Helen Area Waterfalls

EVERYBODY, it seems, wants to see a waterfall. Some want a lot of exercise on a long walk in to a remote, seldom-visited cascade; some want to practically see the falls from their vehicle; most want something in between. We have covered the most obvious waterfalls in the Helen area, but the late summer drought reduced the flow a lot and we had to stop seeking waterfalls to feature on this site for the time being. Still, what we have already covered so far are the main ones, all not far from Helen (except Amicalola, which is about a 45-minute drive—but it’s the highest falls in the Southeast, it’s in a county where many of my ancestors are buried, and we couldn’t resist including it as a possible day trip, perhaps for a picnic, while you’re staying in Helen). We’ll get back to covering the rest of the local falls in the winter and spring; for now there should be plenty, and adequate variety, for almost anybody wanting to visit one of these wonders of nature. Enjoy!

Waterfalls of Northeast Georgia's Mountains

Of necessity, this will be a dynamic area of the website, since it will take time to accumulate all of the numerous waterfalls in the area. Effort has been made to include the major ones in easiest reach of the cabins, although the highest falls in the whole Southeast is a little over an hour’s drive, and it is included because of its special status. All the others featured can be reached in a very short time from the cabin, depending mainly on how long and difficult the trail to them turns out to be.

Amicalola Falls

The word in Cherokee means “tumbling waters,” and that is a very apt description. The falls are in Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawson County, about forty miles to the west. The park has recently undergone a $5 million renovation and renewal, part of which continues as this is written. Little Amicalola Creek plunges off the steep mountain to form these spectacular falls. From the top of the falls, an approach trail to Springer Mountain, origin of the Appalachian Trail, begins its 8.3 mile run. To reach this spectacular cascade from the cabins will require more than the usual amount of driving, though the roads are excellent all the way. From the cabins, drive back to the town of Helen and continue through town on the Helen Highway (Highway 75) until you reach Cleveland. Before you get into the main part of town, you will junction with Highway 115, so take a right turn onto it and head west toward Dahlonega. Several miles outside Cleveland, Highway 115 merges with Highway 52, so at this point begin to follow Highway 52 right through Dahlonega. After passing through Dahlonega, simply follow the signs and stick with Highway 52, which turns right several miles outside Dahlonega. The entrance to Amicalola Falls State Park is well marked. The hike to the base of the falls is quite steep but also a very short distance of about 0.2 miles.

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

Anna Ruby Falls

This spectacular waterfall is the closest one to the cabins, easily accessible through Unicoi State Park via well-marked roads. This natural wonder was discovered by former Confederate officer Colonel John H. Nichols, original owner and builder of what today is Hardman Farm, while he was out horseback riding in 1869. He named the falls after his only daughter, Anna Ruby Nichols. The falls consist of a double cascade off two sides of Tray Mountain, the left (east) falls a drop in Curtis Creek of 153 feet, and the right (west) falls a shorter but slightly wider drop of York Creek amounting to 50 feet. The two come together in a pool at the base of the falls to form Smith Creek, which surges steeply downstream several miles into (and forming) Unicoi Lake. Leaving the lake, Smith Creek shortly enters the Chattahoochee River just above the town of Helen. One must drive all the way through the park to reach the Chattahoochee National Forest, and then a short drive takes you to the parking lot. It is approximately a half mile from the parking lot to the observations deck at the falls.

Upper DeSoto Falls

This is the second-farthest waterfall away from the cabins that I’ve visited so far. It was a very stormy day, and just after reaching and photographing the falls a heavy rain fell, soaking us to the skin. Legend has it that a piece of ancient armor, unlike anything American Indians would have, was found near the falls, and its origin has been attributed to the expedition of Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto, who visited the area in 1540. There are actually two falls, an upper and a lower, but the heavy rain prevented scoping out the lower falls (which are actually a much shorter walk). It’s 1.1 miles to the upper falls, and 0.1 miles to the lower falls. The rocks are notoriously slippery, as the historical marker indicates, so stay on the trail or observation deck for maximum safety. To reach the falls parking lot, the most scenic route is to follow the directions to Dukes Creek Falls/Raven Cliffs, but continue on the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway to where it dead ends into Highway 180. Take a left for a few miles to where this highway dead ends into Highway 129. Take another left and drive past Vogel State Park for 4-5 miles. The parking lot (and a camping area) will be on the right. One can easily return to the cabins by staying on Highway 129 back toward Cleveland, but before getting to Cleveland take Alternate Highway 75 back to Robertstown and back to the cabins.

