There is a lot of interesting information about Gorges State Park in North Carolina. Boasting over 8000 acres of property, it offers a lot of things to do.
The park sits near the tripoint where North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia meet. And it’s also located in the Blue Ridge Escarpment where the Appalachian Mountains meets the Foothills.
An escarpment is where a steep slope or cliff forms, in this case through a fault, and separates two level areas at different elevations. In this case, you have the high wall of the mountains, then a steep cliff dropping off to the low Foothills area. This means rugged river gorges, sheer rock walls, and a 2000-foot elevation rise in 4 miles.
Also interesting is that Gorges State Park sits in a temperate rainforest that receives 80 to 100 inches of rain each year.
All of this comes together and leads to an incredibly array of biodiversity. There are many plant and animal species you won’t find anywhere else. This is why Gorges is one of my favorite North Carolina State Parks.
- History of Gorges State Park
- What to Know Before Visiting Gorges State Park
- Things to do at Gorges State Park, NC
- Trails at Gorges State Park, NC
- Camping at Gorges State Park
- Tips for Visiting Gorges State Park
- Areas Near Gorges State Park
- Wrap-Up: Gorges State Park, NC
History of Gorges State Park
Gorges is one of North Carolina’s newest State Parks. In the 1970s, conservation studies began and by 1982, 275 acres of land was placed on the NC Registry of Natural Heritage Areas due to numerous rare species. Duke Energy, the landowner in the 1990s, offered the land for sale to natural resources agencies.
The North Carolina General Assembly authorized a new state park in 1999, and purchased 10,000 acres, setting aside 7100 acres for Gorges State Park and 2900 acres for an adjacent Game Land.
The Gorges State Park Master Plan was developed and adopted in 2003 with the park officially opening to the public in 2009. Currently, the park boasts over 8000 acres with 26 waterfalls (not all accessible), and plenty of outdoor activity.
What to Know Before Visiting Gorges State Park
There are two entrances to the park, about 20 minutes apart by car. The Frozen Creek Entrance in Brevard, NC contains a section of the 76.2-mile Foothills Trail that runs from Oconee State Park in SC to Table Rock State Park also in SC.
While considered to be rugged, the park has made efforts to make areas more amenable to families and those new to exploring the outdoors.
Be prepared for rain at any time. This is a rain forest. Even if the sky is blue with sunshine, rain can pop up in a heartbeat.
The hiking trails here can be rugged, but they are well marked.
You may hear that the park is trash free and you need to carry everything out. This has changed. There are bearproof trash cans throughout the park. You’ll find trash cans at the Visitor Center, picnic shelters, family campground, and Rainbow Falls Trailhead parking lot at Grassy Creek and near the picnic tables at the trailhead by Frozen Creek.
Another thing to note is the Raymond Fisher primitive campgrounds were permanently closed in 2021.
There are two entrances to Gorges State Park, and they do not intersect via the trails. You’ll need to drive from one to the other.
Frozen Creek Entrance
The Frozen Creek entrance is in Brevard, NC. It’s down an almost hidden road that’s hard to spot. Use the GPS coordinates from the park’s website but know that you may have to drive down Frozen Creek Road another half mile before you see the entrance.
The entrance is non-descript. It’s just a small sign with a gate leading to a gravel parking lot with plenty of room for horse trailers.
From this entrance you can access Augur Hole, Heath Pine Ridge, Canebrake, Wintergreen, Indian Camp, and Lime Kilns Trails. You’ll also find the primitive campgrounds at Heath Pine Ridge, Wintergreen, and Indian Camp, plus the famous Toxaway campsite near the lake. All campsites are primitive and first come, first served.
This is a primitive area. The trails are mainly old dirt and gravel roadbeds, but there are steep sections, and you won’t encounter many people.
There’s also a difficult stream crossing on Auger Hole Trail just after the intersection with Wintergreen Trail. If it’s been raining, it may not be safe to cross, especially if you’re inexperienced or have children.
