The Jones Gap Trail offers some of the most scenic river and forest views in the state of South Carolina, winding past many waterfalls on its 5.3-mile course along the rocky Middle Saluda River. The most famous of these is Jones Gap Falls, a fifty-foot-high waterfall you'll find about 1.5 miles into your hike. Coursing down stairsteps of rocks into a shady forest dell, it is a refreshing place to stop for a picnic or to give your good dog some pets.
The trailhead is located within Jones Gap State Park, which has other hiking trails and many amenities, including bathrooms. At the visitor's center, you can learn about the natural history of the area and consult trail maps to plan your route. There is a $5 admission fee to the park per adult. Jones Gap State Park is open from 9:00 a.m. daily, closing at 9:00 p.m. during Daylight Savings Time and at 6:00 p.m. the rest of the year.
The Jones Gap Trail can be hiked as an out-and-back trail or combined with the Bill Kimball and Coldspring Branch trails for a loop of about the same distance. Some people who do the loop start from the opposite end at Ceasars Head State Park. Wherever you start, and whether you take the loop or the out-and-back route, this hike will challenge you with its significant elevation gain and tricky terrain. Some hikers say that the creek crossings on the Coldspring Branch Trail are especially treacherous. For a shorter and easier option, you can hike to Jones Gap Falls and back for a three-mile round-trip hike.
Jones Gap State Park and the surrounding area are noted for being home to rare plant species and a unique array of wildlife. The dense forests include oak, hickory, and flowering dogwood trees, as well as copious rhododendron and ferns. If you're lucky, you might spot showy orchis or a recently discovered species of trillium known only to the area. Rafinesque's big-eared bat makes Jones Gap home, as do black bears, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and several species of colorful salamanders. This land is a pristine, wild place, and a day spent here with your dog will recharge something deep within you.