Chattahoochee National Forest: Horsetrough Falls and Upper Chattahoochee River Falls, Helen, Georgia
The namesake river of Chattahoochee National Forest, Chattahoochee River, is the largest river in Georgia. Its headwaters are north of Helen in the Mark Trail Wilderness. You can easily rock hop across it at this point, but that's certainly going to be impossible down near Tallahassee or in Atlanta. In this remote area near the start of the Chattahoochee River lie two waterfalls, easily-reached yet barely-known. Do this short leg stretcher of a hike to be treated to some of the finest waterfalls in northeast Georgia. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 18, 2015. My plan was to hike the short trail out and back to Horsetrough Falls, and along the way, take the short side trail to Upper Chattahoochee River Falls.
R/T Length of Trail: 1.5 Miles (1 Mile if campground is open)
Duration of Hike: 1:00
Type of Hike: Y-configuration
Difficulty Rating: 1 out of 10
Pros: Short hike that is a good for an after-work leg stretcher; easily accessible beautiful waterfalls
Cons: Upper Chattahoochee River Campground is closed in winter, slightly lengthening the hike
Scenic Views: None
Water Features: Horsetrough Falls - 10 stars; Upper Chattahoochee River Falls - 8 stars
Trail Blaze Color(s): None
Best Season(s) to Hike: Year-round
Beginning Point: Upper Chattahoochee River Campground
Directions: From Helen, GA: Follow GA State Route 75 North for approximately 8.7 miles, before reaching Chattahoochee River Road (Forest Service Road 14). There should be a sign for Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Area. If you have reached the Uncoi Gap Appalachian Trailhead and crossing, you have gone too far. Turn left onto Chattahoochee River Road, and follow it for 4.6 miles, before reaching the turn-off for Upper Chattahoochee River Campground. Along the way, there will be several roadside (or nearly so) waterfalls that are worth seeing. Turn right into the campground, and continue to the back of the campground until you reach the parking area. If the campground is closed, you can park at the small parking area before the bridge and entrance to the campground.
Earlier this day, I did a hike to Raven Cliff Falls, about 15 miles southwest of this hike. Despite being late in the day and a long drive on forest service roads, I still managed to get here just before sunset, and I did see everything before dark. I'm glad I decided to visit this second destination. While not much of a hike, I liked the water features here much more than the ones on the first hike.
I was not familiar with the area, and thought that the trailhead is the parking at the campground entrance. Turns out, the official parking is at the back of the campground, but the parking I used is the only option in winter. This added a quarter-mile each way for my hike, and I'll include it in the mileages. Here, a bridge crosses Hanson Creek. Then, I followed the road to its end. There was a sign for Horsetrough Falls along the way. At 0.25 miles, reach the real start of the trail. There is a trailhead kiosk here. At 0.4 miles, reach an unmarked side path on the right. A footbridge lies straight ahead. This is in fact the first bridge, of any type, to cross the Chattahoochee River. Horsetrough Falls is just past the bridge, but I wanted to leave the main show for the end - and meanwhile, I took the side path, which leads to Upper Chattahoochee River Falls. This side path closely follows the Upper Chattahoochee River. It is not an official trail, so there are a couple blowdowns and some overgrowth, but it'll get you to the falls without any problems. Reach Upper Chattahoochee River Falls at 0.65 miles, where the path ends at the creek at a small rock outcrop. The falls is on the right. This is a very beautiful falls. The creek makes a narrow, powerful drop through a rock chute just a few feet wide and then makes several more small drops in cascades. The waterfall is similar to Raven Cliff Falls, but much more beautiful.
From here, retrace your steps to reach the main trail at 0.9 miles. Turn right, across the footbridge, and continue to shortly reach Horsetrough Falls observation area at 1 mile. Here you get a great panorama of Horsetrough Branch and the magnificent waterfall on it. While this falls may be somewhat low-flow, particularly during drier conditions, it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I have seen and has made it into the top 5 best waterfalls I've seen. The creek cascades in many different branches down the rock face for 70 feet. From the observation area, take a slim path that goes by the deck.It branches shortly - take the left branch to the creek. From here, it is possible to rock hop along the creek to the base of the falls in all but extremely wet conditions. The view is equally impressive from the base of the falls. From this point, retrace your steps back to the start of the hike, reaching it at 1.5 miles.
To summarize, this hike is a great leg stretcher after work or an add-on, if you're in the area. If you are coming via the directions listed above, then make sure to look for the three roadside waterfalls on the way to the Horsetrough Falls trailhead. Below are my pictures and videos.
Year 1: 540.0 Miles
Year 2: 552.3 Miles
Year 3: 518.4 Miles
Year 4: 107.2 Miles