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.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.4 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:00
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 244 Feet
Pros: Flat Branch Falls is very remote for being accessed by a such short trail
Cons: The Flat Branch Falls Trail was heavily damaged by the Rock Mountain Fire
Points of Interest: Flat Branch Falls - 6 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: None
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter or Spring
Beginning Point: Bridge 4 on Tallulah River Road
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 3.2 miles to Bridge 4, which is the fourth large bridge that you will cross on Tallulah River Road coming from Persimmon Road. For confirmation, a small number "4" is painted on the first reflector at the bridge. The trail begins on the near (south) side of the bridge. There is a pullout on the right-hand side of the road just after the bridge. The pullout has space for only two to three cars, and it is frequently full in the warmer months thanks to fishermen, so if the pullout is full, continue on Tallulah River Road for 0.15 miles to the next pullout, which will be a larger pullout on the left with space for at least four to five cars.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
The hike to Flat Branch Falls is short but complicated. It was the first hike of a series of hikes that I did in the Tate City area on this day. The main reason that the hike to Flat Branch Falls is complicated and harder than one might expect is that the unofficial trail to the falls suffered considerable damage during the Rock Mountain Fire in November 2016. Even though the fire was not strong, it was widespread and it was strong enough to kill much of the rhododendron in the area. A lot of the dead rhododendrons then collapsed, and since the entire Flat Branch drainage is surrounded by rhododendron, the fallen rhododendrons have greatly obscured the trail and turned it into an obstacle course. An attentive hiker with some experience will make it to the falls using this description without any trouble, but until the trail gets cleared up, I would not suggest this trail to novice hikers.
The entrance to the Flat Branch Falls Trail is on the south side of Bridge 4 on Tallulah River Road. To clarify, this bridge crosses the Tallulah River from southeast to northwest, or from right to left if coming from Persimmon Road. The trail begins by heading along the Tallulah River in the upstream direction from the bridge. As of this writing, the word "Falls" was inscribed in smaller letters into a reflector at the bridge - the same reflector that bears the number "4". Don't count on the writing still being there by the time you do this hike though. After about 50 feet, the trail turns right and steeply scrambles up a nearly vertical 20-foot slope. Other than the blowdowns, this exceedingly steep stretch is the toughest part of the hike. Even though handholds along the scramble are not plentiful, there are just enough to allow a safe passage. Once you reach the top of the steep slope, take a moment to look back at Tallulah River Road and the Tallulah River down below as you catch your breath. As the trail curves into the Flat Branch drainage, there will be a fork about 150 feet from the road. The right fork seems to be the more distinct trail, but it is a dead-end; stay left on the true trail, which is obscure. The going is not easy, as the largest amount of rhododendron blowdowns is concentrated here. About 400 feet from the road, the trail becomes easier to follow. At 0.1 miles, pass to the right of a large boulder and then bear left to stay on the trail. Flat Branch Falls comes into view through the trees ahead.
The Flat Branch Falls Trail remains somewhat more passable than it was earlier. Keep the falls in the distance as your target and try to follow what looks like the easiest route - a path that others have taken. At about 900 feet (0.17 miles) from the road, the trail seems to disappear in a boulder field just below Flat Branch Falls. Bear left, scramble along the base of the boulder field to Flat Branch, and then scramble upstream as best as you can (without the benefit of a well-defined trail) to the area near the base of the falls. To reach the base of Flat Branch Falls, where there is a clear view of the falls, it is necessary at the end to scramble over a set of downed trees. Depending on the water level, getting to the least obstructed view may require wading into the small pool at the base of the falls. Reach the base of Flat Branch Falls at 0.2 miles.
Flat Branch Falls is a very tall waterfall. In fact, the full waterfall is more than 200 feet high. I don't think that all of it is visible from the base, but at least the lower 120 feet are visible. Being a long and steep slide on a rather small stream, Flat Branch Falls is best to visit after the heavy rains of winter or spring, when the falls turns into a powerful torrent of whitewater. Even during lower flow, however, Flat Branch Falls is still very nice and scenic due to its height. The lowermost part of the slide can be photogenic under the right conditions, but cloudy skies are a necessity for quality photographs at this waterfall.
From the base of Flat Branch Falls, return to the trailhead the same way, concluding the hike at 0.4 miles. Since this is a short hike, consider hiking in the same day to one of the numerous other waterfalls that are accessed from Tallulah River Road.
0.0 - Bridge 4 on Tallulah River Road
0.2 - Flat Branch Falls
0.4 - Bridge 4 on Tallulah River Road
None, but keep in mind that the hike will be 0.3 miles longer if the pullout at Bridge 4 is full.
There are several short waterfall hikes along Tallulah River Road that are great to combine with the hike to Flat Branch Falls. One hike that I highly recommend is the 1-mile unofficial but well-used trail to three waterfalls on Denton Creek. 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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