When someone mentions Jones Gap, you may think they're referring to a low point on some sort of ridge... just like you would imagine with any other Gap. Jones Gap is actually the name of a deep depression, the Saluda River valley, that is located in the extreme northern tier of Greenville County, South Carolina. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness provides many hiking opportunities throughout the Jones Gap area. On this particular hike, you will ascend out of Jones Gap past seasonal views for a loop that circles along the south rim of the gap. This hike occurred on Saturday, February 13, 2016. My plan was to hike a short stretch of the Jones Gap Trail, and then to hike the Pinnacle Pass Loop by hiking the Pinnacle Pass Trail and the eastern half of the Rim of the Gap Trail.
R/T Length of Trail: 8.5 Miles
Duration of Hike: 5:20
Type of Hike: Lasso
Difficulty Rating: 6 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 2329 Feet
Pros: Trail up the steep-sided gorge is graded well
Points of Interest: Views of Jones Gap from Pinnacle Pass Trail - combined 4 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): Jones Gap Trail - Blue; Rim of the Gap Trail - Yellow; Pinnacle Pass Trail - White; John Sloan Trail - Pink
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter (Be aware of some ice on Pinnacle Pass Trail)
Fees: There is a $2 trail parking fee for adults. The fee is $1.25 for SC Seniors, and admission is free for children 15 years old or younger. Between October 1 and November 30, the admission fees are $5 per adult, $3.25 per SC Senior, $3 per children age 6 to 15, and free for children under 6. Pay at the fee station near the parking area at the trailhead.
Beginning Point: Jones Gap State Park Visitor Center
Directions: From Cleveland, SC: Follow US Route 276 North for 0.9 miles. Then, turn right onto River Falls Road. Continue straight for 5.6 miles (the road name will change to Jones Gap Road) until you reach Jones Gap State Park. After you enter it, the parking area will be to your right. The parking area may be full, and if so, you will have to wait at the entrance gate until someone leaves.
Click here for more information and to download this trail map to view in Garmin Basecamp.
The Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, comprised of Caesars Head State Park and Jones Gap State Park, has always been known for some of the most beautiful and rugged trails in South Carolina. In the Caesars Head section, the best-known destination is 420-foot Raven Cliff Falls. In the Jones Gap section, locations such as the Middle Saluda River, Rainbow Falls, and Hospital Rock are some of the major points of interest. This hike was only my second hike in the area. Originally, I had planned to hike the famed western half of the Rim of the Gap Trail with its ice formations, but unfortunately, I had to significantly shorten my hike, because I happened to be sick on this day. Thus, I settled with a shorter loop hike that still had some views of Jones Gap.
The hike starts on the Jones Gap Trail, one of the park's center trails that follows the Middle Saluda River. From the parking area, take a wide path that starts at the kiosk. A sign at the start of the path states "Trails ^". You will shortly reach the Middle Saluda River. Walk alongside the river before crossing it on an impressive footbridge at 0.2 miles. Then, the path leads to the Visitor Center. Walk past the Visitor Center and cross the Middle Saluda River again on a service road bridge. Immediately afterwards, at 0.4 miles, the Jones Gap Trail begins to the right. Take the trail as it stays close to the river. This is a true mountain stream, full of boulders and cascades. At 0.45 miles, the Rim of the Gap Trail begins to the left. The Jones Gap Trail continues straight towards Rainbow Falls and Jones Gap Falls, but this hike turns left onto the Rim of the Gap Trail. This trail loses no time in beginning the ascent out of the gorge. However, the grades are not steep, and they remain that way for most of the hike. Not far from the beginning of the ascent, the trail will scramble onto a large boulder where you will have to use both your arms and legs.
