Accessibility – Difficult
Height: Approx 50′
Distance – 2.6 miles (out and back)
Beauty – 7
Photo rating – 8
Solitude – 10
GPS Info: LAT 35.08051 LONG -82.95871
Last Updated: 06-16-2019
Sidepocket Falls is unfortunately located in the no-mans land between the popular falls on the upper end of the Horsepasture River (Rainbow etc) and the wild waterfalls of the lower end of the river, Windy on down. Personally I include it with the wild falls of the lower end. It just isn’t the kind of hike I see the average Rainbow Falls family of four going to see. The falls drops in three segments. The lowest 10 feet is a slide, the middle a cascade and the upper (and most scenic) a split drop. The total height is about 50 feet but there is no way to see all of it from one place since the three drops are on a bend in the river. While not at easy hike, the end result is worthwhile for those who relish a challenge and enjoy rugged beauty without a defined trail.
Mind you, I did this hike in lower waterflows where I was able to make several crossings of the river. In all but the lowest water conditions, crossing this part of the Horsepasture River is asking for trouble. Even in low water it was sketchy. If you can’t safely cross the river then the only choice is to backtrack to get out.
To reach the trailhead, head to Gorges State Park and pass the visitors center. Make a right to pass around in front of the center and follow this road to the parking area for Rainbow Falls. The parking lot will likely be full unless you get here before ten on the weekend. No matter how many cars you see, there is little chance you’re going to see any of these people where you’re going. If you hike on a weekend in the summer there will likely be a couple of rangers stationed at the entrance to Chestnut Mountain Road. They will likely not ask where you’re going nor will they care when you tell them. I’ve chatted with them on all my forays down Chestnut Mountain Road and they are very nice. If you ask for directions to any of these falls they are not going to tell you. It is assumed that if you are heading off this way you know where you’re going and what you’re doing!
The Hike: At the upper end of the parking area you will see a gravel road heading up hill. This is Chestnut Mountain Road. The first 0.6 of a mile follows Chestnut Mountain Road and all but those first few feet are downhill. At 0.6 of a mile from the parking area there is a pile of gravel on the right and a pullout on the left. There is an obvious trail into the woods on the right before you get to the pile of gravel. Enter the woods here and follow the worn road as it descends as is you are going to Windy Falls.
Less than 0.25 of a mile from Chestnut Mountain Road another old road comes in on the left. You may or may not notice it. There is a log across the end of it and you do need to find this location or you will not find the way to Sidepocket Falls. At this intersection you need to make at X, using the overgrown road that comes in on the left. Draw a line across the road you’ve been hiking and plunge into the woods. It is overgrown at first but after about twenty feet there is a trail. There was a faint trail but if you can’t find it, you need to a have backup plan like I did. If you look at a topo map you will see there are three knolls in a triangular pattern. You want to angle between the two that are close together before making a line up and over the third. If that makes no sense, please see the Rainbow Falls page before you get hopelessly lost in the back country.
The coordinates between the two knolls: 35.07900, -82.95442
The top of the third knoll is located at: 35.07907, -82.95809
From the top of the third knoll, head down the ridge spine, trying to stay in the center of the spine. It will lead you to the river below the lower drop at which point you have to make you way upstream to the falls. You may think it best to angle from the top of the knoll to the base of the falls, taking a straight line but going this route will likely end with you falling off a cliff. You can shoot the middle section of the falls from the open rock and the upper section from in front of the huge boulder on river left.
When it is time to leave you can reverse course or head up the river left side to make your way to Stairway Falls. However if you plan to head up river left you will first have to cross to river right below Sidepocket Falls and climb the waterfall. It wasn’t a hard climb and once at the top, as long as the water is low, you can safely cross back to the left above the falls and enter the woods. You may pick up an overgrown trail that is mostly obscured by fallen hemlocks. You can follow this for a time before it is completely overgrown. At this point a huge cliff forced us to make a wild crossing of the river so we could walk up the rocks on the right side. You can stay on the right for a while until the cliffs force you to cross again. Do not underestimate the inherent dangers of wading the Horsepasture River.
The trail was more recognizable after the upstream crossing and in time it will lead you to the base of Stairway Falls and a real trail will take you to the Rainbow Falls Trail. This was the route I took, making it into a 3.4 mile loop hike.