High Shoals Creek is home to two of Georgia's most popular waterfalls: High Shoals Falls and Blue Hole Falls. Very few people who hike to those waterfalls know that the same watershed is home to a remote waterfall no less impressive. Rogers Branch Falls is a tiered 80-foot waterfall on a tributary of High Shoals Creek, with additional small waterfalls above and below the main drop. Even though local residents are aware of the waterfall as evidenced by the well-used path to it, it is not publicized well at all and clearly off the radar for most hikers and waterfall hunters. The routes to the base of Rogers Branch Falls are not quite for everyone due to their steepness, but those who reach the viewing area at the base will be rewarded by a breathtaking sight. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 1st, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to the base of Rogers Branch Falls from a popular camping area off Indian Grave Gap Road.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.3 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:30 (time for photography is included)
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 4 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 177 Feet
Pros: Nearly-guaranteed solitude at the base of Rogers Branch Falls
Cons: Some lack of parking space near the campsite at the beginning of the hike to the falls; Rogers Branch is a small stream so the waterfall may not look great during drier periods; the trail to the base of the falls is very steep
Points of Interest: Rogers Branch Falls - 8 stars (considerably lower during dry periods)
Trail Blaze Colors: None, not an official trail
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter; Spring
Beginning Point: Campsite near Tray Mountain Road
Directions from Helen, GA: From the intersection of GA 75 and GA 356 north of downtown Helen, follow GA 75 North for 10.2 miles. Then, turn very acutely right onto Indian Grave Gap Road. Continue on the unpaved road that turns into Forest Service Road 283 for a total of 2.2 miles to a slightly overgrown but obvious drivable side road on the left. Turn onto this side road and follow it for 0.1 miles to a fork just above the road's end at a campsite. The two forks of the road reconnect at the campsite, but the best parking spots are around the fork. if absolutely all of the pullouts are utilized, I would say that a half-dozen cars can fit in. Parking in the campsite itself is not recommended, because it appears to be a popular site. Note: Along the way on Indian Grave Gap Road, you will pass through a vehicle ford of the Hiwassee River. This is a wide and fairly shallow ford, but depending on the water level, some passenger vehicles may not be able to make it. If you have concerns about your vehicle passing through, you will have to take the alternate more time-consuming route along Tray Mountain Road (FS Road 79), which begins much further south off Highway 75.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
Rogers Branch Falls is a waterfall at the south end of Swallow Creek Wildlife Management Area that I first identified on Google Earth satellite imagery. Due to how impressive it looked on satellite, I made plans to check out the site, and before my hike, I received confirmation of the waterfall's existence from a few friends. When I got to the base of Rogers Branch Falls, I was amazed that such a tall and photogenic waterfall could be largely unknown. Even though there clearly are signs of numerous visits to the falls, I did not find any online references to the falls prior to my discovery of it on satellite and my friends' visits to it.
Begin the hike to Rogers Branch Falls at the far end of the large campsite near the parking area. A path to the falls heads down to Rogers Branch, hopping across the main stream and a small drainage channel. The path continues downstream along the left-hand side of Rogers Branch. About 400 feet from the parking, the path reaches the top of the 20-foot upper cascade above Rogers Branch Falls. The path continues to the base of the falls along the same side of the creek, descending right alongside the falls, but the path is extremely steep, difficult, and potentially life-threatening. I do not recommend using this path at all, because there are a couple of spots where it is easy to slip right out into the middle of the waterfall and a fall there is likely to be fatal. A much safer alternative that is not immediately obvious is to cross Rogers Branch above the upper cascade and follow a less steep path on the right side of the creek. Normally, the crossing will be safe and usually dry, but if the water is up, do not attempt it as 120 feet of falling water lie only a few yards downstream. When I went to the falls, I climbed down the insane trail on the left side and returned back up along the path on the right side, and I can tell you that the path on the right side is much easier and safer without a shade of doubt. The map above shows the path on the right side only.
Thus, cross the creek, and begin hiking down alongside it along the route of least resistance - that should be easy to see. The path shortly passes the base of the upper cascade. It is beautiful - but make sure to stay away from the creekbed and the slippery rocks surrounding it when viewing the cascade, as the top of the main falls is only a few feet downstream. The path continues past a small rock outcrop, bears right slightly away from the falls, and descends down a steep but open slope. This slope isn't as steep as the other side of the creek, but you still have to be careful going down, and for some folks, a rope can be useful on the way back (although my friends and I made it without a rope just fine and many other people will too). The path eventually veers left, narrows, and ends at the base of Rogers Branch Falls at 0.15 miles.
When there is enough water in this small stream, Rogers Branch Falls is a breathtaking sight! The 80-foot waterfall begins with a series of cascades and free-falls down the steepest part of the cliff. In particular, the last and largest free-fall part is stunning as the creek sends off spray in different directions that shimmers profusely under sunlight. The lower half of the waterfall consists of a very photogenic stairstep cascade that runs all the way down to the viewing area and continues even more steeply farther down for another 20+ feet. If the upper and lower cascades are included, that makes the full height of Rogers Branch Falls a whopping 120+ feet! As with many other waterfalls, pictures of Rogers Branch Falls taken on cloudy days will have the highest quality, but there's a bit of a catch. If you can get to the waterfall at the just-right time of day - mid-afternoon on the summer day that I visited - the sun is going to give off sun rays that hit the upper part of the waterfall and the spray produced by it, creating a gorgeous unique scene. My pictures didn't do justice to the beauty of the sun rays.
From the base of the falls, return back to the parking area along the same way, concluding the hike at just 0.3 miles. Even though this hike is extremely short, it still isn't a hike for beginners. The path climbs up nearly 200 feet in 0.15 miles (with the bulk of the climb being even shorter) on the way back to the parking! Keep that in mind when you set out to see this spectacular waterfall.
0.0 - Rogers Branch Parking
0.15 - Rogers Branch Falls
0.3 - Rogers Branch Parking
The trailhead for Blue Hole Falls and High Shoals Falls is also on Indian Grave Gap Road, just north of the Rogers Branch Falls parking. The hike to those waterfalls would make for a nice combination with Rogers Branch.
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