Greenville County, South Carolina

Hike the Pinnacle Pass/Rim of the Gap Loop

11.5 Miles Total - 2345 ft gain - Loop Trail

Originally added by Carolina Trekker

A strenuous day hike in South Carolina's Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, featuring plenty of climbing and great views of the Blue Ridge escapement. Widely regarded as the most challenging hike in SC.

The Trailhead: Located at Jones Gap State Park in Marietta, SC of northern Greenville County. Follow the trail across an iron bridge that crosses the Middle Saluda River, and be sure to register at the Ranger’s Station/Gift Shop on the far side of the gap. The trail head(s) are located directly over a bridge across from the station.

The hike: This "lollipop" type hike begins at Jones Gap State Park within the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area.  It combines the following trails: Jones Gap Trail (blue) > Rim of the Gap Trail (Yellow) > Pinnacle Pass Trail (White, though most maps show Orange… the blazes are White) > John Sloan Connector (Pink) > Rim of the Gap (Yellow) > Jones Gap Trail (Blue).

Start out and hike a few yards on the Jones Gap Trail. Bear left onto the Rim of the Gap Trail. Soon, you’ll come to a marker post, bear left here onto the Pinnacle Pass Trail (also named the #20 trail in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area).

The Pinnacle Pass Trail begins to ascend almost immediately. The climb is tough and unforgiving. There are some boulders on the trail, meaning you’ll have to negotiate these. To the left are good winter views of Cleveland Cliffs. At about 2.5 miles, there is a very good view of the Blue Ridge Escarpment near the summit of Little Pinnacle Mountain.

I can’t stress how unrelenting the climb is up Pinnacle Pass. Please do not attempt if you aren’t in good physical shape. 

At 4 miles, you’ll see the 6 & 20 Connector Trail coming in on the right of the trail. You can turn here and shave off a mile or so, as it also connects to the Rim of the Gap Trail (#6), which will be your return route. This area is a quiet, peaceful location to rest and/or eat lunch.

Forge onward for a mile on mostly level ground, on what appears to be an old road bed. There were lots of trees blown down, so you’ll have to climb over those, too. After a mile, the John Sloan Connector Trail blazed in pink appears on the right. Take this trail. It’s a mile long and connects with Rim of the Gap.

At the end of John Sloan, there is a kiosk at the crossroads with Rim of the Gap Trail. You can elect to turn right here and follow the trail back down the mountain and into Jones Gap. This would make your total hike 8.5 miles. We elected to turn left and hiked all the way to the other end of the Rim of the Gap Trail near Caesars Head State Park. This route adds and 3-4 extra miles to the hike, but it is worth it.

Turn left at where John Sloan connects with Rim of the Gap to experience the best of the Rim of the Gap Trail. After a short ascent, you’ll begin to descend. The environment changes from open forest and hardwood, to cliffs and lots of mountain shrubbery. The trail here is narrow, and there are many places where you’re literally a step away from falling down the cliff side. Use caution. We heard there were chains for support, but we did not see any. This portion of the trail is often closed during the winter months due to ice.

At 1.4 miles, you’ll come to Weight Watcher’s Rock. This is a boulder stacked atop two other boulders, making a narrow opening between them. You’ll have to climb through the needle’s eye, or take your chances on the narrow trail around the rock. The trail around the rocks skirts a sheer cliff. You might have to remove your pack to get through the opening, hence its name.

Follow the trail, and notice several drips and small falls to your left. Further on, there are technical aids in place to help  you, such as ladders and cables to hold onto at the base of waterfalls, however, the falls were dry on this day. 

Once reaching the terminus of the Rim of the Gap Trail, turn back and retrace your steps back down to Jones Gap and the trail head. There are good views of the cliffs on the way back down. You might even spot iconic Symmes Chapel (aka Pretty Place) on the ridge line.  On the way down you'll cross several small streams. Before the trail ends at Jones Gap, you'll catch the beautiful Middle Saluda River to your left.

To get the best out of this hike, take the exact route listed. This trail can also be hiked as a shuttle in either direction, starting at Jones Gap and ending at Caesar’s Head State Park or vice versa. 

I highly recommend this trail if you love a challenging hike with great views and seclusion. We did not pass another hiker until we'd gone a distance on the Rim of the Gap Trail.  

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