Bridge Wilderness Area
Jones Gap State Park, SC
Sunday, May 23rd, 2010
By Jack Thyen
Head for the most Falls!
Photos are posted here:
Andy, Boone, and I arrived at Jones Gap State Park at around 9:30am and hit the
trail. After a short distance on the Jones Gap Trail, we turned right onto the
Rainbow Falls Trail.
The Rainbow Falls Trail is the newest addition to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness
trail system. It is a very well designed and built trail gaining a little over
1,000 feet of elevation over about 2.5 miles (including the short section of the
Jones Gap Trail).
We made excellent time up the trail, passing several groups of people in hopes
of arriving to the falls before the sun rose above the ridge. There are several
nice smaller waterfalls and cascades along the way, but we elected to save those
for another time as we had an aggressive agenda for the day .
Our timing was pretty good, but a half hour earlier would have been a little
better. We had the falls to ourselves for a few minutes before some of the
people we passed earlier started to arrive.
Rainbow Falls starts out with a ribbon of water freefalling about 100-ft,
followed by a series of cascades below. It had pretty good flow due to some
storms that hit the area the day before.
After photographing the Falls we decided it was time to continue on up the
trail. The Rainbow Falls Trail officially ends at the base of Rainbow Falls;
however there is another trail that comes done from Camp Greenville above, which
we used to continue the hike.
Camp Greenville is private property, but as long as camp is not in session they
usually are happy to allow public access to their trails. However, it is best
to call ahead to make sure there is nothing going on that would cause them to
close the trails to the public.
The trail from Rainbow Falls to Camp Greenville is very steep in spots and
requires a good bit of scrambling. Andy had to give Boone a boost up some of
the rocky scrambles. It eventually levels out and the last part up to the main
road through the camp is much easier!
There are some other smaller waterfalls above the main drop including Shower
Bath Falls, which can be accessed from Camp Greenville, but we also decided to
save those for another time.
A short stroll down the road took us to Symmes Chapel which is well worth a
visit. However, it was closed to the public today due to a private ceremony
(most likely a wedding). Since we had both been there before and it was a very
hazy day, we were not disappointed that we didn't get to the chapel this Sunday.
Just before the gate to Symmes Chapel we turned off on a dirt road which would
eventually connect us back to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area trail system.
Since we were now at above 3,000-ft (about 1,800 feet higher than when we
started the hike), we noticed that it was a little cooler, the humidity wasn't
as bad, and there was a really nice breeze. The perfect spot to break for
After lunch was when the adventure would begin!
Our main goal for today's hike was to do some off trail exploration of
Headforemost Creek and hopefully find Headforemost Falls.
I am not aware of any current publication or website that mentions this
waterfall. However, I do have an old, and out of print book called "150 South
Carolina Waterfalls" by Ron Tagliapietra, where Headforemost Falls is listed.
Based on the very vague directions, we were expecting that this would be a
We reached the intersection of the Cleveland Connector Trail and the Hospital
Rock Trail, and continued East on the Hospital Rock Trail. Approximately 0.7
miles later we could hear Headforemost Creek to left, which was our sign to
start looking for an old logging road on the right. (Note: if the trail
crosses the creek, you have gone too far)
We were pretty sure we found the correct "old logging road", which is now
covered with about 75 years worth of forest growth. The contour of the road is
still fairly obvious, however it was definitely a bushwhack. The sounds of the
creek started getting louder so we figured we were on the right track.
When the old logging road started veering away from the creek, we decided to
start following our instincts. We left the "road" and started heading steeply
downhill. At times it seemed like we were following a faint path, at other
times it was a pure bushwhack full of Poison Ivy, Briars, and Ticks!
We eventually made it to a fairly flat section of the creek and we both agreed
that we were too far upstream. We took off downstream taking the path of least
resistance. The Poison Ivy was really thick during this stretch. On top of
that, Andy discovered a few ticks on him.
Andy is not a big fan of DEET, the main active ingredient in most bug sprays.
I, on the other hand would rather expose myself to chemicals in hopes of warding
off the ticks and mosquitoes. This hike definitely proved that DEET does work
against ticks! Andy's final tick count was reaching double digits while I only
ended up finding one!
Bushwhacking downstream, the terrain started getting even steeper and down below
we came upon the first significant drop on Headforemost Creek. We decided that
this one was worth getting a closer look.
This turned out to be a nice little waterfall! My guess is that this is the
waterfall the Ron Tagliapietra's book refers to as Foremost Cove Falls, so that
is what I am calling it.