I would say this entrance is really for those wanting to really get away from the crowds, if you want to head to the Toxaway campground, or if you’re on a horse. It’s not particularly pleasant or pretty for a simple day hike.
Grassy Creek Entrance
Grassy Creek is the main entrance to the park in Sapphire, NC. I entered “Gorges State Park” and the Grassy Creek entrance popped up and took me right there.
When you go through the gate, it’s going to be a bit of a drive to the Visitor Center. Once here, stop and enjoy the building. There’s a gift shop, education area, sitting area, gift shop, and outdoor covered porch complete with rocking chairs and a view. The staff is knowledgeable and helpful.
This is a driving park. All roads are paved, but the different trailheads are far from each other and don’t always intersect. As you drive down the road past the first picnic area, you’ll come to an overlook with parking. To your left is a pretty view of the mountains and to your right is a waterfall that goes under the road. It’s pretty cool.
There are two covered picnic shelters, each with a bathroom complete with flush toilets and running water. I also enjoyed the overlook on the side of the road.
You’ll also find the family campground here.
Access to several trails including the Rainbow Falls Trail is at this entrance. Plus, you can hike 0.4 miles round trip for a view of Upper Bearwallow Falls, although the view is from a distance. There’s a connector from the first picnic shelter to the trail.
Behind the visitor center is the Bearwallow Valley Trail which has a cute story for children to follow as they go along.
Things to do at Gorges State Park, NC
Gorges State Park offers hiking, a multiuse trail for horseback riding and cycling, an educational center, and camping.
Overall, there are 12 trails officially listed. However, I see the Picnic Connector as part of Bearwallow Falls, and Lime Kilns is just a quick detour for a view. (Currently, there are only 11 trails on the park’s website. The TRACK Trail is new and not listed yet).
Most of the trails are rated moderate to strenuous and I agree with most of the ratings. Almost all of the trails at the Frozen Creek entrance are difficult or require hiking a difficult trail to reach.
Horseback riding is allowed on the Auger Hole Trail which is 7.2 miles one way for a total of 14.2 miles. You can also head down Wintergreen Trail to the primitive campsite for the night which adds an additional 2.2 miles round trip.
There’s plenty of room in the parking lot for horse trailers.
Mountain Biking is allowed on the Auger Hole Trail, but it doesn’t look like people take advantage. At the Grassy Ridge entrance, while there are no trails for cycling, you could bring a bike and enjoy the paved roads.
I saw some people at the campground that had bikes for tootling around the area.
Gorges State Park opened the family campground at the Grassy Creek entrance in 2021. There are also 4 primitive campsites at the Frozen Creek entrance.
Primitive campsites are first come, first served, and you need to register your vehicle and hang a tag in the window before heading out.
Sites at the family campground are reservation only.
With two covered picnic shelters and open picnic tables throughout the area, there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy a meal in the park.
Bring a cooler, drive to a trailhead and relax before or after your big day outside.
Trails at Gorges State Park, NC
There are 12 trails at Gorges State Park with most at the Frozen Creek Entrance. This is a rugged area and not generally suited for beginner hikers. If you’re new to hiking or have children with you, check your mileage and leave plenty of time for your hike.
You can pick up a map at the Visitor Center or download one from the park’s website.
Rainbow Falls Trail
Mileage: 1.5 miles one way (option to continue another 0.5 miles to see Turtleback Falls)
Blaze: Orange circle while in the park
Location: Trailhead parking lot is marked at the Grassy Creek Entrance
Rainbow Falls starts in Gorges State Park and crosses into Pisgah National Forest. There’s a sign noting you have reached the park boundary. The 3-mile round trip trail takes you to one of the most famous waterfalls in North Carolina, Rainbow Falls. For an additional mile round-trip, you can see Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls in the same day.
When you reach Rainbow Falls, there is a wooden fence that serves as a viewing platform. While walking to the top of the falls may seem tempting, it’s dangerous and should be avoided. There have been deaths due to people pushing the limits.
The trail is difficult with elevation gain, stone steps, and wooden steps. Hiking shoes are strongly recommended as sneakers will slip.
