The Middle Saluda River was the state of South Carolina's first designated scenic river and offers some of the best trout fishing in SC. The chilly water in the Jones Gap area provided a great spot for raising trout fish, which were imported from Montana to help restock the local river systems. South Carolina Representative J. Cleveland donated 20 acres here to start the state's first fish hatchery (aka The Cleveland Fish Hatchery) opened here in 1931. The hatchery drew around 2000 visitors and 2 US senators for its opening festivities. The hatchery closed in 1962, but until then, helped keep the area stocked for trout fishing.
There is upper and lower parking by the Ranger Station on the other side of the river. At the upper part of the parking lot to the left of the wooden bridge that crosses to the Ranger Station, you'll find the trailhead for Jones Gap Trail with an information board and hiker registration.
Jones Gap Trail will follow the river for the most part and is kind of wide and rocky with a few larger rocks scattered along the way. However, this is the easiest trail on the Jones Gap Loop
, touting a moderate climb with multiple backcountry campsites along the river.
At 0.6 miles in, you'll find a trail split to the right for Rainbow Falls Trail
, which is 1.6 miles one way and rated very strenuous by the state park. Or, stay left to continue on Jones Gap Trail, where you'll need to cross side streams by rock hopping or using foot bridges. Your feet should stay dry for the most part, unless you are hiking after a heavy rainstorm.
At 1.5 miles, the Jones Gap Falls
Trail goes back about 150 feet to your right where you'll find the falls in a shallow pool. Backcountry campsites 10-13 are located fairly close to the falls and river. Some may want to return to the parking area and trailhead from here, since beyond this point the trail is less used compared to the waterfall sections. There will be some stream crossings where feet might get a little wet depending on rainfall and the trail will become narrower and steeper.
2.6 miles in, the Jones Gap Trail reaches a junction with the Coldspring Branch Trail
. Bear right to remain on the Jones Gap Trail and continue to follow it as it climbs along the river to reach its end at a junction with Geer Highway.
Oak, hickory, flowering dogwood, rhododendron, ferns, flowers, and mosses all grow in this area.
Animals in the area include black bears, white-tailed deer, reptiles, amphibians, wild turkey, wood peckers, warblers, eastern blue birds, and spring migratory songbirds to name a few. Brook, rainbow, and brown trout can be found in the rivers.