May 13, 2014
If you live anywhere in the Upstate and have not yet discovered Jones Gap State Park, you are missing out. It is a verdant pocket of forest, divided by a clear, bubbling mountain stream that shrinks and expands as it traverses the park. The area is speckled with waterfalls, both large and small, which make for great hiking/running destinations, and as we recently discovered, the opportunity for some pretty noteworthy mountain running experiences.
Over the past few years, my husband and I have run, hiked, camped, and explored this area in multiple directions. I will be sharing several adventures from this place, but I had to begin with our most recent new discovery: The Rim of the Gap trail. I have seen this intriguing trail name on the map since we began coming to Jones Gap; however, that interest was tempered by some things we heard early on about its high level of difficulty, several bear sightings, and its closure during the winter because of ice accumulation. The rumors made it feel ominous, intimidating, out of our league and far more wild than your average South Carolina state park. So on this rather muggy May day, we were not expecting to just take a little jog on this crazy beast of trail, but that is exactly what ended up happening.
We arrived in the late afternoon, decked out in running gear and excited to try our new-ish hydration packs on a run where we might actually need the extra water. As we perused the map, we were approached by a ranger who wanted to warn us about the trails closing an hour before sunset. With disappointment, we realized we probably couldn’t tackle our 10.5 mile arch-nemesis, the out and back Jones Gap trail that we had been attempting to complete off and on for awhile. We had made a half-joking “vow” to ourselves that we would not return to the park or at least not that trail unless we were ready to just finish it, so we had quite the dilemma. That’s when we asked our new ranger friend about the Rim of the Gap trail. Is it runnable? Is it crazy? How long is it? Overall, he downplayed the whole thing while simultaneously telling us the elevation gain was significant, around 1400 feet but also pointing out a 5.5 mile loop that only involved a portion of Rim of the Gap before cutting across on a connector that linked to Little Pinnacle Mountain via the Pinnacle Pass trail. This is what we ended up running and it was amazing. It was crazy, but very cool.
Almost immediately, the trail starts climbing and we were huffing and puffing and just barely power hiking our way through certain sections. Then we came to a rock you have to climb over with the help of a cable, and we knew this was going to be one of our more epic and memorable runs. The trail climbs and climbs, but thankfully the forest is so beautiful. We felt certain that we were experiencing almost of all of the elevation gain for the whole trail as we crept along, telling ourselves this was a killer workout even if we were barely moving in multiple places. You have to pay attention to the signs and blazes along the way, but the trails are well-marked. When you get to the turn for the connector and move on to the Little Pinnacle trail, you begin to get steep downhill sections that provide some relief for the legs, but also require a great deal of caution. The highlight of the whole run is the view you get just past the Mountain Bridge trail marker 20, pictured above. We were not expecting things to open up like they did, so it absolutely stunned us to see the waves of mountains and sky burst through the trees.
I would totally recommend this as a hike or a run. It is so beautiful and the distance isn’t too intense. While later parts of the Rim of the Gap are apparently far more treacherous, this section was really not terrible. You get enough elevation gain and rock hopping in to feel pretty hardcore, but you also are not forced to inch along any narrow ledges or cross waterfalls with a cable (From what I hear, there may be some of that further up the Rim of the Gap trail). The downhill sections were what felt the most dangerous to us, but we just took it really slow in those areas and did not have any problems.
Recommendations: Bring water and a snack in case your adventure takes longer than planned. There are plenty of spots to stop and rest if needed, and it’s nice to refuel a bit along the way. Definitely wear shoes designed for hiking or running that have some traction. Also, keep in mind that you could be out for a good chunk of time. We were running (as much as possible) and it took us around 1 h:45mins. That is a good bit longer than our normal 5.5 mile run :). Also, be very careful on the steep sections, particularly the rocky downhill sections, and I would probably avoid this during a torrential downpour if possible. Always remember to exercise caution on unfamiliar terrain, and fill out a hiker check-in before you start.
Enjoy the gorgeous views and keep looking for adventure far and nigh!