At 0.85 miles, reach a junction with the Pinnacle Pass Trail. Here, the Rim of the Gap Trail turns right, while I continued straight onto the white-blazed Pinnacle Pass Trail and began the loop section of the hike. Initially, the Pinnacle Pass Trail stayed level and even descended some, with the Middle Saluda River Gorge bottoming out to your left. There are excellent winter views here of the Cleveland Cliffs across the gorge. At 1.25 miles, make a sharp right turn and begin a steep ascent along a small creek. Switchbacks aid you to ascend here. After significant rainfall, a picturesque slide waterfall may become visible on the small stream next to the trail. After this, you will rock hop across the stream and pass by several large rock faces with several openings in the trees that provide excellent winter views of Jones Gap and somewhat limited summer views. On this day, the rock faces were covered in sheets of ice, making them quite photogenic. While these vistas of the gorge have a lot of trees that limit the views, these are still some of the best vistas of the gorge from the south side. After these vistas, the trail will approach the rim of the gorge (still ascending). Make a sharp right turn at 1.9 miles - you are now on the rim of Jones Gap.
Once you're on the rim, winter views will extend both north into and across Jones Gap and south to the Foothills. Keep in mind that even though you have reached the rim, your ascent for the day is not over. Over the next 1.6 miles, you will cross three separate summits. The last and highest one is Little Pinnacle Mountain. After descending from Little Pinnacle Mountain, you will reach a gap at 3.5 miles, where there is a junction with the 6 & 20 Connector Trail. This trail is a short connector between the Pinnacle Pass Trail and the Rim of the Gap Trail. You can use 6 & 20 Connector to shortcut your hike. I did not use this shortcut - I continued straight on the Pinnacle Pass Trail. The trail now follows a mostly level forest road that provides easy walking. You will stay on the forest road until the junction with the John Sloan Trail at 4.8 miles. Here, the Pinnacle Pass Trail veers left, aiming for Oil Camp Creek and eventually US 276. If you continue on the Pinnacle Pass Trail, it will be possible to do a much longer and more strenuous loop hike, but to continue on this day hike, turn right onto the John Sloan Trail. The John Sloan Trail serves as another connector that leads to the Rim of the Gap Trail. You will ascend gently on the John Sloan Trail as you pass near the top of another summit on the rim of the gorge. This is your last ascent for the day. At 5.4 miles, the pink-blazed trail ends at the Rim of the Gap Trail. Originally, I had planned to turn left here and hike the famed icy western half of the Rim of the Gap, but like I mentioned earlier, circumstances prevented me from doing so. Also, keep in mind that the trail to the left (west) of this junction is closed in winter due to major ice formations, so technically, I would not have been allowed to hike it.
To continue the hike, turn right onto the Rim of the Gap Trail. This marks the beginning of a fairly steep descent back into the gorge. At 5.9 miles, pass the other end of the 6 & 20 Connector - continue straight. In the next section of the trail, there are some spectacular winter views of the deep gorge that is Jones Gap. The best views are at around 6.5 miles. After crossing several small streams and descending some more, you will reach the end of the loop at the junction with Pinnacle Pass Trail at 7.65 miles. Turn left here to retrace your steps back to the trailhead. You will end the hike at 8.5 miles at the trailhead near the visitor center.
0.0 - Jones Gap State Park
0.3 - Visitor Center
0.4 - Right onto Jones Gap Trail
0.45 - Left onto Rim of the Gap Trail
0.85 - Continue straight onto Pinnacle Pass Trail
1.9 - Reach the rim of the gorge
3.5 - Junction with 6 & 20 Connector to right, continue straight
4.8 - Right onto John Sloan Trail
5.4 - Right onto Rim of the Gap Trail
7.65 - End of loop, turn left on Rim of the Gap Trail
8.05 - Right onto Jones Gap Trail
8.1 - Left onto service road near Visitor Center
8.2 - Visitor Center
8.5 - Jones Gap State Park
Hike the Pinnacle Pass Loop using the 6 & 20 Connector instead of the John Sloan Trail - 6.2 Miles
Hike a larger loop (Pinnacle Pass Trail - Rim of the Gap Trail - Bill Kimball Trail - Jones Gap Trail) - Approximately 13 miles
After the hike, consider driving on US Roue 276 North to the Caesars Head State Park Visitor Center, where there is a spectacular vista just a few steps from the roadway.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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