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Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls Trail

moderateYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray Star(1006)
Gorges State Park

Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls Trail is a 3.9 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Sapphire, North Carolina that features a waterfall and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, nature trips, and mountain biking and is accessible year-round. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.

Length 3.9 mi Elevation gain 770 ft Route type Out & Back

Dogs on leash

Kid friendly

Hiking

Mountain biking

Nature trips

Forest

River

Views

Waterfall

Wildlife

Description
Waypoints (2)
Contact
Getting There

This short hike along the Horsepasture River features outstanding views of 4 large waterfalls and good camping. Start the trail by descending on a moderate grade downhill. Just a few hundred yards down stream is the impressive Rainbow Falls. When viewing the falls from the top, extreme caution should be used, as every year or so, someone is seriously hurt or killed in this area. Continue down the river trail. The trail is not marked, but as long as you keep the river on your right, you're ok. At the 1.25 mile mark is a very nice clearing for tenting. After about 1/2 mile you can hear the rushing water of Turtleback Falls. This is a great place for a summer swim. Just downstream is Stair Step Falls. Backtrack back to the parking lot.

Highlands Ranger District, 1828-526-3765

Approximately 10 miles east of Cashiers, NC, turn right (south) on US-64 and NC-281 at Sapphire. Turn left into the access to the Gorges State Park Visitor Center. The parking area is part of the Gorges State Park and is clearly designated. The trail leaves the visitor center headed upstream.

Weather
UV Index
Daylight
Reviews (1006)
Photos (626)
Recordings (781)
Completed (1861)
Paul Messinger
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Camping

great trail even in the rain

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Alix Littrell
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jul 04 2020
Hiking

Amazing waterfalls. Trail from the state park is long, about 2 miles to the first falls rainbow falls. Then maybe a quarter mile up stairs to turtle back falls which is amazing as well. Turtle back is great for a swimming falls, in fact I used to go as a young girl and I never forgot it. The best way to get to the falls is actually on a private road easements, it about 3/4 mile and not nearly as busy. When we hiked from the state park

Keely M.
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Hiking

Great hike but super crowded on July 3. Start early because the parking lots fill up quickly. There were some sections of the trail where it was difficult to social distance because of the crowds, particularly at the Rainbow Falls upper overlook. Rainbow Falls is spectacular. Be sure to walk down past the lower overlook to feel the cool spray from the falls (it is slippery so hiking poles will help). Great pics from this spot too. Lots of people of all ages sliding down Turtle Back so wear your suit. Visitors center and restrooms are open.

Scott Siegel
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HikingMuddy
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Gwendolyn Woodward
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Hiking

06/03/2020 Late review... oops! Definitely easier going in than coming out of the trail! Overall, the first falls were the best view. Some people were sliding down the rock in the middle... and then the falls at the end were cut off due to down trees. Very pretty, definitely a moderate hike coming out of the woods. Would recommend.

Becca G.
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HikingMuddy

Super fun trail. Saw lots of people and dogs on the trail - no masks despite COVID. There were muddy spots, but easy to traverse. All ages observed on the trail: mama with a newborn, 5-6 year olds and up. Even saw some elderly people. Great hike and will come again with family.

Alex McCollum
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Hiking

Rainbow Falls... HUGE and breathtaking. Turtleback Falls on the other hand is big enough to play in and small enough not to get hurt. You can slide down it too if you stay on the far left side. There’s a third waterfall after it but it’s private property, no use of continuing that trail after seeing Turtleback.

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Jane Barker
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 27 2020
Hiking

Great trail. I would rate it moderate for the climbs and water crossings. Closer to the falls, the ground was wet and slippery but manageable. This is considered a rain forest so expect a chance of rain! The waterfall is spectacular! Great trail with great scenery! Well worth the trip. Expect the parking lot to get full so come early. This is highly trafficked so if you are Covid fearful might want to travel a trail less traversed.

Jane Barker
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 27 2020
Hiking

Great trail. I would rate it moderate for the climbs and water crossings. Closer to the falls, the ground was wet and slippery but manageable. This is considered a rain forest so expect a chance of rain! The waterfall is spectacular! Great trail with great scenery! Well worth the trip. Expect the parking lot to get full so come early. This is highly trafficked so if you are Covid fearful might want to travel a trail less traversed.

Spencer X
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarGray StarGray StarThu Jun 25 2020
Hiking

Beautiful falls, well maintained and easy to follow trail. But a bit crowded mid-day on a weekday. Trip back was slightly long for our kids.

rob wagner
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Hiking

Great trail. Lots of water access along the way to the falls. Started getting crowded around 11am, so Would suggest an early start to avoid the crowds.

Sarah Louie
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HikingMuddyRocky
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Scott Armstrong
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Hiking

Swam at the third falls with the kids

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Malinda Vest
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HikingMuddyRocky
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Seth Furr
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Hiking

Get there early as it gets really crowded!

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Jason Aguilar
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HikingMuddy
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Kelvin Standard
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Hiking

This is an extremely well maintained trail. Rainbow falls was running well and the view was spectacular. Rock surfaces at the bottom were very slick, so as always be extra careful there. Drift falls was worth the short hike from turtleback falls but just barely due to the over grown access on the private property. I would classify this as a moderate hike as there is a reasonable amount of elevation gain on the return trip.

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brittany smith
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HikingMuddyRocky
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Gen Parker
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HikingMuddy
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Adam White
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HikingRocky

Heavily trafficked. Muddy. Huge payoff but make sure to go past rainbow falls for Turtle Back. Worth it as well.

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Joseph Donica
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Hiking

Absolute blast of a trail, and the payoff for making it to the top is well worth it. we enjoyed a picnic on our way back by a little creek just outside Gorges State Park.

Terri Tiedemann
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Hiking

Beautiful payoff at the end, heavy traffic on a Saturday and some mud but worth it!

Katy Black
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Hiking

Super heavily trafficked.

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Seventy & Climbing
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 06 2020
Hiking

Arrived at 8:00 and met no one going down. Six were at falls. Parking lot packed on return. At Rainbow Falls you come to a fork in the path. Take it. Oh, go left for another beautiful view of Rainbow and right for Turtleback. Joyful!

Andre Beaudry
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarSat Jun 06 2020
Hiking

Nice shaded trail that follows a river. Was very busy on a Saturday morning.

Mel Strauss
Yellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarYellow StarWed Jun 03 2020
Hiking

Great trail - we did the hike at 730am and had it all to ourselves!! Amazing views of the falls

Philothea Fox
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Hiking

5 stars for the waterfalls! -1 star for the heavy, heavy traffic. We expected that though. Not overly challenging overall, although you do gain some decent elevation to the falls and back out. Obviously a bit muddle and wet by the falls, so I don't recommend sandals. One lady had her sandal snap off and was walking bare foot back.

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