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.
R/T Length of Trail: 1.9 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:00
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 639 Feet
Pros: Despite the ease of access to the waterfalls, they are not going to be crowded
Cons: Getting to Middle Denton Creek Falls requires getting off the trail and scrambling steeply down
Points of Interest: Lower Denton Creek Falls - 9 stars; Middle Denton Creek Falls - 5 stars; Upper Denton Creek Falls - 7 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: None
Best Seasons to Hike: Late Spring & Early Summer
Beginning Point: End of unnamed side road from Tallulah River Road in Tate City
Directions from Clayton, GA: From the intersection of Rickman Drive, Savannah Street, and US Route 23/441 in downtown Clayton, follow Savannah Street (US 76) West for 8.0 miles. Then, turn right onto Persimmon Road. In another 4.2 miles, turn left onto Tallulah River Road, and continue for exactly 6.4 miles. Just before a bridge over Denton Creek, where Tallulah River exits Tate City, there will be an unmarked and unnamed narrow dirt road that leaves to the right. Turn onto this road and follow it for about 0.2 miles to two pullouts on the right just before the end of the road. There is also a third pullout on the left closer to the beginning of the narrow road. Each pullout has space for two to three cars. The trail begins at the end of the old road at Denton Creek just beyond the third and largest pullout. There is a muddy area between the second and third pullout, so it is recommended for low clearance/2WD vehicles to park in either of the first two pullouts.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
Lower Denton Creek Falls or simply Denton Creek Falls is one of the better-known waterfalls in the Tallulah River valley. That is not surprising, as the free-fall waterfall is unusual for Georgia, and it sits in a strikingly lush and green setting. More in-depth research, however, reveals that there are two more waterfalls on Denton Creek. While neither is as spectacular as the lower falls, both are still beautiful and well worth the hike. Interestingly, an established path leads to Upper Denton Creek Falls as well, leaving me to wonder why that waterfall is essentially off the radar. Middle Denton Creek Falls is accessed by the same trail, but it is at an inconspicuous location a hundred vertical feet in a tight gorge below the trail, so many people who hike to the upper falls don't know that the middle falls even exists.
The hike begins at the end of the side road leading along Denton Creek from Tallulah River Road. The mileage listed here is from the second pullout, where I parked due to a large mud hole on the road between the second and third pullout. In about 200 feet, the drivable part of the road ends at Denton Creek. This is where the Denton Creek Trail begins on the other side of the creek. Cross the creek on stepping stones and boulders. Usually, this is a dry crossing, but after heavy rain, some of the stones may become submerged. The trail continues on a gentle ascent along a broad pathway that follows an old roadbed, shortly entering the Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area. As you round a corner, there will be clusters of burned trees and charred logs on the left: signs of the Rock Mountain Fire that engulfed much of the Tate City valley in November 2016. At 0.2 miles, there is a unmarked junction where a narrower path leaves to the left and the main trail continues straight. Make a mental note about this intersection, as the trail to Lower Denton Creek Falls is the one that continues straight while you will need to take the narrower trail later to reach Middle and Upper Denton Creek Falls. For now, continue on the trail to the Lower Falls as the gorge tightens considerably. A few feet farther, a path on the right leads to a cascade, and shortly thereafter, another path leaves left to a group of particularly large boulders.
At 0.3 miles, there is a particularly impressive drop of cascades and shoals in Denton Creek on the right. This drop blends in nicely with the surroundings in the gorge, making for a beautiful scene. The trail crosses a side channel of Denton Creek and reaches the base of Lower Denton Creek Falls at 0.35 miles. This is a fantastic waterfall! Denton Creek drops about 40 feet in a complete free-fall over the side of an overhanging cliff. Rare spray community plants grow along the cliff. The lush greenery that peppers the cliff and surrounds the waterfall turns the setting quite attractive. I think that Lower Denton Creek Falls is a top-notch waterfall due to its uniqueness, as free-fall waterfalls are very uncommon in Georgia. It would be possible to walk behind Lower Denton Creek Falls, but I beg you not to do any unnecessary walking in the vicinity of the cliff, as it would be easy to trample the rare plants. In my opinion, the best time for photography at Lower Denton Creek Falls would be a cloudy/rainy late spring day.
