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In Pictures: North Carolina’s gorgeous Gorges State Park
By Tom Adkinson
May 26, 2023

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SAPPHIRE, N.C. – It’s easy to trip over your tongue and inadvertently rename Gorges State Park to Gorgeous State Park. It is relatively small, just 8,000 acres, but it is packed with 26 waterfalls, challenging trails and big views of the Appalachian Mountains. It is high on the Blue Ridge Escarpment near where North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina meet. It is famous for its backcountry recreation, especially backpacking, and has a portion of the 70-mile-long Foothills Trail. Its visitor center explains the geology, wildlife and weather of the region and highlights the human history of the native Cherokees.

Rainbow Falls

rainbow falls trail
The 150-foot-tall Rainbow Falls is a popular destination for many park visitors. Trail guidance says that the 3-mile round trip is strenuous but achievable by most. The reward of seeing the falls is a great incentive to pace yourself and then brag about your accomplishment. Image by Tom Adkinson

On the trail

rainbow falls trail
Gorges State Park has 56 miles of hiking trails. They range from the O.2-mile trail to Upper Bearwallow Falls to the 7.2-mile Auger Hole Trail. Image by Tom Adkinson

Pretty in pink

mountain laurel
Springtime mountain laurel decorates the ridges and valleys of Gorges State Park. The park also has habitat for the rare Oconee Bell wildflower. Image by Tom Adkinson

10 inches more rain then LeBron James is tall

rain gauge gorges state park
A rain gauge display at the park’s visitor center indicates that annual park rainfall pushes 91 inches. That’s 10 inches taller than NBA star LeBron James, and explains the abundance of waterfalls. Image by Tom Adkinson


black bear
Actually, this black bear in the visitor center doesn’t growl, but it does give you a sense of the carnivore’s size. Black bears are one of many animal species in the park. Image by Tom Adkinson

Cherokee heritage

cherokee settlements
A visitor center display shows the extent of Cherokee settlements in the mountains of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee in 1760 before European and American settlers changed the Cherokees’ world. Image by Tom Adkinson

Trip-planning resources: GorgesStatePark and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available on

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