Jones Gap State Park/Mountain Bridge Wilderness: Tom Miller Trail and Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls and Coldspring Branch Trail, Pumpkintown, South Carolina
While I do most of my far away hiking in North Carolina, there are a few places in South Carolina that stand apart from the rest, and are equally beautiful to North Carolina. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness area in Upstate South Carolina has around 50 miles of rugged and remote hiking trails. They pass by rivers and streams, waterfalls and cascades, and even some fantastic views. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area consists of two state parks: Caesars Head State Park and Jones Gap State Park. I am not entirely sure, but I think that the two are separated by US 276. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 29th, 2014. My plan was to start at the Raven Cliff Falls Access parking lot on US 276, take the Tom Miller Trail into Jones Gap, from there follow the Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls, and then backtrack to the Coldspring Branch Trail, taking it up the mountain back to the parking lot.
R/T Length of Trail: 9.1 Miles
Duration of Hike: 4:05
Type of Hike: Loop with Spur
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Ascents are well-graded
Cons: Many small crossings of tributaries of the Saluda River; several creek crossings on Coldspring Branch Trail
Points of Interest: Jones Gap Falls - 5 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): Tom Miller Trail - Blue; Jones Gap Trail - Blue; Coldspring Branch Trail - Orange
Best Season(s) to Hike: Summer; Fall
Fees: You must pay a $2 fee at the parking area for the hike. For SC Seniors, the fee is $1.25, and for children 15 and younger, there is no fee.
Beginning Point: Raven Cliff Falls & Jones Gap Access parking lot on US Route 276
Directions: from Greenville, SC: Follow US Route 276 from downtown all the way to the parking lot, on your right, in Caesars Head State Park. If coming from downtown, it is 33 - 34 miles. The parking lot is about a mile after the Caesars Head Overlook.
I try to miss not a single weekend of hiking. This weekend, there was a forecast for rain showers, and it was raining moderately at my house. However, I didn't really care. I decided to go to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness in South Carolina, which I have been wanting to go to for a long time. With all the low rain clouds, I knew even the lower mountains will be in the clouds, so the excitement was building. On my way to Caesar's Head, the rain was on and off, but there were a few pretty heavy showers. When I got onto US 276, and started ascending Caesars Head Mountain, I entered the clouds apparently, and the fog was very thick. I could barely drive on the road. I stopped by at the Caesars Head Overlook. The view was incredible, something I don't remember in all my years of hiking. There was fog everywhere, and the view from the overlook was an abyss. I will include the pictures from the overlook in the gallery below. After that, I stopped at the parking lot on the right, which is the trail-head. Make sure to pay a $2 fee, if you are going. Seniors above 65 years old are $1.25, and children, 15 and under, are free. Once you have done everything, go toward the entrance to the parking lot, and you will see a trail-head kiosk, and a sign :Jones Gap Access". Go that way.
You are now on the blue-blazed Tom Miller Trail, which is 0.8 miles long, and connects to Jones Gap The trail starts off with a brief descent, and then brief ascent up to a ridge line. Don't worry, this is just a brief exercise to stretch your legs, but most of the first half of the trail is a descent. Once at the top of the ridge line, there is a nice view of Jones Gap. It is pretty obvious where you are going to descend to. The headwaters of the Saluda River are in this area. After the brief ascent, a steep descent begins. The trail was muddy after all the rain, so this descent wasn't quite fun. It just kept getting steeper, although after 0.5 mile, it became more gradual. As I approached the bottom of Jones Gap, there was a campsite to the left. Shortly after the campsite, the trail reached the Saluda River, and went parallel to it. Shortly after reaching the river, there was a trail junction. To the left went a footbridge over the river, while forward the trail kept going next to the river. This was the end of the Tom Miller Trail. Jones Gap Trail, also blue-blazed, goes both directions. For the goals of this hike, I kept going eastward, along the river. This part of the trail crossed several small streams that flow into the Saluda. Around 1.5 miles from the start of the hike, you will reach a long footbridge over the Saluda. There is no railing here, and the footbridge was slippery after the rain, so be careful. Below the footbridge, you will see Dragan's Cascade, a