While this trail can be done with children and inexperienced hikers, leave yourself time and bring plenty of water.
There are two stream crossings that can be an easy rock-hop if it hasn’t rained recently, or a more difficult rock-hop where your feet may get wet.
Bearwallow Falls Trail
Mileage: 0.2 miles one way
Blaze: Blue triangle
Location: Trailhead is well marked from a picnic shelter area inside Grassy Creek Entrance.
I disagree with the strenuous rating on this trail. There are roots and it trends downhill, but I would say it’s moderate at the most. Hiking shoes are recommended and it’s not a walk in the park, but it’s doable for most hikers and I wouldn’t hesitate to take children down the trail.
At the end is a wooden viewing platform where you can see Upper Bearwallow Falls in the distance. It’s not a great view, but it’s a nice hike.
Picnic Connector Trail
Mileage: 0.4 miles one way
Blaze: White triangles
Location: Located at the first picnic shelter in the Grassy Creek Entrance to the park.
The Picnic Connector Trail merely connects the further covered picnic shelter area to the Bearwallow Trail. Park at the first picnic shelter and you’ll see the across the parking lot from the shelter.
If you’re at the shelter where the Bearwallow Trail starts, the Picnic Connector picks up behind the restroom area.
It’s an easy trail and merely connects the picnic areas.
Bearwallow Valley Trail
Mileage: 1.15 miles one way
Blaze: Red triangle
Location: To the side of the Visitor Center at the Grassy Creek Entrance.
I almost missed this trail because the trailhead is hidden. From the Visitor Center Parking Lot, face the building and look to your left. You’ll see a kiosk with a small bench next to the rock wall that holds back the hill the Visitor Center sits on.
This is the start of the trail, but it can also be reached from the back of the Visitor Center near the back porch.
Along the first half mile of the trail are little stands that tell a story. When I was there, it was the story of Little Owl. Each stand is a new page in the story. I was told by staff that it’s changed every month or two.
It’s a cute trail and a fun way to keep children entertained during the hike. The trail eventually intersects with the Picnic Connector Trail which will then connect with the Bearwallow Falls Trail.
Mileage: 0.1 mile
Location: Behind the Visitor Center at the Grassy Creek Entrance.
This trail is new so it’s not currently listed on the park’s website or reflected on the park map. Directly behind the Visitor Center is the entrance. I’m guessing on the mileage, but it’s a short trail that weaves just into the woods with learning stations peppered throughout.
It’s a gentle curve that comes back out just past the trailhead.
Auger Hole Trail
Mileage: 7.2 miles one way
Blaze: Orange square
Location: Frozen Creek Entrance from the parking lot.
The Auger Hole Trail is the only multiuse trail in the park. Horses, cyclists, and hikers are all allowed on the trail. It’s an old roadbed for most of the way and you think it would be easy, but it’s not. The trail is hard on your feet and has several rolling hills.
Towards the end is a steep climb down which means a steep climb up to head back.
I also found many many spiderwebs in this section of the park because it’s not used as frequently as the main entrance.
Mileage: 5 miles one way
Blaze: Yellow square
Location: From the Auger Hole Trail at the Frozen Creek Entrance.
Like most of the trails at this entrance, Canebrake is an old roadbed, but it can be difficult due to the terrain and steep descent at the end. The beauty of this trail is that it leads to the Toxaway primitive campground on the edge of Lake Jocassee.
The 76.2-mile Foothills Trail cuts through the campground and then over heartbreak ridge just past the last campsite.
Mileage: 6.7 miles one way (just the section in Gorges State Park)
Blaze: White rectangle
Location: The trail enters the park through the Toxaway Game Lands and exits just past the Toxaway primitive campground.
The Foothills Trail is a 76.2-mile trail that runs from Oconee State Park in SC to Table Rock State Park in SC. There is a 6.7-mile section of the trail that cuts through Gorges State Park entering from the Toxaway Gamelands from the east, or just past the Toxaway Primitive Campgrounds to the west.
