After being closed for most of a year for construction, parts of Gorges State Park reopened in May 2012. This included the loop road which provides access to Upper Bearwallow Falls. From the entrance to the park, follow the road to the Visitors’ Center. The road swings to the left as it heads down the mountain for the parking lot at the trailhead for Rainbow Falls Trail. Just past the entrance to the Visitors’ Center, turn left on what is actually the other end of the loop.
Continue down (it is descending) the road past the 1st picnic shelter. Shortly past this shelter, you will encounter a second shelter. NOTE: Once you pass the driveway into this 2nd shelter, the loop road becomes one way, so if you miss the turn here, you’ll have to go all the way around the loop to get back to where you need to park. This shelter area contains drinking water, restrooms, and information kiosks.
Directly across the parking lot is a 2nd kiosk marking the trailhead for Upper Bearwallow Falls. Head past the kiosk and you’ll quickly cross the loop road and move into the forest. Between the kiosk and the road, you’ll find a good stand of Sassafras, easily identified by its 3-lobed leaves.
The trail is wide and downhill. Very shortly, you’ll find a wooden bench and wonder why it is there. You get the answer to that question on your return back up the trail. Then at a 2nd bench, the trail turns to the right and heads sharply downhill to arrive at the observation platform for the waterfall. This is really a good view of the waterfall, presenting the 80-foot cascade in a “window” in the forest greenery.
For those interested in getting close to Upper Bearwallow, “forget about it.” A quick survey of your surroundings will clearly define the word “gorge.” Getting to the base of the falls would be difficult, dangerous and would present you with little view of the waterfall itself.
Then, it is time to return to the car. The 0.3 mile hike back is all uphill and you’ll be glad for those benches you saw on the way down.