Upper DeSoto Falls

The Legend and the Warning

Duke's Creek Falls

These awesome falls are actually on a vaguely-named branch of Dukes Creek, and their plunge down a sheer granite wall is about 150 feet. When the foliage is full, it is difficult to see the entire falls at once; it seems therefore this would be a wonderful winter walk. The distance from the parking lot is 1.1 miles downhill, and naturally coming out is uphill and a bit more strenuous than going in to the falls. The trail is easy, wide, and mostly smooth except for ubiquitous roots one encounters from time to time. One follows pristine Dukes Creek upstream from Smithgall Woods State Park, but the falls are accessible only from the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. From the cabins, go back toward Helen to Robertstown and turn right on Highway 17/75. Take an immediate left about a quarter-mile up this highway, crossing the Chattahoochee River on Highway 75 Alternate and passing the river tubing/zipline business on your right. Follow this road a couple of miles to the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway (Highway 348), which enters on the right. Turn right and drive about a mile and a half up this highway. The parking lot for Dukes Creek Falls is on the left and is well-marked.

Duke's Creek Falls

Mountain Laurel over Duke's Creek Falls

Duke's Creek Falls

Raven Cliff and Falls

Directions to this wonderful location are exactly the same as for Dukes Creek Falls, except one must drive another mile past the Dukes Creek parking area. There you will find a short dirt road to the left that leads to the unpaved parking area. Unfortunately a bear had just ravaged the unprotected (not bear-proof) dumpster, scattering trash all over the parking lot and woods the day I was there. The trail to the cliffs/falls enters on the right just before you reach the parking area. The hike in is somewhat uphill and fairly strenuous, being 2.2 miles to the sight you want to see. It is a gorgeous walk, with tumbling Dukes Creek showing you several lesser waterfalls along the way that would be spectacular anywhere. The unique cliffs are practically vertical granite, and the major portion of the falls enters through a gigantic crack in the cliffs. The crack is deep and one must climb upward from the base to even see the most beautiful portion of the falls. It’s a long enough walk (4.4 miles) in and out that taking a picnic lunch is a grand idea.

Main cleft in cliff at Raven Falls

Main cleft in Raven Cliff that allows entry of falls

Raven Cliff and Falls from bottom

Seldom-photographed falls along trail to Raven Cliff and Falls

Raven Cliff info

Raven Cliff map

Horse Trough Falls

This neat waterfall is located near the junction of Horse Trough Creek and the Chattahoochee River in Union County. To reach the falls from Helen, take 75 North about ten miles to Unicoi Gap, and as you approach the Gap start looking to the left for a somewhat obscure Forest Service road (FSR 44), which is very easy to miss. This is a fairly good gravel road, but one really needs a pickup truck or other stout vehicle, because the road is rough in places, and your vehicle can take a pounding for some five miles until you reach the Upper Chattahoochee Campground. Drive to the very back of the campground to reach the trail to the falls. The rest of the trip is fairly easy, the hardest part being numerous trees, both large and small, that have blocked the short foot trail to the falls. One first must cross the Chattahoochee River on a small footbridge, and I’m told this is the first bridge on the Chattahoochee, and the only one before it reaches Helen (actually Robertstown). The length of the trail is only a couple of hundred yards, but it seems farther because of all the trail obstructions. One can see the narrow 55-foot cascade from a distance, but approaching it close enough to get good pictures is a bit precarious, as just below the falls is a narrow chute through solid but perilously slick rock, and from the trail side only a partial view of the main run is visible. I crossed the narrowest section of the chute below the falls, taking great care not to slip, and was able to get decent video and photos. The fall changes dramatically from a time of plentiful water to drought periods when flow is greatly reduced, so while I went in the fall to enjoy the fine foliage, it’s best to plan a springtime trip to see the best waterfall.

Blue Hole Falls

This waterfall is the first of two that can be reached by the same trail. To reach the trailhead, go north on Highway 75 from Helen approximately eleven miles, passing Unicoi Gap and proceeding another couple of miles to Forest Service Road 283 on the right—you can see the turnoff to Brasstown Bald (Highway 180) a half mile or so ahead, and the road is poorly marked, plus it makes a very tight, almost hairpin, turn to the right to enter as you approach from Unicoi Gap. If you reach Highway 180, turn around and go back, looking to the left this time, and the road is a bit easier to see. It is gravel for 1.3 miles to the parking area, and it is extremely rough with much loose gravel. The trail in to the waterfall is 2.4 miles round trip, and the trail is exceptionally well-maintained, with numerous wooden bridges, some small and some fairly long, spanning High Shoals Creek and smaller tributaries. The most difficult part of the trip is coming back from the waterfalls (as mentioned, there are two to be seen here), because the trail plunges fairly steeply downhill almost the whole way in, losing some five hundred feet of elevation, so the return trip is fairly strenuous. This waterfall is fairly low in its vertical drop, which is only about twenty feet, but the spectacular sheer drop and the deep blue hole at the base of the falls makes up for the short drop.

High Shoals Falls

Directions to this waterfall are exactly the same as to Blue Hole Falls, as the falls are located just below Blue Hole Falls on the same creek. The trail runs perhaps a couple of hundred yards farther downstream to reach this longer cascade, which drops about fifty feet. Both falls have excellent viewing platforms. The trail is well-maintained and drops about five hundred feet from the parking lot, covering a distance of about 1.2 miles. The trip back out is somewhat strenuous, as one must regain that lost elevation.

Other Areas of Interest

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