While most of what is written here are “destination” articles, this one is more of a description of a hike that only covers part of a trail and has no destination points on it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with points of interest. Take both your camera and your binoculars.
Pinnacle Pass Trail takes 10 miles to cross over Little Pinnacle Mountain on its way to Caesar’s Head from Jones Gap State Park and it is a tough trail with some strenuous portions. The section hiked here is only about 1.75 miles. It contains some of those strenuous portions but it also contains the trail’s famous vistas.
To get to Jones Gap State Park, take US276 out of Marietta and 1.1 miles past the Cleveland Post Office. Turn right at the F-Mart onto River Falls Road and follow the signs to the park.
From the Jones Gap trail head, follow the trail alongside the Middle Saluda for only about 100 yards to the Eastern trail head of the Rim of the Gap Trail which you’ll follow for only 0.4 miles. Along the way, watch for a gigantic rock on your right. Interesting shape and it just draws you to it.
At the 0.4 mile mark, you’ll find a post marking the start of trail #20, Pinnacle Pass Trail. The next 0.6 miles is up and down almost all the time, in and around and over boulders on the trail. You’ll even find a fixed rope assist at one point.
At 0.6 miles, you will be at the base of Walking Fern Falls, a 200+ foot low volume waterslide. You’ll appreciate its height as the trail parallels the waterfall all the way to the top. This is a tough climb with even a few mini-switchbacks near the top where you will finally cross the top of the waterfall.
The trail continues to climb from Walking Fern as you follow the side of Little Pinnacle Mountain and move out toward the ridge “nose.” A couple of tenths of a mile past the waterfall, you encounter two rock faces whose openings in the forest provide fine views of Standingstone Mountain across Jones Gap. The better views are from the 2nd rock face. Avoid the temptation to climb these faces to get more unobstructed photos, these rocks are steep and treacherous.
From here, look to the left and up above a large rock across the way. There, perched like and eagle’s nest on the top of the mountain is Pretty Place, the chapel at Camp Greenville. Almost straight across, next to the Duke Energy right-of-way, is Hospital Rock. Look just above the Rock, in the right-of-way, and you’ll see the seldom visited Hospital Rock Falls.
Past the rock outcrops, the trail appears little used and continues to be narrow and rocky. As you approach the “nose” of the ridge, the walking becomes easier as the trail becomes more “normal.” At the “nose,” you’ll see a patch of sunlight about 50 yards down from where the trail turns right and starts down the other side of Little Pinnacle. Walk down to the sunlight and you’ll step out on where the power right-of-way crosses Little Pinnacle. Here, there are also good views the features on Standingstone Mountain, but you can see all of the Middle Saluda valley as it flows from Jones Gap through River Falls and out to US 276. Continuing on Pinnacle Pass Trail will take you down to the middle access point at Oil Camp Creek, but that is a difficult 3 mile hike.
While up on the “nose,” keep an eye out for sassafras which grows in profusion.