Accessibility – Moderate+
Height: Approx 125′
Distance – 3.0 Miles (out and back)
Beauty – 10
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 8
GPS Info: LAT 35.0909 LONG -82.9660
Last Updated: 04/01/2017
Rainbow Falls is the third waterfall of five waterfalls along this section of the Horsepasture River but it is the highlight of the hike. All are accessed from the same parking area in Gorges State park even though the waterfalls themselves are in Pisgah. Since you have to park in Gorges, I list them in the Gorges Section. Taken as a whole this ranks as my top waterfall hike in the area. The remainder of my top 10 list can be found here. I’m going to treat Stairway Falls, Secret Falls, Rainbow Falls, Turtleback Falls and Drift Falls as a single entity. The hike to Stairway Falls is the only one that starts in the parking area. Each successive waterfall on the hike will begin at its predecessor so this will be a little different than my other entries.
After returning through the campsite to the main trail, turn upstream. The trail is going to get steeper at this point as we near the centerpiece of the hike, Rainbow Falls. This will be the steepest part of the trail but thankfully it isn’t a long climb. At the crest of the hill, depending on the wind and the water level you may get a face full of spray. When we visited in February of 2014 it was a week after a heavy snow and thaw so the levels were way up. When we returned on December 26, 2015, it came after a week that saw almost 7 inches of rain. On both occasions the 125 waterfall cast a mist field that made taking pictures from the deck overlooking the falls almost impossible. On our second visit we had the benefit of a clear sunny day and as a result, Rainbow Falls was living up to it’s name.
The trail splits just past the rialing with the trail to Turtleback Falls branching to the right. To get closer to the base of Rainbow Falls, use the left fork of the trail beyond the rail and use one of the scramble paths to the lower viewing deck. From the lower platform you can follow a worn path down to the rocks. If you make it down, you will have another excellent.
Despite the steep segments the hike remains kid friendly and there are enough destinations to keep them engaged and not thinking about how long they’ve been hiking. The eroded sections and the steep ascent coming to Rainbow Falls may challenge younger children. I did a lot of carrying of my then 4 year old, on the way back. Our rule used to be, you can only be carried on the uphill portions of the return hike. This used to come into play frequently. Photographing Rainbow Falls can be done from the upper viewing area, the lower platform or the rocks at the base. There are also spots along the right bank of the creek. If water levels are low enough you can even get some shots from the left side. Next stop, Turtleback Falls.
Rainbow Falls before observation deck – February 2014