Jones Gap Trail

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Several months ago, I mentioned Jones Gap State Park as a must-see nook in the Upstate’s park scene. At that time, we were working on completing an out-and-back route on one of the main trails, Jones Gap Trail. We have since completed it twice, run large chunks of it many times and started counting it as an all-time favorite. It is between 10 and 11 miles long, depending on whether you start/end at the parking lot and which fork you take at the end of the run, and it is a perfect run for easing into more distance on the trail. It is one of those trails that climbs so gradually, you hardly notice it visually. If you are like David and me, you feel a slight persistent burning that gets chalked up to “warming up” or a “rough start” and it’s not until you come flying down on the return journey, feeling like a million bucks and thinking about how great your endurance is that you begin to suspect, “Oh, maybe this whole run was uphill until I turned around. That’s why I felt slightly terrible at the beginning and now, I feel awesome!

IMG_2626This scenario played out multiple times, but ironically, by the end of every run on this trail, we would always forget that the first half was somewhat challenging and log the run away as basically flat and pretty easy. Then we would come back to it months later and wonder how we ever arrived at that conclusion–until the massive gradual downhill hit again, boosted our energy, and supplied so many endorphins that once again we forgot that we climbed uphill for more than 4-5 miles.

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Finally, sometime last year we conquered this run in it’s entirety and it was such a good feeling. We had almost finished so many times, but something always prevented it–lack of snacks, lack of time, early trail closing etc. This continues to be one of our favorite long run locations. It is always beautiful and exciting to look forward to our favorite creek crossings and waterfalls along the way.

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Getting there: Jones Gap State Park is located about 45 minutes from Greenville and only 25 minutes from Travelers Rest.  We typically take 25 N, make a left onto Gap Creek Road and follow it back to the park, but there may be quicker routes depending on where you are coming from.  Once you park in the main lot, follow the small spur trail (a nice mulched path) into the woods, cross the foot bridge over the bubbling mountain stream and make your way left down the sidewalk toward the ranger station (on your right) and another bridge which you will cross. The trail and trail map are on your right. Take Jones Gap Trail all the way to its conclusion and turn around to return the way you came.

What to eat: We love hitting Sidewall Pizza or Tandem Creperie in TR on the way home. Both places are amazing and we enjoy both regularly as we come and go from this run.

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Zoe on the dog-friendly porch at Tandem post-run

Good to know: Cell service on Gap Creek Rd. and in the park are very spotty. There are nice bathrooms in the park on the way from the parking lot to the main trail. Near the end of the trail, you will have the option of taking a foot bridge that leads to the right or continuing straight. Going right, over the bridge, takes you to the end of Jones Gap trail. Continuing straight takes you up one more sizable hill to another parking area. Both routes are great, but the straight route is definitely more difficult.

Jones Gap State Park Trail Run

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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.

IMG_6462Over 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.

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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.

IMG_6474Almost 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.

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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.

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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!