LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

waterfall seen from a distance

Jocassee Gorges is the only temperate rain forest in the United States east of the Rockies. (Photograph by Dirk Frankenberg. More about the photograph)

The Blue Ridge escarpment is the steep slope that separates North Carolina’s mountains from its Piedmont plateau. The escarpment trends north and east across the state from South Carolina to Virginia. In many places it is steep enough to rise over 1,500 feet within 10 miles. Near the southwestern corner of the state, the escarpment rises over 2,500 feet from the Piedmont to the Highlands Plateau at 3,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level. This difference in elevation has been eroded by rainfall runoff into a half-moon-shaped indentation in the Blue Ridge through which five major rivers make their way towards the sea. These rivers have cut deep gorges into the escarpment, which are known collectively as the Jocassee Gorges after one of the principal streams.

Annual rainfalls in the heavily forested Jocassee Gorges region can range upward of 100 inches — the generally accepted definition of a rain forest. In the temperate zone of the United States, this is the only rain forest east of the Olympic peninsula in the Pacific Northwest.

The Jocassee Gorges region is one of the most scenic places in the State of North Carolina. It is a land of frequent rainfall, powerful rivers and spectacular waterfalls. The unique topography of this region has created climates and forests that are quite different from those of the surrounding area. The lush vegetation, moderate temperatures, and incredible rainfall are comparable to those of tropical rain forests, and, strange as it may seem, tropical species of bryophytes and other plants are found here far from their nearest neighbors in the Caribbean and central America. The Jocassee gorges are home to more than 60 species of rare and endemic plants, making the area a place of study for many botanists.

In spite of their scenic and scientific attractions, the gorges are not well known as areas for tourism. Although they are less accessible to eastern North Carolinians than Chimney Rock and the eastern Blue Ridge, they lack none of the natural beauty of these more familiar settings. Gorges State Park, which lies in Transylvania, Jackson, and Macon counties and connects to parkland in northern South Carolina, has made the gorges considerably more accessible since its opening in 1999.