Just upstream from Rainbow Falls, people actually ride the 20ft Turtleback Falls.
Just past the popular North Carolina waterfall, Rainbow Falls, is the unique Turtleback Falls that is a popular waterslide and swimming hole. While there is a 3.5 mile round trip hike required to access Turtleback Falls, during the warm Carolina Summer months expect this destination to be a very popular spot. While Turtleback Falls is inside the Pisgah National Forest, the trailhead to it begins at Gorges State Park.
Turtleback Falls is reached via the Rainbow falls trail that begins inside Gorges State Park at the Grassy Ridge Parking Area; about 1.5 miles past the entrance on Grassy Ridge Road. Gorges State Park is just off Highway 281 about 1 mile south of Highway 64 between Lake Toxaway and Sapphire North Carolina. It is about 75 minutes from Asheville North Carolina or 90 minutes from Greenville South Carolina. The parking area is very large so you should have no problem with finding a spot.
There are nice restroom facilities at the visitors center and porta-potties at the trailhead parking area.
As mentioned earlier, to reach Turtleback Falls you hike first to Rainbow Falls then Turtleback Falls is just an additional quarter mile further. We recommend that you watch the full HD Carolina episode on Rainbow Falls but will provide a brief summary of the hike here as well.
The trail begins in the far corner of the lot by the informative sign boards and picnic tables. The trail is very nicely constructed and maintained, and is marked with orange blazes until you leave Gorges State Park and enter the Pisgah National Forest. After that the trail is easy to follow as you essentially parallel the Horsepasture River.
The trail will gently ascend and descend initially and break right as the Raymond Fisher Trail breaks away to the left. You will cross two minor creeks and enter into the Pisgah National Forest in-between them. The trail will get steeper and continue until you reach Rainbow Falls. From the upper view of Rainbow Falls, the trail to Turtleback will veer right and continue up to the top of Rainbow Falls.
Be very careful near the top of Rainbow Falls as the rocks near the river are extremely slippery and you don’t want to slip and fall into the river here. This has unfortunately happened to too many people resulting in a number of fatalities over the years.
Above the falls the trail will continue next to the river for about another quarter mile eventually reaching Turtleback Falls.
This short 20ft waterfall is beautiful and worth seeing even if you don’t plan on swimming. But if you came prepared and want to get wet, you can swim in the large pool at the base of the falls or even get in the water above the falls and ride the falls down to the pool below. There is a rope present on the left side of the falls to help you quickly climb to the top or there is a longer trail you can walk up on the right side. However you get to the top, get ready for a thrilling ride over Turtleback Falls.
Note that the 150ft Rainbow Fall is just a quarter mile downstream. Use common sense and don’t get into the water if the water is too high or if you are not an experienced swimmer. There are no lifeguards or rangers present and you are a long way from help.
This is an out and back hike so don’t forget you have a long hike back to the parking lot when you have finished enjoying your time at the falls. Have fun and be safe!