Horsepasture River

Gorges State Park - Stairway & Sidepocket Falls

This particular hike definitely falls into the 'unintentional adventure' category of which my wanderings occasionally take me.  All I was intending to do on this morning was to make the familiar four-mile out-and-back along the Rainbow Falls Trail.  I just wanted to get out of the house for a couple hours and enjoy a nice easy stroll in the woods.  My plans took a turn for the adventurous when I decided to include the short side trip down to Stairway Falls as a bonus.  Then, upon arriving at Stairway, I noticed the faint path heading downstream towards Sidepocket Falls.  I had never been to Sidepocket.  I had the time.  Things had been just too unnaturally easy this day.  A quick exploratory hike did sound fun...should I?  Yeah, I definitely should!  Thus began a short but...let's put it nicely...interesting...hike to Sidepocket Falls, perhaps the least well known cascade along the wild and mighty Horsepasture River.  

Though I did include a quick run up to Rainbow and Turtleback Falls I'm not going to include them in this trip report.  Trust me, if you decide to do this hike, Stairway and Sidepocket will be plenty for you.  The route begins at the busy and confusingly-named Grassy Ridge Trailhead in Gorges State Park.  From the trailhead I'd follow the Rainbow Falls Trail down towards the Horsepasture, making the left turn onto the unofficial path to Stairway about a mile in.  The path to Stairway is steep at times and a bit rugged, but its easy to follow.  Everything easy about this hike ends, however, upon arrival at Stairway.  Just before making the final drop to the river below Stairway Falls a faint path can be noticed heading into the woods downstream.  This is the 'path' to Sidepocket.  On this day the route was fairly obvious but there were numerous places along the way where foliage, downed trees, and rock ledges obscured things and caused confusion.  That and the terrain is rugged, something that no veteran of off-trail hiking in this region should be surprised with.  

That's about all the detail I'm willing to give.  This hike is NOT for novices.  If you don't take a twisted pride in coming back from a hike bruised and possibly bloodied, then this one isn't for you.  Instead, let me do the hard work for you and come on along with me as I visit one of the wildest parts of North Carolina's famous Horsepasture River.  Enjoy!!!

Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.088811, -82.951810

Route Type:  Out-and-back              Difficulty:  CHALLENGING  (Petzoldt Rating:  5.40 )

Mileage Hiked:  3.6 miles                   Hike Duration:  3:00

Trailhead Temp:  70'F                        Trail Traffic:  10-25 people (all on Rainbow Falls Trail)

Min. Elevation:  2,230'                         Max. Elevation:  3,000'

Total Vertical Gain:  900'                   Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile:  250'

Trails Used (blaze color/shape):  Rainbow Falls (orange circles), Stairway Falls (unblazed), Sidepocket Path (unblazed)


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