From Lower Denton Creek Falls, retrace your steps back to the junction that I saw earlier. Turn right onto the narrower trail at 0.5 miles, which first ascends moderately along a cove and then turns right to steeply ascend onto a slope high above the creek. The path, which continues to follow the old roadbed, is fainter than the trail to Lower Denton Creek Falls, but clearly, it still receives a good amount of use. At 0.8 miles, there is a roar down in the creek valley below to the right. That is Lower Denton Creek Falls. About 150 feet farther, there will be more rushing water far below. The noise that you hear now is Middle Denton Creek Falls. Getting to it requires turning right off-trail and scrambling down the steep but open slope to the creek. While the scramble is not complicated, I suggest that you do it later and continue on the main trail. In a few yards, the Middle Falls will be visible through the trees down below. After this, the trail catches up with the creek and follows it to a junction at 0.95 miles. The broad logging road bears right and crosses Denton Creek, but the obvious path bears left and leaves the logging road. Do not follow the logging road, as it bypasses the Upper Falls and climbs much higher up the valley. Instead, take the narrower path, which continues on the same side of the creek parallel to it. Some impressive cliffs appear high above to the left as the trail approaches Upper Denton Creek Falls. Reach the terminus of the trail at Upper Denton Creek Falls at 1.1 miles.
Upper Denton Creek Falls is another really good waterfall. In my opinion, it is almost as gorgeous as Lower Denton Creek Falls. Denton Creek falls down a vertical cliff in several different trickles. Then, the trickles join together for a long sliding drop into a small pool. The total height of the waterfall is about 50 feet. On the left, a separate stream - a small tributary - joins Denton Creek after creating its own waterfall. The tributary actually slides down a surprisingly tall cliff, although with the exception of immediately after heavy rainfall, the waterfall will be low-flow. The tributary joins Denton Creek just below the waterfalls. It is difficult to get a good picture of Upper Denton Creek Falls due to how it is set far back in the narrow gorge. The best view is attained by wading the shallow pool below the falls and scrambling up the right side of the creek. Beware of the slick rocks around the waterfall.
From Upper Denton Creek Falls, retrace your steps back to the turn-off point for Middle Denton Creek Falls. This spot is easier to find on the way back. First, you will see the waterfall through the trees on the left, and then, there will be a gully on the left that leads down in the direction of the creek. Scramble off-trail steeply down to the creek along or near the gully. Once you reach the creek, walk upstream along it (this may require wading depending on the water level) to the base of Middle Denton Creek Falls at about 1.4 miles. Middle Denton Creek Falls is my least favorite waterfall on Denton Creek but it is still great. The 30-foot waterfall consists of a single sliding drop where the creek is squeezed into a tight channel by cliffs on both sides, followed by a long cascading run-out into a shallow pool full of deadfall. The waterfall would be more photogenic if the pool could be included in the picture, but unfortunately, this is not possible due to deadfall that would block the view.
From Middle Denton Creek Falls, return to the Denton Creek Trail. Continue following the trail downhill back to the junction below the Lower Falls and continue retracing your steps back to the trailhead. You will return to your car and conclude the hike at 1.9 miles. Due to the spectacular water features along the Denton Creek Trail, I decided to rate this a "Best Hike". For amount of waterfalls and their beauty, ease of access, and length of trail, it is hard to beat Denton Creek. Even novice hikers will have no problem getting to Upper and Lower Denton Creek Falls, and in addition, anyone who hikes this trail will be treated to many beautiful stream views along the way to the waterfalls. Last but not least, the uniqueness of Lower Denton Creek Falls makes this hike even more special, as finding free-fall waterfalls in Northeast Georgia is not easy at all.
0.0 - Denton Creek Trailhead
0.2 - Junction with Trail to Middle/Upper Falls
0.35 - Lower Denton Creek Falls
0.5 - Junction with Trail to Middle/Upper Falls
0.95 - Junction with Trail to Upper Falls
1.1 - Upper Denton Creek Falls
1.4 - Middle Denton Creek Falls
1.9 - Denton Creek Trailhead
Hike out and back to Lower Denton Creek Falls - 0.7 Miles
Skipping Middle Denton Creek Falls makes a negligible difference mileage-wise, but it does make the hike notably easier. Novice hikers may want to skip the steep scramble.
There are several short waterfall hikes along Tallulah River Road that are great to combine with the hike to Denton Creek Falls. One possible add-on is the short but rough hike to Flat Branch Falls, a tall sliding waterfall on a small stream. Another possible add-on is the Coleman River Trail, which follows the Coleman River for a mile, passing many scenic cascades and small waterfalls.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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