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Horsepasture River Trail

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Short hike to outstanding views of 4 large waterfalls, good camping.
Near:Sapphire, NC
Distance:3 miles round trip
Elevation Gain:600 ft
Hike Time:2 hours
Trail Condition:OK, but a few difficult spots
HikeType:Out and Back

Summary: Start the trail by descending on a moderate grade downhill. After about 1/2 mile you can hear the rushing water of Turtleback Falls, before proceeding to this waterfall, go right, down a rhododendron enshrouded side trail. This side trail is a 1/4 mile and dead ends at a US Forest Service blockade. This is private property, but the 40 foot Bust-yo-butt Falls (?) can be viewed from this point. Backtrack and continue on to Turtleback Falls and the thundering Rainbow Falls. Turtleback Falls is a great place for a summer swim, Just a few hundred yards down stream is the impressive Rainbow Falls. When viewing the falls from the top, extreme caution should be used, as every year or so, someone is seriously hurt or killed in this area. Continue down the river trail. The trail is not marked, but as long as you keep the river on your right, you're ok. At the 1.25 mile mark is a very nice clearing for tenting. Just downstream is Stair Step Falls. Backtrack back to the parking lot.
Trailhead: Approximately 10 miles east of Cashiers, NC, turn right (south) on US-64 and NC-281 at Sapphire. Parking for the trailhead is about 1 mile on the left. The parking area is now part of the Goregs State Park and is clearly designated. After parking, hike back up the gravel road to NC-281 and look for the gate to your left. This is the trail head for the Horsepasture River Trail. (Lat:35.05 Lon:-82.57)
Trail Guides for Horsepasture River Trail:
North Carolina Hiking Trails
by Allen de Hart (Appalachian Mountain Club Books)

Best Seasons: Year-Round
User Groups: Hikers, Dogs,
Ranger Contact: Highlands Ranger District, 1828-526-3765
Localhikes Reporter: This hike was submitted by Tom Duchac, who has posted  23 other hikes on this site
Trail Reviews  Page 1 of 3   Submit your own review
Reviewed by Chip on 11/15/2014
No legal entry on 281. Enter at Gorges State Park (also on 281). One of my favorite hikes.Rainbow Falls is one of the nicest around. Trail is well marked & in good shape. Be sure to continue past Rainbow to Turtleback & Drift Falls.

Reviewed by Marsha on 8/21/2009
There is no more parking allowed near the trail head or on 281. You WILL be ticketed and towed. Check this link for more info:

Reviewed by Josh on 2/12/2008
This is my very favorite trail in the NC mountains. I used to come here with friends when no one knew about it. Things have changed a lot in the last few years, for sure; but if you are physically able to do this hike, it is one of the best anywhere.

Reviewed by Katie S on 8/7/2007
Love this trail! So beautiful and each waterfall has something special about it. I got ticketed with some friends back in 2003 after sliding down Drift Falls (or 'bust your ass falls') but it was one of the best places ever. Although, I do not recommend you try this AT ALL! Definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to get in nature.

Reviewed by Debbie K. on 3/15/2007
Rainbow Falls is beautiful. Take your family and friends. It has the WOW factor going on. Not that hard of a trail and a wonderful way to get back to nature or introduce your family. Never seen a waterfalls, this is the place to start. We went a few years ago and leave tomorrow to meet our children and grandchildren to hike together to show them all their first waterfalls ever. All the falls on this trail are worth seeing and hiking to. A MUST SEE SPOT!!

Reviewed by ASH on 8/29/2006
Great trail, but not for city slickers. I've been going here since 1987. It has changed over the years, but is still outstanding. The trees down on the way to windy falls are easy enough to cross and it adds to the relatively remote nature of the trail. I used to love sliding down Drift Falls, which everyone called Bust-Your-Ass-Falls. My heart and sense of adventure yearns for the ability to do it again. There have been so many great character building experiences ,adventures,and funny incidents I've experienced there it's almost mind-blowing.

Reviewed by Brian on 10/19/2005
If you love waterfalls and would like to see one of the most spectacular falls in the state this is the place for you. Rainbow Falls is not the largest by no means but one of the prettiest. I have not been downstream from there but have seen pictures. You could spend a half a day here easy.

Reviewed by Steven on 4/13/2005
Personal favorite on the rating, but i would only suggest it to seasoned vets. past rainbow falls. There have been many trees blown over in recent weather and it makes the trail extremely hard to follow and in places some bouldering is required. I will say though, unless you are very experienced do not go past Sidepocket falls to Windy falls, there is no trail and many dangerous dropoffs. Just use your common sense and have a great hike! If you have any questions about the trail past Rainbow, or especially Stairstep (Stairway on some maps) feel free to e-mail me at

Notice: Traveling in the backcountry can be hazardous. You are responsible for informing yourself about these hazards and taking necessary precautions. Information on this web site comes from volunteer reporters and may contain errors or omissions. A current guidebook and proper equipment are essential for safe enjoyment of the hikes posted on this site.
Keys: North Carolina Hiking, North Carolina Trails, North Carolina Hikes, Transylvania County Hiking, Transylvania County Trails, Transylvania County Hikes

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