Lime Kilns Trail
Mileage: 0.25 miles one way
Blaze: White square
Location: Accessed from the Auger Hole Trail, about 4.5 miles down. You’ll have to make it past the water crossing.
Why would you even try this? Because it leads to the lime kilns which are pretty awesome. Lime kilns are ovens colonial settlers built. They’re carved five to ten feet deep into the mountainside. The settlers mined the naturally occurring limestone marble then backed it into quicklime.
Campground Spur Trails
We’ll group these together to make it a little easier. All of these trails are spurs that lead to primitive campsites.
Heath Pine Ridge Trail
0.4 miles one way, red square blaze, rated easy. You can access this trail from the Canebrake Trail about a quarter mile from where it splits from the Auger Hole Trail. It leads to the closest primitive campsites in the park.
1.1 miles one-way, blue square blaze, rated moderate. You can access the trail from the Auger Hole Trail about halfway down. About 0.3 miles past the intersection is a challenging water crossing on Auger Hole Trail.
Indian Camp Trail
1 mile one-way, green square blaze, rated moderate. You can access the trail from the Auger Hole Trail about a mile past the Wintergreen Trail intersection, IF you can make it over the water crossing. Otherwise, the only access would be to go down Canebrake Trail, connect with the Foothills Trail, then puck up the Auger Hole Trail and hike up. I would estimate that route to be 15 miles.
Camping at Gorges State Park
Gorges State Park has one of the newest, nicest family campgrounds of all the state parks located at the Grassy Ridge Entrance, and four primitive campgrounds at the Frozen Creek Access. Plus, you can primitive camp for free in Pisgah National Forest off the Rainbow Falls Trail.
If you are using any of the primitive campgrounds, or camping in Pisgah, you must register and put a tag in your car, so the rangers know you’re camping and not lost. If the box is out of forms, grab a piece of paper or napkin and write down that you’re camping, the dates you expect to be out, and where you’re planning to camp, then leave it on your dash where it can be easily viewed.
NOTE: The Raymond Fisher primitive campground closed permanently in 2021
The family campground has 17 RV sites, 16 tent sites, and 5 cabins. The RV sites have water and electricity plus a gravel area with a picnic table to set up for meals. Tent sites have a large gravel pad with picnic table, fire ring, and pole to hang a light. The road around the campground and all site parking is paved.
For a more luxurious stay, you can rent one of the cabins. These are primitive with simple bunk beds, but they do have heating and air conditioning, plus plugs for your electronics.
There’s a bathhouse across from the cabins that serves the entire campground. I never found it crowded. The women’s bathroom has 3 showers, all with their own stalls. As you enter, there’s a small section for changing with a bench for your clothes, then the shower is just past that. Everything was clean and the water was hot.
There is no station to wash dishes, but there is bearproof trash and recycling and a water bottle refill station.
The gravel in the tent pads is new and it’s difficult to get stakes to stick in the ground. Bring longer stakes and use a rock for a secure pitch. You also may want to bring extra stakes. I was thinking of bringing my sand stakes next time.
Heath Pine, Wintergreen, and Indian Camp Primitive Sites
These primitive campsites are accessed via the Frozen Creek entrance. Heath Pine is the closes off the Canebrake Trail, while Wintergreen and Indian Camp are approximately 3 to 4.5 miles down Auger Hole Trail.
You’ll find a tent pad, fire ring, picnic table, and bear locker at each site. They’re all first come, first served.
If you’re heading to Heath Pine, aim for site 3. It has room to the side for additional tents, or if you’re solo, you can set up your tent away from the bear locker. The one thing I didn’t like is that the picnic table and bear locker was up against, or inside the tent pad. I don’t like to be that close to my food.
The other campgrounds are similar. There is a waterfall near the Wintergreen campground, but it takes a little bushwacking to reach it.
Toxaway Primitive Campsite
I separated this one from the other primitive sites because it’s special. This is one of the most sought-after campgrounds when hiking the Foothills Trail.
There are six sites, each with a tent pad, picnic table, fire ring, and light pole. The sites are along a small inlet of Lake Jocassee just over a suspension bridge. It’s relaxing, scenic, and has plenty of water.
