Chattahoochee National Forest: Hemlock Falls Trail to Hemlock Falls and Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, Clayton, Georgia
The Hemlock Falls Trail is one of Georgia's most popular streamside trails, and for good reason: the trail follows beautiful Moccasin Creek, which is a constant run of whitewater nearly all of its length, culminating in Hemlock Falls, a pretty 15-foot waterfall with a pool. Above Hemlock Falls, however, lies a much less-visited world. Above Hemlock Falls, a remote and unmaintained footpath crosses the creek and continues through a picturesque gorge with many cascades and slides, before terminating at Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, a 40-foot waterfall that is widely considered to be one of Georgia's most beautiful waterfalls. This hike occurred on Saturday, March 4th, 2017. My plan was to hike the Hemlock Falls Trail and the unmaintained footpath that follows from the Moccasin Creek Trailhead to Upper Moccasin Creek Falls and back, passing Hemlock Falls on the way.
R/T Length of Trail: 3.4 Miles
Duration of Hike: 2:40
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 629 Feet
Pros: Very family-friendly trail up to Hemlock Falls
Cons: Much more primitive trail beyond Hemlock Falls
Points of Interest: Hemlock Falls - 2 stars; Upper Moccasin Creek Falls - 8 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: Hemlock Falls Trail - Lime Green; None for continuation of trail beyond Hemlock Falls
Best Seasons to Hike: Spring
Beginning Point: Hemlock Falls Trailhead
Directions from Clayton, GA: From the intersection of US 23/441 and US 76 West in downtown Clayton, follow US 76 West (Savannah Street) for 11.0 miles, before turning left onto GA 197 and continuing for 3.7 miles. Then, turn right onto Andersonville Lane (directly across from the entrance to Moccasin Creek State Park) and follow it for 0.6 miles to the trailhead parking area.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
The hike to Hemlock Falls is among the most popular waterfall hikes in Georgia. You're not likely to find yourself alone on that stretch, which is why I had been holding off on doing this hike. However, one evening when I was in the area, I decided the time had come. While I was not alone, the late hour of the day had already sent most folks home. Furthermore, I continued past Hemlock Falls, where much fewer people hike.
The hike begins at the far of the trailhead parking area. An inscribed boulder reads "Hemlock Falls Trail" at the trailhead. The well-worn trail initially begins on a small berm alongside an old railroad grade, before dropping down to the grade itself. At 0.2 miles, the trail comes alongside Moccasin Creek, which it follows for pretty much the rest of the hike. Moccasin Creek is a very beautiful mountain stream, with continuous cascades, slides, and whitewater in general. Some of the cascades/slides that you pass technically qualify as waterfalls (and they are listed in Jim Parham's book), but they did not stand out to me due to how the whole creek was one continuous waterfall. After passing some cliffs to the left where there is sometimes a waterfall after heavy rain, and after passing a wet-weather tributary waterfall visible across the creek, the trail crosses Moccasin Creek via a footbridge at 0.8 miles just above a small but pretty waterfall.
On the other side of the creek, stone steps take the trail up the bank, after which the trail passes a large slide in the creek. The creek is always visible from the trail along this stretch, At 1.0 miles, there is a split in the trail. A wide path bears left down to a large clearing and flat at Hemlock Falls, while a narrower path bears right to Upper Moccasin Creek Falls. This is the end of the official Hemlock Falls Trail. This means that the rest of the trail is not maintained. However, enough people have hiked it that it is a very obvious path, and its only issue is a large amount of blowdowns. First, take the short side trail to Hemlock Falls. This 15-foot waterfall drops down a wide rock ledge and into a beautiful dark pool.
From Hemlock Falls, take the right-hand path at the split. The path immediately becomes more rugged, passing along the side of and above Hemlock Falls. Near the top, there was a large blowdown when I did this hike. Just past the top of the falls, around 1.1 miles, bear left and ford Moccasin Creek. This spot is easy to miss, because the more obvious trail continues straight. There is a large boulder to the right of the trail at the ford. The ford is always a wade, and on this day (in drought conditions), it was knee-deep. From the ford, some shoals are visible upstream. On the other side of the creek, pick up a narrower footpath that bears right and passes through a small clearing, which looks like it may be used as a campsite. Beyond the clearing, the path ascends up a steep slope and rejoins the same old railroad grade that you were following much earlier. Most of the rest of the trail to the falls follows the grade, and for the most part, it stays above the creek, although all of the cascades are still visible. The path is not overgrown at all and easy to follow, although the constant downed trees are obstacles that can significantly slow things down.
At 1.25 miles, the trail drops into a ravine with a small feeder stream. Scrambling across a log is required in the ravine, followed by a steep pitch back up to the old railroad grade. Keep in mind that ravines such as this one were once spanned by trestles, but these trestles are long gone. Soon afterwards, the trail passes a huge boulder field to the left, just as Moccasin Creek enters a scenic gorge with many small waterfalls below to the right. At 1.65 miles, the trail reaches the top of Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, clearly audible and partially seen through the trees. To reach the base, turn right onto a steeply descending pathway. Near the bottom, there is a small ledge that you have to lower yourself down (although it is possible to bypass it to the right). Reach the edge of the pool at the base of the falls at 1.7 miles.
Upper Moccasin Creek Falls is a beauty. Here, Moccasin Creek falls 40 feet down a multi-tiered rock ledge, and the creek splits into two channels: one with more flow on the left side of the ledge and one with less flow at the right side of the ledge. During dry conditions, the right side may not be flowing, so it is best to see the falls at normal flow, as it becomes greatly much more photogenic with the second ribbon of water. This waterfall receives much fewer visitors than Hemlock Falls and is in a pristine setting.
There is a large camping area above Upper Moccasin Creek Falls, with several great campsites near the creek. It is a great place to spend the night. I have read that the Moccasin Creek Trail continues along Moccasin Creek all the way to Wildcat Creek Road. I made a brief reconnaissance of the continuation. An old roadbed does continue above the creek past the camping area, but it is fairly overgrown. It may be possible to follow the roadbed or stay near it along Moccasin Creek all the way to Wildcat Creek Road, but I did not see evidence of many people doing so. There are very remote 20-foot waterfalls some distance farther on North Fork of Moccasin Creek. Folks experienced in off-trail navigation will be able to get to these waterfalls. However, for more casual hikers, the best thing to do is to simply retrace your steps from Upper Moccasin Creek Falls back to the trailhead, concluding the hike at 3.4 miles.
I am classifying this hike as a "Best Hike". This really is one of Georgia's best short streamside hikes, with accompanying whitewater nearly the entire length. Two waterfalls are seen on this hike, both of which are not difficult to reach, and Upper Moccasin Creek Falls is a very pretty waterfall that is a worthwhile destination on any hike, let alone one as good as this one.
0.0 - Hemlock Falls Trailhead
0.8 - Footbridge
1.0 - Hemlock Falls
1.1 - Ford
1.7 - Upper Moccasin Creek Falls
Hike out and back to Hemlock Falls - 2.0 Miles
Several short waterfall hikes are available nearby. Two of them are to Angelica Falls on Plumorchard Creek and to Timpson Creek Falls. In fact, I did both of these hikes in addition to the waterfalls of Moccasin Creek on the same day.
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