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.
Sarahs Creek is one of a handful of remote streams that drain the slopes of Rabun Bald, Georgia's second highest peak. Most of those streams form noteworthy waterfalls, but while some - such as Holcomb Creek Falls - are popular, others like the two waterfalls on Sarahs Creek are hardly known about. The hike from the end of Forest Road 155C to Upper and Lower Sarahs Creek Falls is fairly easy, but it does entail sections of creek-walk and minor bushwhacking in addition to navigating along faint paths. Those who reach both waterfalls will be rewarded with an interesting upper waterfall in a canyon flanked by a very tall cliff and a pristine lower waterfall that drops around 70 feet. This hike occurred on Saturday, May 27th, 2017. My plan was to hike the gated part of FS 155C from the gate to a faint trail that descended into the Sarahs Creek valley. I would follow the trail for some time, before leaving the trail and bushwhacking down to Sarahs Creek, and hike up the creek to Upper Sarahs Creek Falls. Finally, I would return to the trail and follow it down to Lower Sarahs Creek Falls. I would return the same way.
Southern Nantahala Wilderness: Holden Cove Trail/Appalachian Trail/Bly Gap Trail Loop to Oversoul Falls, Ravenrock Cliff Overlook, and Fall Branch Falls, Tate City, Georgia
The Upper Tallulah River splits the Southern Nantahala Wilderness's lower region into two nearly separate parts. To the east of the Tallulah River, some of the wilderness's most famous landmarks are situated, such as Standing Indian Mountain, High Falls, and Denton Creek Falls, each of which is reached by well-used trails. The rugged terrain to the west of the Tallulah River tells a whole different story, however. Few official trails traverse this remote area, but a pair of unofficial footpaths provide access from the bottom of the valley all the way to the ridgetops. A beautiful waterfall called Oversoul Falls is found along the unmaintained Holden Cove Trail, and a difficult trek away from the Bly Gap Trail will lead an experienced hiker to Fall Branch Falls, a long series of steep cascades and slides. Even the Appalachian Trail in this area is used lightly compared to many other sections of the AT, and you're not likely to meet any people along the way to the breathtaking Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. This hike was occurred on Saturday, May 20th, 2017. My plan was to begin the day with a surprisingly difficult bushwhack from the Bly Gap Trailhead to Fall Branch Falls. Then, I would move on the main hike of the day, placing a second car at the Holden Cove Trailhead and hiking the Holden Cove Trail past Oversoul Falls to the Appalachian Trail and to Ravenrock Cliff Overlook. I would finish the hike by following the AT to Bly Gap and then hiking the Bly Gap Trail back to the first car. Folks without the option of taking two cars for the hike would have to make a final 2-mile roadwalk to complete the loop.
Undammed for nearly two hundred miles until Lake Blackshear near Cordele, the Flint River is one of central and south Georgia's most beautiful large rivers, flowing through several swamps from its headwaters in metro Atlanta. One of the highlights of the river is Sprewell Bluff, a 150-foot bluff towering above the Flint near Thomaston. Other hills and bluffs form a surprisingly narrow and deep gorge on the Flint River in the next few miles upstream. In the 1960s, the splendor of the Flint River in the vicinity of Sprewell Bluff and Thomaston was threatened by the Army Corps of Engineers' proposal of building a dam at Sprewell Bluff, but thankfully, the dam construction proposal was vetoed in 1974 by President Jimmy Carter. The area around Sprewell Bluff became a Georgia State Park in the early 1990s, and today, it is managed by Upson County. Today, a well-developed trail system, gorgeous roadside overlook, campground, and trading post are to be found in Sprewell Bluff Park. This hike occurred on Friday, April 14th, 2017. My plan was to hike the entire Upper Flint River Trail out and back from Sprewell Bluff Road, although I had to shorten my hike due to a late start.
Tray Mountain Wilderness: Waterfalls of Left Fork of Soquee River and Wolfpen Branch, Helen, Georgia
The southeast quadrant of the Tray Mountain Wilderness is home to the headwaters of the Soquee River. Numerous streams join to form the West, Middle, and East Prongs of the Left Fork of the Soquee River, and it is likely that all of the streams have undocumented waterfalls. The grandest of them all is the middle waterfall on the Left Fork: a powerful and remote multi-tier 75-foot waterfall with surprisingly easy access. On the hike to this waterfall, you will also visit the smaller but beautiful lower waterfall and have the options of visiting bonus waterfalls, such as Wolfpen Branch Falls and the upper waterfall on the Left Fork of the Soquee River. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 8th, 2017. My plan was to scout out the easiest route to the biggest waterfall on the Left Fork of Soquee River, described below.
