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.
R/T Length of Trail: 2.2 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:05
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 300 Feet
Pros: Very well-graded and easy trail along Mud Creek
Cons: Drive-up access to Mud Creek Falls attracts crowds
Points of Interest: Mud Creek Falls - 10 stars
Trail Blaze Colors: Mud Creek Trail - None
Best Seasons to Hike: Spring
Beginning Point: Mud Creek Trailhead on Highway 246
Directions from Dillard: The trailhead for this hike is in the city of Sky Valley. From the intersection of GA 246 and US 23/441 in Dillard, follow GA 246 East for 3.1 miles to the Mud Creek Trailhead. The trailhead parking area will be in a small pullout with space for two to three cars at a dirt road about 0.1 miles after Sky Valley Overlook. Note that the dirt road at the trailhead may be gated, as it was on the day of my latest visited, but if it is not gated, I am told that it is perfectly fine to park in the turnaround/parking area 50 feet into the woods on the dirt road. Also, if by any chance the small pullout is full, it is fine to park at the Sky Valley Overlook and walk up the road to the trailhead. By navigating a series of roads in the town of Sky Valley, one can also drive almost right up to Mud Creek Falls, but I recommend hiking the full trail.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
Most drive-up or easily accessible waterfalls in Georgia, such as Toccoa Falls, Anna Ruby Falls, and Amicalola Falls, have become "tourist traps" that are always crowded and have certain limitations, such as paid access, paved trails views from observation decks, etc. Fortunately, for now, Mud Creek Falls - while as easy to get to as any waterfall on the list - has escaped from becoming a tourist trap. Even though you're typically not likely to find Mud Creek Falls to yourself, the hoards of people that typically occupy the viewing areas of easily accessible waterfalls are absent here. In addition, as of this writing, access has graciously remained free.
Begin the hike by following the dirt road down from pullout off Highway 246. In 100 feet, there is a turnaround and parking area that may or may not be open to vehicles. The main trail continues ahead on the narrowing road, but first, turn right onto a path that leads to an interesting dam structure on Mud Creek at 0.05 miles. Don't cross the bridge, as the other side of the creek is private property. After viewing the dam, return to the main trail and continue following the dirt road. At 0.15 miles, the road narrows and becomes a lot more-trail like. Laying on the ground here beside a cable was a "Tow Away Zone" sign. The trail initially remains well above Mud Creek, but swift cascades in the gorge below produce quite a noise after heavy rain. At 0.3 miles, a narrow side trail bears right down a set of stone steps. This side trail is well worth taking, as it leads to a large photogenic cascade flanked by mountain laurel on Mud Creek in 150 feet. After viewing the cascade, again return to the main trail and continue following it. The trail now follows Mud Creek more closely, passing several noteworthy slides and cascades. The main trail ascends very gradually on a well-graded trail. At 0.5 miles, the trail crosses a Mud Creek tributary via a footbridge. Shortly afterwards, you will see several houses through the trees to the right across the creek.
At 0.8 miles, an alternate trail bears right, descends down stone steps, and continues as a narrow path along Mud Creek. I suggest taking this more primitive trail on the way in and returning along the main trail. The alternate trail provides closer views of Mud Creek and the vegetation that surrounds the stream. At 0.9 miles, bear left at a Y-split in the path to return to the main trail, which is still following a broad forest road. Finally, the trail enters a clearing as Mud Creek Falls comes into view through the trees ahead. At 1.2 miles, the Mud Creek Trail ends at a picnic area at Mud Creek Falls. To the left, just barely in sight is the parking area off Tahoe Road for Mud Creek Falls. Walk down through the picnic area to the base of the breathtaking Mud Creek Falls.
Mud Creek Falls is a very steep 85-foot waterfall that is located just below the Sky Valley Golf Club, although you cannot see any hint of development above from the base. The upper one-third of the waterfall is a near free-fall, and the lower two-thirds consist of stairstep cascades. During high water, Mud Creek Falls becomes of the best waterfalls that I have seen in Georgia, as near the top of the falls, the powerful creek drops through a chute onto a large rock slab, where the water then bounces off in all directions like a natural fountain. This effect is what makes Mud Creek Falls so unique, although during low water, it is a lot less noticeable. Mud Creek Falls is best to see in the spring when fresh spring greenery surrounds the falls and the neighboring mountain laurel is blooming, although Mud Creek is a fairly large creek, so this waterfall is an excellent choice during all seasons.
From Mud Creek Falls, simply retrace your steps back to the trailhead along the Mud Creek Trail, avoiding the alternate trail and side trails on the way back. You will return to the car and conclude the hike at 2.2 miles.
0.0 - Mud Creek Trailhead
0.05 - Dam Structure
0.3 - Large Cascade
0.8-0.9 - Alternate Trail
1.2 - Mud Creek Falls
2.2 - Mud Creek Trailhead
You can drive up to Mud Creek Falls via Tahoe Road in Sky Valley, if you're not feeling like hiking the full trail.
Also in Sky Valley are two other hikes that can done before or after the Mud Creek hike. The hike to Rabun Bald from Beegum Gap is one of the more popular hikes in Rabun County, but it is well worth it, as the observation tower at the top provides 360-degree views. A lesser-known hike in Sky Valley is to the breathtaking panoramas from cliffs on Flint Knob and Flint Knob East.
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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