Most people who visit Jones Gap State Park stroll the gently ascending Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls. It’s an easy, scenic pathway alongside the Middle Saluda River and is child- and pet-friendly. The park features a ranger station with public restrooms, a parking lot, and picnic tables. You can spend the whole day in the park and even camp with a permit. The small parking lot fills up quickly on warm weekends, so get there as close to 9:00 a.m. as you can.
The second most popular attraction in the park is probably Rainbow Falls. The 1+ mile climb from the trail intersection to the falls is moderate-to-strenuous as it ascends over 1000 feet. This trail is popular with children and pets as well, but it’s no joke. It’s an additional 1.2 miles from the parking lot to the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, so you’re looking at a ~4½-mile out-and-back hike.
There’s not much to say about the climb. There are wooden and stone stairs where the pathway gets steep. If it’s been raining recently, you will get a little wet and muddy. But the pathway is well-trod and easy to navigate. There will be other hikers around regardless of the time/day/season.
You climb Standing Stone Mountain on the opposite side of the valley from the Rim Of The Gap Trail, which is one of my favorite trails in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. The hike is a little deceiving because you mostly follow the water up the mountain until the trail takes you in the other direction. You walk for a long while without even being able to hear any water. But the trail eventually takes you back toward the sound of water and the base of the falls.
Rainbow Falls earns its name. If the sun is shining through the canopy, you will see rainbows in the mists that rise from the rocks. Naturally, I was there on an overcast day in early spring. The cascade plunges over 100 feet to the pool below, but there’s not really a swimming hole. It’s probably for the best since the rocks are slippery and the streambed descends steeply.
Rainbow Falls is situated below Pretty Place Chapel at YMCA Camp Greenville. There are supposedly side trails that will take you from the falls to the top of the mountain and into the camp. The chapel is usually open to the public and allows for some great pictures of the valley. Check the schedule before you plan your visit.
This waterfall is not to be confused with Rainbow Falls in nearby Gorges State Park.
The hike to Pretty Place
I went back on a clear, dry day and decided to make the final ascent to Pretty Place Chapel. I had read that there were orange blazes directing you up the mountain, but I never found any. There is not an established trail to the top of Standing Stone Mountain.
Based on the trampled ground, I found a couple of places that might represent old trails. One was on the right before you cross the creek at the base of the falls. It turned out to be a false lead. The second was near the rock face to the left of the plunge. There are a couple of ways to get up this side. They’re both technical, but not very difficult, at least for the first 60 or so feet.
I realized this was the correct trail when I encountered the remains of a couple of disintegrated ropes. This is a very dangerous trail if you can even call it that. Judging by the litter, some people must make this climb each year. But there can’t be many based on the fluffy leaves and loose soil.
I took the trail uphill until it became a wet rock climb over a blown-down tree. At that point, I knew that I could probably bushwack my way to the top, but I doubted my ability to safely climb back down. If I’d had a car parked at the top of the mountain, that would be one thing. But having to scramble back down blind (read: backward) on wet mud/rocks seemed dangerous to the point of recklessness.
On the way back down, I made my way over to the top of the falls. Due to the constant slickness of the rocks and mud, this is a very dangerous place to be. A person would not survive a fall from this ledge and I don’t recommend that anyone try it. The view is not worth the risk.
I may do a little more research and see if I should have walked a contour near an old campfire instead of continuing straight up the mountain. If I find a way up that I think others might enjoy, I’ll update this post.