In the morning, do yourself a favor and hike up Heartbreak Ridge past the last campsite, then down. The lake usually has a fog over it in the morning and it’s a beautiful view.
This is a great place to stop and dip your feet in the water.
Tips for Visiting Gorges State Park
I can’t say this enough, this is a rugged park, possibly one of the most rugged in North Carolina. While the Grassy Creek entrance has a beautiful Visitor Center and new family campground, hiking is tough. And Frozen Creek is not for novices.
Before heading on any of the trails, grab a map, and make sure you have your essentials including rain protection (for you and your electronics), a headlamp, and plenty of food and water. If you’re heading to the Frozen Creek Access, bring or pick up a stick to try and grab the spider webs before you walk through them.
This is a temperate rain forest so not only does it rain frequently, but it’s hot and humid. Don’t underestimate how tough these hikes will be.
Stop by the Visitor Center and talk to the staff before you head out. They know the park and can advise you based on your experience and supplies you have on hand.
The bugs here are fierce, you’ll want bug spray. And I always pack sunscreen. Even though most of the trails under a deep canopy of trees, it’s still important to protect yourself.
I treat my clothes with permethrin for ticks and advise anyone heading this way to do the same.
Hiking shoes with tread are a must. Sneakers won’t cut it here.
Bring a rain jacket or poncho. Storms can crop up quickly.
Ask for help
You’re likely to encounter many visitors in the Grassy Creek Entrance. While many may be in the same boat as you, the trails are easy to follow, and you can figure it out together.
You’ll likely be on your own at the Frozen Creek Entrance. It’s difficult to get off trail, but you could wind up over your head and unable to make the hike back. Cell phone service is spotty so bring a means to communicate and make sure someone knows your route and is waiting on a call from you so they can alert authorities if you don’t contact them in the agreed upon window.
Areas Near Gorges State Park
Gorges is located in prime Western North Carolina where Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests come together between Brevard and Cashiers.
The Frozen Creek access is in Brevard, NC one of my favorite mountain towns in all of North Carolina. It’s home to over 250 waterfalls including Looking Glass Falls and Sliding Rock. Plus, there are at least three breweries and plenty of restaurants.
Also nearby is Panthertown Valley in Nantahala National Forest. You can park in the Cold Mountain lot (put “Hogback Spur A” in Google Maps – it works) and hike the 1.3 miles to Schoolhouse Falls. You can walk behind the waterfall and swim in the little pool at the bottom. It’s a lot of bang for your buck at 2.6 miles round trip.
From the parking lot, head to the end where there’s a gate and follow the trail down. After you exit the last switchback, you’ll hike about half a mile before you’ll see a large primitive campground on your right. You’ll go over a wooden bridge. On the other side of the bridge, look to your left where you’ll see the intersection with Little Green Trail. Make the left and hike a short distance through the woods. Do not go up the hill. There’s a spur to the left just before the hill starts that leads to the falls.
Lastly, there’s upper Whitewater Falls. Fun NC Fact, falling 811 feet, it’s the highest waterfall east of the Rockies according to the US Forest Service. Even better, there’s a lower section to the waterfall in South Carolina if you follow it down.
The waterfall is accessible for everyone. There’s a parking lot and a paved ramp to the viewing deck. Hikers can also follow a rocky trail to the bottom where there’s a bridge. The photos from this angle aren’t as great, but it’s fun to be at the bottom of the waterfall.
Wrap-Up: Gorges State Park, NC
Nestled near Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests between Brevard and Cashiers, just an hour from Asheville is one of the most amazing parks in North Carolina.
With 4 primitive campgrounds and a large family campground, it’s easy to stay and enjoy all the park as to offer.
Bring your rod (and valid NC Fishing license) to fish in Bearwallow Creek and Toxaway River. Hike and enjoy the rivers and waterfalls. Bike the Auger Hole Trail if you dare. Maybe even picnic in the forest.
The rugged beauty of the area makes this a challenging and a one-of-a-kind adventure all in one.