Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area: Fall Creek Waterfalls and Rocky Ford Falls via Wildcat Creek Loop, Dawsonville, Georgia
The mountains in the vicinity of Jasper are known more for their private residential communities and vacation homes than for their secluded hiking trails. It's not surprising, as most of the Mount Oglethorpe vicinity is developed heavily. There is an exception though: on the east side of Mount Oglethorpe is a 4500-acre tract of land that is part of Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area and is owned by the state. Known as the Wildcat Tract, it is home to at least five waterfalls that are up to 80 feet high. A superb trail system with two trailheads was developed throughout the Wildcat Tract, facilitating access to the waterfalls and providing a number of options for day hikes/loops with various lengths. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 17th, 2017. My plan was to hike the outer Wildcat Creek Loop counter-clockwise from the Wildcat Campground. First, I would hike the Wildcat Creek Trail and Fall Creek Trail, taking side trails to four waterfalls on Fall Creek. At the end of the Fall Creek Trail, I would follow the Tobacco Pouch Trail and then Rocky Ford Trail back into the valley, visiting Rocky Ford Falls along the way. I would conclude the hike along the Turner Trail.
Located in Georgia's Pickens County, 3288-foot Mount Oglethorpe is a point of historical significance: it is the former southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is no longer the AT terminus though, because in the 1950s, the area around Mount Oglethorpe became heavily developed and easy road access to Mount Oglethorpe led to vandalism. That is why the Appalachian Trail terminus was moved to Springer Mountain, which is known as a much more remote location that is not susceptible to development. Mount Oglethorpe is also known for the Oglethorpe Monument, a marble obelisk that was 38 feet high. The monument is now in downtown Jasper though, because it was relocated from the summit of Mount Oglethorpe in 1999 after it was heavily damaged by lightning. The summit of Mount Oglethorpe was off-limits for a long time, but today, a public park named Eagle's Rest Park makes visitor access quite easy. Eagle's Rest Park is home to several short hiking trails and a few observation decks with views in different directions. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 17th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Oglethorpe Mountain Trail in a clockwise direction, passing the North View and East View. I would also hike a section of the Eagle's Rest Trail to visit the West View and South View.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Beech Creek Loop to Bull Cove Falls, High Falls, and Big Scaly Mountain Overlook, Tate City, Georgia
A classic Southern Appalachian wilderness hike, the Beech Creek Loop is a 'must-do' for all classes of hikers alike. I'll add that the Beech Creek Loop is among the top hikes that I have ever done, in Georgia or elsewhere. Over its eight-mile course, the loop visits two spectacular waterfalls - one of which is about 100 feet high - and passes a lengthy but worthwhile side trail to a breathtaking 180-degree view from Big Scaly Mountain into the Tallulah River Valley. In addition, the trail provides a perfect wilderness experience, full of solitude all throughout the Beech Creek gorge and on the slopes of Big Scaly Mountain. A short stretch of roadwalk is necessary to close the loop, but even walking along Tallulah River Road is nice, as you will get several views of the Tallulah River and its cascades. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Beech Creek Loop counter-clockwise, although I would use two cars to eliminate the 1.2-mile roadwalk. Along the way, I would take short side trips to Bull Cove Falls and High Falls and a much longer side trip to the vista on Big Scaly Mountain. Note that if you do the Beech Creek Loop, you must by all means take the time to go to the overlook as well.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Denton Creek Trail to Lower, Middle, and Upper Denton Creek Falls, Tate City, Georgia
Today nearly a ghost town, Tate City once was a prospering town centered around the logging business and the mining of corundum. A handful of folks live in Tate City through the year, but many houses in this quaint community are simply second homes. The pleasant drive through Tate City leads to a door into the Southern Nantahala Wilderness, a land of many top-tier waterfalls. The hike along the unofficial but well-defined Denton Creek Trail should be at the top of any waterfall hunter's list. In an easy to moderate two miles, folks who hike the Denton Creek Trail will visit three pristine waterfalls. Particularly attractive is Lower Denton Creek Falls, a free-fall waterfall that tumbles 40 feet over a sheer cliff speckled with lush green vegetation. In addition, hikers will be treated to continuous streamside scenery all throughout the Denton Creek Trail. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back along the Denton Creek Trail to Upper Denton Creek Falls. Along the way, I would take the side trail to Lower Denton Creek Falls, and I would also make the short off-trail scramble down to Middle Denton Creek Falls.
Most of the streams that drain the Upper Tallulah River form waterfalls. Many of these waterfalls are significant, such as Flat Branch Falls: a multi-tier sliding waterfall that is over 200 feet high. Even though not all of it is visible from the base, the view is still impressive. Unfortunately, the trail to Flat Branch Falls had been damaged severely by the Rock Mountain Fire in November 2016. In fact, the once-easy trail to Flat Branch Falls has turned into an obstacle course complicated by numerous dead and fallen rhododendron branches. In addition, the trail to Flat Branch Falls begins with a steep scramble up a nearly vertical 20-foot slope. With a bit of common sense and navigational skills, however, the more seasoned hiker will get to Flat Branch Falls without much trouble. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 10th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of Flat Branch Falls via the trail that begins at Bridge 4 on Tallulah River Road.