Based on the amount of Poison Ivy we walked through I decided to remove my socks
and boots and soak my legs in the nice cool pool of water at the base of the
waterfall to hopefully wash off any Poison Ivy juice before it got a chance to
soak into the skin. It seemed to have worked, because it is now two days later
and still no sign of Poison Ivy rash! It's not a big enough pool to swim in,
but it was perfect for cleaning up a bit!
After my bath, I applied some additional DEET and we continued downstream. We
passed by several other nice looking cascades and small waterfalls. I took a
few quick shots of some of them, but didn't take the time to pull out the
We eventually reached what had to be the brink of the main drop of Headforemost
Falls! Continuing on any further downstream from here would be suicidal! It
might be possible to head back away from the creek and find a safer descent
through the forest, but at this point we also had to consider time, so we
decided to turn back.
According to my altimeter, the Brink of the Falls is about 700-feet lower than
the point at which we left the Hospital Rock Trail. We would now have to regain
that elevation to get back to the main trail. Fortunately we had a better idea
of where we were going and made much better time on the climb up. Andy did
manage to trip over something and as he fell, he almost head-butted one of the
biggest Black Snakes I have ever seen!
Back on the main trail, the worst of the hike was over. It would all be
downhill from here! At least that is what I kept saying, but they do manage to
squeeze in a surprisingly large number of uphill sections during this mostly
downhill stretch of trail! Plus my wrong turn didn't help matters!
We were crawling though a bunch of deadfall complaining about the poor trail
maintenance. I started looking for trail blazes and realized we hadn't seen any
for a while. That's when we realized I made a wrong turn. Fortunately we
didn't go that far out of the way, but I just hate crawling through deadfall for
no reason, especially when you end up crawling through the same stuff twice!
We discovered where we took the wrong turn and continued on the main trail. Our
final stop of the day would be the spectacular Falls Creek Falls! While this
200-ft waterfall is definitely a sight to behold, it is impossible to get the
whole thing in one shot, and very difficult to find a place to shoot without the
constant waterfall spray!
We had to share our time there with a slightly annoying family who seemed to be
taking turns walking in front of our cameras as we were trying to photograph the
falls. I still managed to get a few good ones without any people in it.
It was closing in on 5:00pm and we still had about 1.7 miles of trail plus
another 3.0 miles of road walking back to my truck at the Jones Gap State Park
With some of the longest days of the year, I wasn't worried about running out of
daylight; however I was getting worried that my wife would start worrying if she
didn't hear from me soon. Fortunately this is one of the few Wilderness Areas
where you can actually get a cell signal. I am not a big fan of Cell Phones, but
it was nice to be able to call Amy and inform her that I would be a late!
We made quick time on the last stretch of the trail, and even faster time once
we got to the road walk part. The first part of the road walk is actually very
pleasant. We did get delayed by a herd of roaming dogs that all had to
introduce themselves to Boone and they all had to do a round of butt sniffing
before we could move on.
We were also entertained by the sounds of 1970s disco music coming from one of
the small homes and got a quick glimpse of a couple of Hippies gyrating to the
tunes while frolicking in the creek!
Much earlier in the day on the drive in, as we turned off of US276 towards Jones
Jap State Park, Andy pointed out the F-Mart and said he had heard they had
really good hamburgers. It's a pretty dumpy looking place, but I was getting
pretty darn hungry. So during the last part of our road walk, I suggested that
we grab a few burger from the F-Mart on the drive home.
Unfortunately the F-Mart was closed and possibly out of business. So we ended
up stopping at the Citgo Station in Cleveland, SC to get our burger and fries
fix. I have to say, that might have been the best gas station cheese burger I
have ever had. Of course, I don't eat a whole lot of gas station cheeseburgers
and I was hungry enough that just about anything would have tasted great!
Even though we didn't accomplish our ultimate goal of reaching the base of
Headforemost Falls, it was still a great hike. I had my doubts to begin with
and was very satisfied we made it as far as we did. We explored a section of
the creek and even found a significant waterfall that very few people have ever
On the drive back to Spartanburg, we discussed another future attempt to get to
the base of Headforemost Falls. Next time, we will start at the Falls Creek
Falls trailhead and attempt to make our way from Falls Creek to Headforemost
Creek. There also looks like there might be waterfall potential up Little Falls
Creek. However, this future trip will most likely have to wait for cooler
Jack's photos are posted here:
Back to South Carolina
Back to Hiking and Backpacking Trip Reports
Please remember to Leave No Trace!