The Jocassee Gorges area, located in Upstate South Carolina and the South Western portion of North Carolina, is a large expanse of rugged, pristine forest characterized by wide varieties of plant life, swift mountain streams, waterfalls both majestic and minor, rare plants, dry rocky ridges, and moist dripping rock faces that combine to give the area its unique biological character and scenic beauty. Wildlife is varied and diverse.
The Jocassee Gorges area was once home to the part of the Cherokee Nation; it now lies 300 feet (91 m) beneath the surface of the lake, near the Toxaway River. Nearby Keowee Town was a major hub in the Cherokee Path that connected Cherokee towns and villages throughout the area. Early 18th century traders delivered as many as 200,000 deer skins annually to Charleston, South Carolina and local Indians became well supplied with European firearms, ammunition, tools and clothing as a result.
Mounting discord between Europeans and Cherokees led to war in 1759. In 1785, General Andrew Pickens hosted a gathering of Indian chiefs leading to a treaty that gave all of the Jocassee gorges area, with the exception of northern Oconee County, to the United States; the Oconee mountains were not ceded until 1815. European settlers, mostly of Scottish and Irish descent, came from Virginia and Pennsylvania as well as from Charleston. Land grants in the Jocassee area go back to 1791.
Gorges State Park is a 7,709-acre (31.20 km2) North Carolina state park in Transylvania County, North Carolina. The land was purchased by the state from Duke Energy Corporation in 1999. It is North Carolina’s westernmost state park and one of the state’s newest. The park is adjacent to part of the Pisgah National Forest and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Toxaway Game Land. Gorges State Park provides the principle access to the Horsepasture River on these adjoining public lands.
Gorges State Park is open for year-round recreation, including, camping, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing. Primitive camping is available in several different natural environments. The Ray Fisher Place campground is located in the Grassy Ridge Access area. It is a hike-in campground with six primitive campsites, each with a picnic table, fire ring and lantern hook, and it is a 0.75-mile (1.21 km) hike from the Rainbow Falls Trail-head. Another camping area is near the shores of Lake Jocassee, along the Foothills Trail. These campsites are also primitive and hike-in. Dispersed camping is also permitted in the adjoining Pisgah National Forest, and backpackers may register and leave their vehicles in the park. Lake Jocassee is a deep man made lake which forms much of the park’s southern boundary, and it is open to trout and bass fishing. The streams of Gorges State Park are all designated Wild Trout Waters. Many miles of trails are open to hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The Grassy Ridge Access off North Carolina Highway 281 in Sapphire is the park’s primary access. This area is most well known for providing the principle access to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls on the Horsepasture River. These falls are in the Pisgah National Forest, but it is not uncommon for visitors to mistakenly think the falls are inside the park because the park provides the only easy, legal access to them. Upper Bearwallow Falls is located in the access area, and it currently is the only waterfall in the park with a maintained trail leading to it.
The Frozen Creek Access off Frozen Creek Road in Rosman is the park’s secondary access, and the park’s longest trails are reached from it. Both the Auger Hole and Cane Break trails start at the access, and they end at different points along the Foothills Trail. The Auger Hole Trail is the park’s only multi-use trail and it is open to hikers, horse-back riders, and mountain bicyclists.