The southeast corner of Rabun County, Georgia, is not known for hiking and pristine nature as much as other parts of Rabun County, especially north of Clayton. Of course, Tallulah Gorge - which occupies the southeastern end of the county - is one of Georgia's best-known and most amazing natural sights. However, there is a lot more to this largely little-visited end of the county. At least some of the creeks in this area have photogenic waterfalls that are not documented well, both small and large, and the area is home to a section of the Wild and Scenic Chattooga River with many rapids. One of the area's more interesting remote waterfalls is a 40-footer located on Cliff Creek, nestled in a beautiful gorge among tall cliffs. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 18th, 2017. My plan was to make an exploratory bushwhack from Watergauge Road into the Cliff Creek gorge in search of a potential undocumented waterfall on Cliff Creek at a very promising location. The bushwhack turned out fairly easy and the waterfall was there, as gorgeous as any.
R/T Length of Trail: 1.0 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:50
Type of Hike: Out and Back (Bushwhack)
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 432 Feet
Cons: No established trail
Points of Interest: Cliff Creek Falls - 5 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: None (no trail)
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter
Beginning Point: Watergauge Road
Directions from Tallulah Falls, GA: From the Tallulah Gorge/Tallulah Falls Lake Dam Bridge on US 23/441 in Tallulah Falls, follow US 23/441 North for 2.9 miles. Then, turn right onto Camp Creek Road. In 1.4 miles, turn left onto Watergauge Road - sometimes referred to as Camp Creek Road as well - which shortly turns into unpaved Forest Road 511. From the turn-off, continue for 1.8 miles to a wide spot on the road with space for several cars on the right side. To the left, a ravine drops off, and just ahead to the left is a recovering logged area. This is the best place to begin the hike to Cliff Creek Falls.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
While studying the topographic map for the southeastern portion of Rabun County for several trails that I wanted to do in the area, I noticed a location of rapid elevation change on Cliff Creek, where the creek appeared to enter a deep gorge. Upon further analysis using Google Earth and Google Terrain, I came to the conclusion that an undocumented waterfall was present at this location. On this hike, my goal was to bushwhack to this waterfall, and upon arriving at the location that held my interest, I was greeted by a 40-foot waterfall in a picturesque setting with large cliffs. Also, I believe that there was more falling water out of sight. Furthermore, the bushwhack to Cliff Creek Falls turned out to be fairly easy.
The best place to begin the hike to Cliff Creek Falls is off Camp Creek Road at a ravine south of the falls. The ravine is located just west of a huge clearing that is recovering from logging and is overgrown with tall grass and green briars. See the map above for the best starting point (that I used and suggest using). When you do this hike, make sure to stay out of the clearing/formerly logged area on top of the knob just east of my track, as it is essentially impassable. In other words, begin the hike by heading northwest down into the dry ravine from the starting point. It is fairly steep initially, but the woods are open. At 0.1 miles, join a forest road that comes in from the left (west). Follow the forest road downhill through the ravine until the forest road ends/dissipates at 0.2 miles near the edge of the gorge. Here, you will notice that on my GPS track, my way out differed from my way in. Initially, I continued following the ravine to the edge of the gorge, but that was a bad decision, because the slopes are extremely steep in that area. So, instead, you must follow the route that I took on my way out (on the map above, it is the slightly further east track). In other words, from the end of the forest road, bear right and hike through open woods near or along the edge of the recovering clearing, staying just above the edge of the gorge.
At 0.35 miles, reach a steep ridge that extends down from the knob with the overgrown clearing to the right to the bottom of the gorge. This ridge is a little less steep than the surrounding areas, so it is best to bear left and descend to Cliff Creek using this ridge. You will know you have reached the ridge when the gorge opens up in front of you as well as to your left. The ridge is still steep, but there are plenty of handholds, and the woods are open enough for easy hiking. As you descend, make sure to keep following the ridge all the way to the creek. At 0.45 miles, you will bottom out in flats near Cliff Creek. In the past 0.1 miles, you descended about 200 feet! At Cliff Creek, you can hear and might be able to see Cliff Creek Falls just upstream. Hike through the open flats southward and upstream along Cliff Creek in the direction of the falls. At 0.5 miles, reach Cliff Creek Falls.
Cliff Creek Falls is a really nice waterfall. The visible portion of it is about 40 feet high. Much of the waterfall consists of a series of steep slides, but at the end ,the creek makes a sharp turn and passes through a chute before emptying into a small pool via a final cascade. In times of high water, the chute may "overflow". However, the setting is what plays the biggest role in turning this waterfall into a scenic one. A long cliff stretches across the entire creek here, with the water occupying only a small part of it. On the left (east) side of the creek, towering bluffs help to add a remote, gorge-like feeling to the waterfall. Unfortunately, there is a fallen tree that obscures part of the waterfall near its top; the waterfall would be more photogenic without this tree. To the best of my knowledge, Cliff Creek Falls was undocumented prior to my visit. I could not find any online or printed references about it, so I believe that this post has officially the first description of the falls and the best route to it. Also, I suspect that there is 40-50 more feet of falling water - perhaps in two tiers - hidden just out of sight above the main waterfall. The creek makes a 90-degree bend just above the main falls, so you cannot see what is above, but topo maps and satellite imagery are supportive of an "upper waterfall". Getting to the location of that potential upper drop would be quite difficult regardless, so I will leave this task for the most hardcore waterfallers.
From Cliff Creek Falls, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead, and make sure to take your time on the steep ascent out of the gorge! You will conclude this hike at 1.0 miles.
0.0 - Watergauge Road
0.1 - Join forest road
0.2 - End forest road
0.35 - Steep descent
0.45 - Cliff Creek
0.5 - Cliff Creek Falls
1.0 - Watergauge Road
Two trails can be accessed off FS 511 and FS 511B: Raven Rock Trail and Watergauge Trail (Camp Creek Trail). The Raven Rock Trail leads to the Raven Rock Cliffs on the Chattooga River, and the Watergauge Trail leads to a set of great campsites along the Chattooga River and to the Canyon of Five Falls - one of the most beautiful gorges in Georgia.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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