 14 campsites and 16 tent campsites, as well as a modern bathhouse. The camper cabins offer power, A/C, heat and sleeping for up to six in two separate rooms which include two sets of bunk beds and one double bed. RV sites offer 20-, 30-, and 50- amp electric service with water and sewer hookups. Six primate campsites can be found along the Foothills Trail accessed by the Frozen Creek parking lot. These sites are free and require no reservation. Camping is allowed in designated areas by permit only, all food, coolers, trash, and scented items must be stored in the bear proof storage containers on site and campsites must always be clean and free of trash, pets are welcome in the park so long as they remain on an attended leash no longer than 6 feet. For a full list of campground rules and to make reservations for a campsite visit northcarolinastateparks.reserveamerica.com. Dispersed camping is permitted in the adjoining Pisgah National Forest and backpackers may register and leave their vehicles in the park.

Within the park, the expansive trail system allows for backpacking, biking, and horseback riding. There are 56 miles of hiking trails, 17 miles of biking trail, and 12 miles of horseback riding trail available for enjoyment. The Auger Hole Trail between Frozen Creek Access and Turkey Pen Gap on the western side of the park is a popular trail for biking and horseback riding. Find a list of the park’s trails and their designated uses here.

Fishing opportunities can be found within the park but are not permitted near the waterfalls. A few of the popular fishing spots are the Toxaway River and Bearwallow Creek where you can find a healthy population of trout. Just make sure to grab your NC Fishing License!

To learn more about the recreation opportunities within the park, and to make sure you are following park rules and regulations, please visit the NC Parks Website.

Visiting Gorges State Park

Cost: There is no admission fee to the park. Fees are charged for camping, certain event permits and facility reservations.

Hours: The park is open seven days a week from 7am to 9pm and the visitor center is open daily from 9am to 5pm.

Access: Primary access can be found at the Grassy Ridge Access Area of NC Highway 281 South. From here you can find the visitor center as well as the trail head for Rainbow and Turtleback Falls. The Frozen Creek Access Area is in Brevard off Frozen Creek Road and allows access to several different trails.

Please remember to always be respectful of the land and its wildlife, making sure to leave no trace, taking all your trash with you to dispose of responsibly. Respect and follow the signage to remain safe and sound and stay on designated trails. The park receives nearly 90 inches of rain a year, so pack your weather gear accordingly. For more information about Gorges State Park and to plan your visit, explore the North Carolina Parks & Recreation Website.

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