Blood Mountain Wilderness: Crow Mountain Creek Trail to Crow Mountain Creek Falls and Blood Mountain Creek Trail to Third Falls (Blood Mountain Creek) and Frogface Falls, Dahlonega, Georgia
The hike to Blood Mountain's expansive vistas is one of North Georgia's most popular hikes. The valleys on the south side of Blood Mountain are a whole different story, however. Deep in the wilderness, two streams - Crow Mountain Creek and Blood Mountain Creek - form several waterfalls as they make their rapid descent to the Chestatee River. Especially of note is Frogface Falls: a remote 35-foot waterfall that is nestled in the heart of the Blood Mountain Wilderness among tall cliffs. Along the hike to Frogface Falls, you'll follow increasingly fainter paths past two other waterfalls, Third Falls on Blood Mountain Creek and Crow Mountain Creek Falls, each of which is worthy of a visit in their own rights. And if this was not exciting enough, you will also have the opportunity to see several more waterfalls closer to Dicks Creek Road. This hike occurred on Saturday, April 1st, 2017. My plan was to hike the Crow Mountain Creek Trail past Crow Mountain Creek Falls to the Blood Mountain Creek Trail, where I would follow the latter trail past Third Falls and to Frogface Falls (with the last portion being off-trail). I would return the same way along the Blood Mountain Creek Trail, but instead of taking the Crow Mountain Creek Trail back, I would walk along Dicks Creek Road back to my car, visiting up to three other waterfalls if I had time.
The Darnell Creek area is known for its abundance of notable waterfalls. All of the waterfalls on Darnell Creek and Thomas Creek - one of its two headwater tributaries - are close to Darnell Creek Road and are reached via short and easy hikes. But what about Darnell Creek's other headwater tributary, Ramey Creek? This creek, which is in no way less scenic than Thomas Creek, flows considerably further south and is reached by the Darnell Creek Trail: a well-established trail that first follows Darnell Creek and then Ramey Creek. The Darnell Creek Trail's biggest highlight is a 45-foot waterfall on Ramey Creek. Situated at the head of a narrow gorge, Ramey Creek Falls is a photogenic waterfall featuring a cliff over which the waterfall initially plunges, followed by a series of cascades down a number of rock outcrops. Taking the waterfall aside though, the Darnell Creek Trail is still a very pretty trail that passes numerous cascades and small waterfalls on Darnell Creek and Ramey Creek, in addition to a panoramic wintertime view of the grand 100-foot Big Falls on Thomas Creek in the distance across the valley. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Darnell Creek Trail to Ramey Creek Falls. From Ramey Creek Falls, I would add variety to my hike by hiking the TR 61A Loop (Darnell Creek Loop), rejoining the Darnell Creek Trail at Pine Gap Branch and retracing my steps the rest of the way to the trailhead.
Chattahoochee National Forest: Darnell Creek Falls, Upper Darnell Creek Falls, Big Falls on Thomas Creek, and Middle Thomas Creek Falls, Dillard, Georgia
The Darnell Creek watershed, geologically located north of the Warwoman Shear, is loaded with waterfalls among the rugged terrain on the southwest side of Rabun Bald. The two known waterfalls on Darnell Creek and three known waterfalls on Thomas Creek, a major tributary of Darnell Creek, are all located within short hiking distance from FS Road 150 (Darnell Creek Road). Perhaps the most impressive waterfall of all is the monster Big Falls on Thomas Creek: a steep, sliding waterfall that consists of several sections, the most distinct of which has a height of 70 feet! Furthermore, there is now a recently-developed and fairly established trail to the Big Falls on Thomas Creek. Don't focus on Big Falls on Thomas Creek solely though, as the other waterfalls - while smaller - are at least as photogenic, and some might be even more beautiful, depending on your point of view. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 25th, 2017. My plan was to hike to each of the waterfalls on Darnell Creek and Thomas Creek in order from lowest elevation to highest elevation. The exception was that I skipped Upper Thomas Creek Falls, which requires a significant amount of water to look good.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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