Abundant water and mountainous terrain combine in North Georgia to provide a plethora of waterfalls to explore for the most casual to the most intrepid souls. The most accessible waterfall in the area is also the most superlative. Amicalola State Park boasts the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is a must see for the avid waterfall explorer. These falls are stroller/wheelchair accessible, yet adventure stems from this park to satisfy even the most wild at heart, as the Appalachian Trail approach begins here and can be followed from the north Georgia mountains to the heart of Maine. Be sure and stop by the visitor’s center to see the equipment used by Gene Espy, the second person to thru hike the entire Appalachian Trail. Many will want to take the five mile hike to the back country Len Foote Hike Inn. All will want to visit the beautiful lodge with its panoramic view of the mountains and its tasty buffet restaurant. But it is the waterfall that is the crowning jewel of this park.
Long Creek Falls
Accessing the Three Forks area via Forest Service 58, the vistas of Noontootla Creek beckon you to roll the windows down, slow your pace and take in the splendor. It’s the kind of drive where, you’ll be tempted to stick your head out the window and grin till you get bugs in your teeth. It’s that beautiful. Park where the Appalachian trail and the Benton Makaye Trail cross the road and head north. Just 9/10 of a mile through some of the prettiest hemlock forest that still survives in the Appalachians, take the spur trail to Long Creek Falls at the divergence of the AT and BMT trails. The cool mist and feeling of sanctuary envelops you as you stand at the foot of this broad majestic fall in the company of the towering hemlocks.
Fall Branch Falls
Near Cherry Log take Rock Creek Road 9/10 of a mile past the abrupt Stanley Gap. Park and walk north up the Benton Makaye Trail 400 yards to Fall Branch Falls. This is a 60 foot fall in multiple drops. Just the ride out Rock Creek Road is delightful—that gorgeous mountain dominating the landscape to your right past the pastures is Cold Mountain in the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Visitors and locals alike enjoy watching the colors of fall ascend the mountain each year. As autumn leaves give way to the shorter days of winter, frost drapes the mountaintop in regal white. Don’t discount a waterside excursion to mark the coldest days of winter. Waterfalls and creeks turn into icy wonderlands as their spray produces sculptures of exquisite and intricate beauty.
Jack’s River Falls
Feeling a bit more adventurous? Explore the Cohutta Wilderness Area by hiking the Jack’s River Trail via Old Hwy. 2 to Forest Service 22 at Dally Gap. This is surely one of the most beautiful mountain stream environments in all of Appalachia. This challenging 15.7 mile trail crosses the river 37 times, but the first four crossings from Dally Gap are spectacular. Keep your eyes open for crawdads, salamanders, red tailed hawks, wild boars and black bears, all of these and many more creatures call these remote regions home. If you want to set your sights on Jack’s River Falls, enter from the north off of Big Frog Road/Forest Service 62 just over the Tennessee state line. Drop down the Beech Bottom Trail 3.9 miles and hang a right on the Jack’s River Trail to the falls. This is a challenging trail into a remote wilderness area. Take all necessary precautions and provisions. Jacks River features multiple falls and a powerful volume of water.
Another great water trail is the Emory Creek Trail. Travel Hwy. 52 West out of Ellijay, then turn right and follow Conasauga Lake Rd. to Forest Service 18 and park at the Holly Creek parking area. It takes about an hour to walk up to the falls, crossing the creek 12 times. You must cross over Bear and Emory Creeks at their convergence into Holly Creek and follow the trail ever upstream. The reward is great for those who persevere as there are several falls of note here. The first is 60 feet tall! Get some tips from the local outfitter’s store before heading out on this one, and don’t forget to pack your hammock. There is a great place to string it up at the base of the second fall.
Bring the Essentials
You will want to allow plenty of time for driving to these destinations as the journey is so much a part of the fun. If you’re hiking Jack’s River or Emory Creek, you’ll need some shoes you can tread through the streams in and keep on hiking. Be sure they have sticky tread and toe protection. Trekking poles or at least a sturdy hiking stick are a must for stream crossings. Rain protection and plenty of water and snacks are also in order. Please don’t jeopardize your safety by climbing on falls or mixing alcohol or drugs with these beautiful, dangerous environments. A trash bag should be on your list to help keep these areas pristine for us all. Bring your camera to capture a memory of your trip or perhaps a striking Technicolor leaf caught in the glittering streambed.
These suggestions may be just enough to whet your appetite for exploring North Georgia waterfalls. If so…remember that many residents and visitors alike need go no further than our local communities to quench their thirst for the relaxation only a waterfall can offer. There is something deeply personal about discovering falling water in your own backyard—an unnamed feature on a topo map for which you coin an appropriate title. Just pondering this brings up images of Lewis and Clark charting the glorious unknown, sublime.
If you would like more information about the trails, feel free to contact the author, Shirley Crouch, at North Georgia Mountain Outfitters, located at 583 Highland Crossing, Suite 230 in East Ellijay, Georgia. Or call (706) 698-HIKE (4453).