Walking Fern Falls is not a destination waterfall unless you can catch it with a heavy water flow, but that is not a reason to avoid making the hike. There are too many other great things along the way.
The main thing going for it is that it is located in Jones Gap State Park. (Jones Gap is named about the writer’s great-great-great-grandfather.) To get there take US276 from Marietta and past the Cleveland Post Office for 1.1 miles to River Falls Road (turn at the F-Mart) and follow the signs to Jones Gap. As soon as you get out of the car, you hear the water music from the Middle Saluda River which flows clear and cold (real cold) just below the lot. Access is across the river, through the picnic area and by the old Cleveland Fish Hatchery pool. It has now been filled and stocked with trout – just beautiful.
Continue past the Park headquarters to the trail head. Take the Jones Gap Trail for only about a hundred yards until you see the Rim of the Gap Trail come in on your left. Just up this trail, you’ll encounter a huge rock (not a boulder, this is a rock) that everyone always has to explore.
At 0.4 miles, there is a sign post indicating the start of Trail #20, Pinnacle Pass Trail. Rim of the Gap continues off to the right. Follow Pinnacle Pass, white blazes, as it begins to climb. The “climb” is odd in that you go through a number of ups and downs that disguise the climb. At places, the trail gets rocky, but not just rocks underfoot, but big rocks that have to be scrambled over. One location even has a fixed rope in place.
After about 0.6 miles on the Pinnacle Pass Trail, the trail will turn sharply right and start just as sharply uphill. You will be climbing parallel to Walking Fern Falls. Unless there has been rain recently, the only water will probably be close to the top. Listed at 80 feet, this waterslide is surely a good 200 feet long, a distance you’ll appreciate as you climb almost straight up. Near the top, you’ll have several mini-switchbacks, then eventually cross the waterfall with still more waterslide uphill from you. Looking down, you can appreciate what the mountains are made of as this little stream has cut a scar down to bedrock granite down the mountain as far as you can see.
You can continue on Pinnacle Pass Trail for some view of Jones Gap, but be warned, the trail is rough. It is recommended you return the way you came. Back at the bottom of the waterfall, you’ll see some leavings of an old moonshine still.
The waterfall is named for the rare Asplenium rhizophyllum, the American Walking Fern, so be sure and be vigilant on your hike for this interesting plant.
If you’re hiking in warm weather, give yourself a treat at the end of the hike. Stop in the picnic area, take your hiking boots off, sit on a rock and dangle your feet in the cold, cold water of the Middle Saluda. It will make your day.