Chutes and Ladders
Trail: The Rim of the Gap, South Carolina
Distance: 9.9 miles
Elevation: 2,540 feet(not too shabby for South Carolina)
Date Hiked: October 28, 2016
I knew I wanted to start this hike early since I’m relegated to weekend hiking right now and I wanted to avoid the leaf looking day hikers.
We're in peak autumn in the South Carolina upstate.
I didn’t think this particular trail would be popular, but it starts and stops at Jones Gap State Park, a little gem of a state park in the South Carolina mountains, that draws crowds just because.
So I reserved one of their walk-in camp sites, slept under the stars after enjoying the dance of the bats at dusk and woke before the sun came up so I could be on the trail just as the light was creeping into the forest.
(Note: The park opens at 9am for day use and there is a fee…$5/car, I think. If you plan to camp, be sure to reserve a spot. The overnight fee was $16 and all sites are walk-in.)
I made a loop of several trails (see below), starting with the Rim of the Gap trail, which is blazed in yellow and turns left off the Jones Gap Trail just beyond the kiosk.
The trail climbed 2,540 feet and came alive with birdsong as I walked up to the rim. What awaited me up there was something I could never imagine.
I’ve hiked all over these southern mountains and never seen anything like this rim of this gap.
I finally know what an escarpment is! It’s an area of the Earth where elevation changes suddenly.
Okay, I think I knew that. I would have called it a cliff.
The Rim of the Gap trail lets you experience a southern style escarpment.
It was a day of chutes and ladders, cliffs and boulders.
And it was a day serenaded by the sound of water dripping off rocks.
Sometimes the trail brushed up against imposing granite walls, jutting straight up and dripping water over the edges onto the trail, making the footing slippery and the going slow.
Sometimes the trail took me over, around and even under the great jumble of boulders strewn like a giant’s marbles around the base of the cliffs.
Sometimes the boulders got tossed into the gap below and I could see long chutes down into the abyss, overgrown now with trees, but leading straight down to the bottom. Drop your lunch down there and you will never see it again!
Sometimes I had to climb ladders crafted from chunky 4x4s in order to get up and over the boulders and mini-cliffs.
And all the while, the sound of water dripping and moss growing.
Water was falling everywhere around me.
Up there, amongst the boulders, I was perfectly alone and content to enjoy such a rare treat.
It’s not a trail for the uninitiated or unprepared. And there’s not much in the way of views as you pick your way along the base of the cliffs and scramble among the wet boulders.
But if you’re looking for solitude and a surprise, or you just want to know what an escarpment feels like, I’d give this a Top Ten rating and put it in the rotation.
It’s a great training hike because of the climb, the length and the terrain.
The Rest of the Way
After I left the rim behind, I descended as follows.
- Right on the Frank Coggins Trail (purple blazes)
- Right on the Coldspring Connector (blue blazes)
- Right on the Coldspring Branck Trail (orange blazes)
- Right on the Jones Gap Trail (blue blazes)
All along the way down there were stream crossings, some with bridges, some without.
The Jones Gap Trail follows the Middle Saluda River all the way back to the parking area.
It’s flat and it’s fast and you’ll find the crowds here, mostly towards the trailhead and around the visitor's center and parking lot.
There are plenty of rocks by the river to have your picnic lunch and the side trail to Jones Gap Falls is short and worth the trip.
Like I said, Top Ten...the trail, the camping, everything. And, bonus points, clean hot showers in the state park. Next time, I'll bring a towel.