Ben’s Sluice is a photogenic water feature alongside Jones Gap Trail in Jones Gap State Park. Standing in at only about 12 feet, it is impressive in that the shallow, sloping rock face stretches across the entire width of the Middle Saluda River, gathering the full flow of the river against the far shore. Very nice photos can be had either from trailside or closer from down on the exposed rock.
What destination photos don’t show is the sluice’s important position on the river’s course as it passes down the valley, actually more of a gorge. This position is only truly evident as you hike from Jones Gap State Park headquarters up the blue-blazed Jones Gap Trail.
The Middle Saluda carries the designation of a South Carolina Scenic River, a title truly deserved. Leaving the trailhead, you follow the river for 1 mile to a bridge (named for John Reid Clonts) taking you to the opposite side of the river. During this mile, the river is noisy and filled with whitewater, a most enjoyable hike. Once you cross the bridge, the river adopts a new personality for about the next half mile. It becomes more raucous with significant rapids churning the river into white foam.
The trail rises above the river at this point and you get good views of numerous water features, several impressive enough that you’ll wonder why they don’t have names. With all this beauty below you, you’ll wish the trail was closer down to water level but, should that be, you would not have these magnificent overviews of the river’s course. In fact, the trail never does drop down to the river, rather the river rises to meet the trail…….at Ben’s Sluice.
The sluice marks yet another change in the personality of the river. It calms down a bit. Still noisy and filled with whitewater, it is definitely different than the half mile between Ben’s Sluice and the bridge. Standing on the sluice’s huge flat rock, it is easy to be eye level with the incoming water. It is striking in that it is flat and calm approaching the sluice. Turn around to see the river begin to tumble and crash.
In this section, the river drops about 150 vertical feet without the assistance of any waterfalls. It just works its way down through all the boulders with small drops and squeezes. As you move up the trail from the bridge, pay attention to this section of the river, it is wild and wonderful. And all this serious wildness starts at Ben’s Sluice.