small waterfall on the Saluda. Once you have made it across the footbridge, you will stay on this side of the Saluda for the rest of the Jones Gap Trail. It started drizzling after the footbridge. The trail kept crossing countless numbers of feeder streams. At one point, there will be a series of scenic switchbacks called "The Winds". There will be a sign with information about the Middle Saluda River passage of the Palmetto Trail. The Palmetto Trail actually shares its passage with the Jones Gap Trail. Most of the streams you will need to rock hop. However, one of them has a bridge, because otherwise you would need to wade through. The rain was intermittently heavy, but I did not really mind. About 1.5 miles after Dragan's Cascade, I reached the junction with the Coldspring Branch Trail. This would be the way I would come back up the mountain. For now, my plan was to keep going on the Jones Gap Trail to Jones Gap Falls. It was 1.7 miles from here, making an additional 3.4 miles. The trail kept crossing stream after stream, slowly descending, and the same time, the Saluda River rushed wildly through the gap with whitewater. There were campsites placed regularly every 0.5 miles, or around that. About 4 miles from the start of the hike, I reached the Jones Gap Falls spur trail. There was a sign for Jones Gap Falls, pointing to the left. The spur is not long at all, maybe 50 yards. After the first short climb, the falls is reached. It looks good. It is about 50 feet high as it cascades down the rock wall. there was a lot of water in it today, after all the rain.
After taking a brief break next to the waterfall, I headed back up Jones Gap Trail. The 1.7 miles to the Coldspring Branch Trail were not steep or hard, but it was just a slow steady ascent. It was nice viewing the river and the rapids in front of you now though. By the now, the rain ended and the sun came out. Once I reached the Coldspring Branch Trail, which was orange blazed, I took a left. Almost right away, it crosses a branch of the Saluda RIver on a bridge that was pretty hard to get too, as it was only tied with ropes to the surrounding land, and you had to jump to get onto it. Shortly, there was another, this time big, bridge over the Saluda River. Immediately after the Saluda River, there was a junction with the pink-blazed Bill Kimball Trail. Both trails will come out in the same place, as the Bill Kimball Trail will reconnect with the Coldspring Branch Trail near the parking lot. I decided to take the Coldspring Branch Trail. Right after this junction, a steep climb will begin. It won't last long, but it might have been the steepest on the whole trail. After the climb moderates, the trail will gently descend to the first crossing of Coldspring Branch. If you cross right where it crosses the branch, you will have to wade, but there are some rocks a little further upstream. the trail will cross Coldspring Branch or its tributaries another 7 or 8 times. the final crossing will have a footbridge, built in 2010 by Boy Scouts. In between the crossings, the trail will be slowly climbing, but after the footbridge, it will start climbing more steeply, and will be climbing all the way until the junction with the Bill Kimball Trail. Along the way, you will pass the the 6 & 20 connector going to your left. Finally, shortly after the Bill Kimball Trail, the trail reaches the ridgetop, and starts descending, While there is some vegetation and trees on the mountain, they are scattered, and the views are pretty nice. The trail soon descends to US Route 276. You can take US Route 276, if you are really tired, because the Coldspring Branch Trail steeply descends and then climbs 100 feet in 0.1 mile. I like to hike the whole trail though, so I did the additional climb. nothing really hard, just a little effort in the end. After the final climb ends, the trail ends at the opposite end of the parking lot from where you started.
Overall, this was a really nice hike. I enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Saluda River. Jones Gap Falls was a great waterfall, and the climb up Coldspring Branch Trail wasn't extremely hard. I plan to hike in this area of South Carolina a couple more times, as it looks like a great spot for hiking Below are my pictures from the trip. I did not post a lot, because I forgot to charge my camera, and had to use my phone instead. The quality of pictures on my phone is not too good, so I picked out only the best ones. Hope you enjoyed the description!
Hike out and back to Jones Gap Falls via Tom Miller Trail and Jones Gap Trail - 9.4 Miles
Hike out and back to Jones Gap Falls via Coldspring Branch Trail - 8.8 Miles
Make a quick stop at the Caesars Head Overlook on US Route 276. it is located south of the trailhead at the Caesars Head State Park Visitor Center.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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