Lost House Branch is a pleasant gurgling stream that flows inconspicuously through a culvert under Highway 75 between Helen and Unicoi Gap. Few folks who drive across Lost House Branch suspect that there is a massive 100-foot waterfall less than a half-mile upstream. This is evidenced by the difficulty of the hike to Lost House Branch Falls, which involves walking in the creek itself, wading through knee-deep summer brush, and scrambling over or under numerous fallen trees. Not enough people have hiked to Lost House Branch Falls yet for a path to become established, but for the most persistent adventurers, the reward is a majestic waterfall. Lost House Branch splits into dozens of thin trickles as it slides down a huge rock face at the waterfall, although it is important to keep in mind that Lost House Branch needs a lot of water to look its best. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017. My plan was to hike to Lost House Branch Falls out and back from Highway 75, initially following the south side of the stream to avoid trespassing on private property.
Motorists who drive north along Highway 75 from Helen may notice a deep valley/gorge on the left (west) side of the roadway, but most of them will not stop to muse about what's down there. When the more intrepid hiker takes a glance at the topographic map for the area around Spoilcane Creek and Highway 75, however, he will notice that there is significant waterfall potential in the Spoilcane Creek gorge. In fact, Spoilcane Creek has two major waterfalls - one of which is approximately 190 feet high! Additionally, folks who venture into the Spoilcane Creek gorge will find a bonus waterfall on an unnamed tributary to Spoilcane Creek. Access to the surprisingly rarely-visited Spoilcane Creek waterfalls is not very difficult thanks to a distinct path that follows the historical route of the Unicoi Turnpike and provides a close approach to all three waterfalls. This hike occurred on Saturday, June 3rd, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to the Middle Falls on Spoilcane Creek via an unmarked trail from a pullout on the west side of Highway 75 just south of Unicoi Gap. Along the way, I would make the off-trail side trip to the Upper Falls on Spoilcane Creek and a waterfall on an unnamed tributary dubbed "Phil's Sister Falls".
Originating into North Carolina and then flowing into Georgia through the town of Sky Valley, Mud Creek is one incredible stream. Between the flats of Sky Valley and the floor of the Little Tennessee River Valley in Dillard, Mud Creek loses 1000 feet of elevation in just three miles! During this time, Mud Creek drops over several major waterfalls, including Estatoah Falls - one of Georgia's most famous waterfalls. A monster single-tier 160-foot waterfall, Estatoah Falls is unfortunately on private property and not accessible to the public. Upstream from Estatoah Falls is an 85-foot waterfall known as Mud Creek Falls or Little Estatoah Falls. What's best about this stunning waterfall is that unlike its bigger brother downstream, it is entirely on public property and is accessed by a short walk from a neighboring parking area or by a mile-long trail from Highway 246, depending on the visitor's preference. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 27th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Mud Creek Trail out and back to Mud Creek Falls from the trailhead pullout on Highway 246.
A rocky peak that towers over the Stekoa Creek valley and Clayton, Pinnacle Knob provides a 270-degree vista that is one of Northeast Georgia's best. The view from the top includes an attractive foreground of valleys and mountains with a beautiful background of fading lines of ridges. Two different hikes provide access to Pinnacle Knob: a longer hike from Warwoman Road and a shorter hike from Pinnacle Drive near US 441. While the longer route has the added benefit of passing two pretty waterfalls, the shorter route via the Courthouse Gap Trail is convenient for folks who are looking for a great payoff without a full-day hike. Furthermore, the side trail from the Bartram Trail was to the top of Pinnacle Knob was recently rerouted and lengthened to allow easier access to Pinnacle Knob's clifftop views. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 27th, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Pinnacle Knob via the Courthouse Gap Trail, Bartram Trail, and Pinnacle Knob Trail, starting at Courthouse Gap Road.
The streams that drain Warwoman Creek and the Chattooga River on the south side of Warwoman Road are generally not known for waterfalls as much as their more rugged counterparts to the north. Nevertheless, some notable exceptions exist, and Gold Mine Branch is perhaps one of the most major. On this creek, a 50-foot waterfall is stationed. No trail leads to Gold Mine Branch Falls, but despite this disadvantage, access is still fairly easy from Willis Knob Road, and with a couple of correct navigational decisions, one will get to the base of the falls in less than 30 minutes. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 27th, 2017. My plan was to hike off-trail out and back to the base of Gold Mine Branch Falls from Willis Knob Road via the most direct and recommended route.
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