by Brian O’Shea
Rainbow Falls is an incredible 150-foot waterfall that’s located in the Pisgah National Forest but visitors reach the trailhead through Gorges State Park.
The 7,500-acre park in Lake Toxaway is known for long-distance trail hiking, biking, and horseback riding along the Horse Pasture River. However, the trail to Rainbow Falls isn’t long distance and makes for a perfect day trip, a quick 1.5 miles and you’re there.
Rainbow Falls was given its name because if hikers catch the falls in the right sunlight, a large rainbow spans its face.
Upon arrival, hikers can see the Falls from a number of angles; including walking to it’s base, viewing it from a misty overlook, or hiking to the top. Some of the side trails are steep and the mud is slippery, use caution.
Approximately a half mile beyond Rainbow Falls is Turtleback Falls, which is a smooth waterfall popular during the summer months as swimmers can slide down falls’ face into a calm pool.
The trail to Rainbow Falls is listed as strenuous on several sites online and there is some elevation change, but it’s comparable to something like Glen Falls in Highlands.
The trail is well-marked with signage in all the right places. Follow the orange circle until an obvious intersection. Blue goes left and orange goes right, go right.
Hiking along the Horse Pasture River gives hikers plenty of side trails to wander along the riverbank or climb large rock formations in the riverbed.
Along the way, hikers pass an unnerving sign that reads you’re leaving Gorges State Park. You’re still on the correct trail. Again, Rainbow Falls is located in the Pisgah National Forest, but the trailhead is within Gorges State Park.
Visit Gorges State Park from Cashiers by heading east on Highway 64 for approximately 10 miles, then hang a right (south) on Highway 281. The park entrance is about two miles down on the left. Follow the signs to the trailhead.