If the question is “If I can just see one South Carolina waterfall, which one should it be?” Factor in the beauty of the falls, the height, access to the base and interest of the trails leading to the falls, there really is only one answer: Rainbow Falls. Standing in as a 100 foot tall plunge, it has a well-deserved Spectacular rating.
Now, waterfall hikers understand the concept of “earning” a waterfall. The beauty and meaning of any cascade is greatly enhanced when there is a “struggle” involved with getting there. It might be a difficult trail, it might be a long trail, it might be the lack of any trail but when you get there, you feel like you’ve “earned” the privilege to view the waterfall. You don’t get that feeling when you park your car in the lot then walk down a paved path to a viewing platform. Just not the same.
Rainbow Falls is one of those falls that you have to “earn,” plus it has the distinction of having 2 completely different trail experiences, both of which result in “earning” the experience.
First, there is The Upper Trail. A short, steep trail that descends 200 vertical feet in a half mile. Steep is the operative word here in that there are fixed ropes along the way. The trailhead is located on the property of Camp Greenville.
Second, there is The Lower Trail. A much longer, 2.5 mile trail that climbs 1200 vertical feet from the trailhead at Jones Gap State Park headquarters. No fixed ropes required here, but there are a couple of steep ascents that will have you stopping to catch your breath.
Both of these hikes result in your “earning” your visit to Rainbow Falls. And, given how distinctly different these 2 trails are, you should do them both. Most hikers will have accessed the falls via the lower trail. The less-frequented upper trail is not as well-known. So having the upper trail on your life list will be something to talk about, but having done both will make you a member of a select group.