Gorges State Park and Visitor Center- a Must See!
A trip to Sapphire, NC would not be complete without a visit to Gorges State Park! www.ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park
The park is about 15 minutes from Once Upon a Stream and about 20 minutes from TOP of the ROCK and located off Hwy 281, aka Whitewater Falls Road in Sapphire, NC. Gorges is probably best known as the location for the trail head to Rainbow Falls and Turtleback Falls. The trail to Rainbow Falls is 3.0 miles round trip and hikers can continue about 1/4 mile past Rainbow Falls to reach Turtleback Falls. The hike is classified by the park service as "strenuous" which I think is a stretch. There is nothing really challenging about this hike aside from the fact that is all uphill on the way back. We've done this hike several times as a family with young children- I've had to carry my 4-year old on my back and survived to tell about it! But please do take caution and stay away from the edges on parts of the trail with steep drop-offs. Not to scare anyone too bad, but there have been serious injuries and deaths reported along the trail and form swimming near Turtleback falls.
Equally as impressive as the trails and the waterfalls, is the 7,100 square-foot Gorges State Park Visitor Center. The views here are absolutely stunning- actually, breathtaking probably better describes it. Inside you'll find a relaxing lounge area (great after a long hike), a large hands-on education area, a classroom, and a wonderful gift shop. Outside, there are picnic areas and plenty of viewing areas which make for great photos.
If you are a history buff, you can learn all about the area and why settlers came originally. Many famous families called western NC their home for a variety of reasons. Be sure to read all about it inside.
The hands-on exhibits are a big hit with the kids. They can actually build their own waterfall! They can also learn the difference between a waterfall and a cascade. Did you know that Sapphire, NC is actually considered a temperate rain forest? We get more then 90" of rain annually which makes for some amazing lakes and explains why the ares is know as "waterfall land."
Overall, we give the Gorges State Park Visitor Center two thumbs-up and FIVE stars! It is great fun for the whole family and the views are some of the best in western NC. Pack a picnic and plan to spend a couple of hours enjoying all there is to see.