Rainbow/Turtleback/Drift Falls

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Driving distance/direction from downtown Highlands, NC: Follow Hwy. 64 east to Cashiers, NC. From the crossroads, continue on Hwy. 64 east for 10.1 miles to Hwy. 281 south. Turn right and follow Hwy. 281 south for 1 mile to the Grassy Ridge Access entrance to Gorges State Park. Enter the park and drive 1.6 miles to the parking area at the bottom of the loop road. 

Parking: Park in parking lot.

Hiking distance: 4 miles round trip (1.6 miles to Rainbow Falls, 1.75 miles to Turtleback Falls, 2 miles to Drift Falls) 

Description: This trail leads to three waterfalls along the Horsepasture River in Gorges State Park. From the kiosk next to the parking lot, follow the trail blazed with orange circles into the woods. The trail soon comes to an old road. Turn right and follow the roadbed toward the river. Approximately 23 minutes into the hike, the trail crosses from state park property to Forest Service property. The orange blazes end at the park boundary, but continue on the trail despite the lack of blazes. About 7 minutes later, you arrive at a stream, the lowest point in the hike. After crossing the stream, the roadbed that the trail has been following ends, and the trail starts to climb the right bank of the Horsepasture River on a much narrower and rougher path. At Rainbow Falls, a spur trail descends to the left to an overlook.

After Rainbow Falls, follow the trail upriver for an additional 0.15 miles to Turtleback Falls. After passing Turtleback Falls, continue following the trail upriver to a junction with an old road. Continue past this junction and follow the trail for another 0.15 miles to the private property line. Descend to the river bank for a view of the falls. 

Footnote: The private property is well marked. Do not trespass.

Hike descriptions adapted from the Highland Hiker’s Guide to Day Hikes.

Crossroads Chronicle

Mailing Address:
PO Box 1040
94 U.S. Highway 64 West, Suite 1 (Shoppes on the Green)
Cashiers, NC 28717
Phone: 828-743-5101
Fax: 828-743-4173