Chattahoochee National Forest: Lower & Upper Sorrels Branch Falls, Hiawassee, Georgia
A tributary of Soapstone Creek, Sorrels Branch sports a pair of scenic waterfalls near Georgia Highway 180 and the former location of CCC Camp Soapstone. Access to both waterfalls is not difficult thanks to an unofficial trail along an old logging road that passes by them. The 50-foot sheer lower falls is more scenic than the small 25-foot upper slide, but the historical aspect of the Sorrels Branch waterfalls may be the most fascinating part of this hike. Perched precariously in the middle of the creek at the brink of the lower falls and near the base of the upper falls is a mysterious stone structure. The forest service, history books, and even the internet provide little clue to the origin of these ancient ruins, but you'll have fun coming up with your own guesses when you visit. This hike occurred on Saturday, July 1st, 2017. My plan was to hike out and back to Lower and Upper Sorrels Branch Falls from Highway 180.
R/T Length of Trail: 0.8 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:40
Type of Hike: Out and Back
Difficulty Rating: 3 out of 10
Total Elevation Gain: 255 Feet
Pros: Unique historical aspect of the waterfalls
Cons: Lack of parking at the trailhead; the route to the base of Upper Sorrels Branch Falls is very obscure
Points of Interest: Lower Sorrels Branch Falls - 5 stars; Upper Sorrels Branch Falls - 3 stars; Mysterious ruins between the lower and upper falls
Trail Blaze Colors: None, not an official trail
Best Seasons to Hike: Winter; Spring
Beginning Point: Junction of Highway 180 and dirt road near Sorrels Branch
Directions from Hiawassee, GA: From the intersection of Main Street (US 76/GA 17/75) and Bell Street in downtown Hiawassee, follow Main Street South (US 76 East/GA 17/15 South) for 2.7 miles. Then, turn right onto GA 17/75 South and continue for 6.3 miles before turning right onto GA 180 West. As you're driving on GA 180 West, you will pass over Sorrels Branch (which flows through a culvert) at 0.9 miles after leaving GA 75. While the trailhead is here, there is no parking space. Continue driving along GA 180 for about 0.15 miles to a place where the main road curves right while a dirt road leaves diagonally left. There is space for a couple of cars right where the dirt road begins. If for some reason this spot is full or if you're not comfortable parking here, you can drive down the dirt road a couple hundred feet to a fork with a pullout in front for one car. Another couple hundred feet down the left fork is another pullout with space for a couple of cars.
Click here to download a track of this hike.
The waterfalls on Sorrels Branch are a perfect example of Georgia's many waterfalls that are located so close to roadways and yet rarely ever visited. One thing that may stop people visiting Lower and Upper Sorrels Branch Falls is the lack of parking at the trailhead, but the extra walk along the road only increases the length of this short hike by 0.3 miles. The mileage in this trail report begins at the intersection of GA 180 and an unnamed dirt road just west of Sorrels Branch.
From the road intersection, hike along the broad grassy shoulder of GA 180 East for 0.15 miles. About 150 feet after the road crosses Sorrels Branch via a culvert, as the road makes a slight curve to the right, look closely for a narrow but well-used path on the left. This path heads up the bank and then appears to split. Stay left, crossing a large fallen tree, and the path will reappear and broaden as it joins an old logging road. As you follow the obvious trail, you should get a glimpse of the top of Lower Sorrels Branch Falls off to the left. This is a good place to turn left and head through the open woods toward the falls - there are some signs of a path. In about 200 feet, the path ends at an open spot with a view of the falls and the stone ruins at the top. To reach the base of the falls, take the steep scramble path on the left through a narrow opening in the rhododendron just before the open viewpoint. There is a short hop at the end, where the trail comes out at the creek below the falls. Walk up the creek to the base of Lower Sorrels Branch Falls at 0.3 miles.
Lower Sorrels Branch Falls is a nice single-tier 50-foot waterfall. It is neat how the flow splits into several different branches across the sheer rock face of the falls. This effect will be more pronounced during high water. From the base of the falls, you can't see the ruins at the top, but that is where you're headed next. While the upper falls is neither as tall nor as scenic as the lower falls, the ruins make it a unique and special destination that is worth the extra distance. Return to the main path along the old logging road and continue following it as it ascends moderately around and above the lower falls. About 700 feet after returning to the old road, you may be able to hear the upper falls down to the left. Around here is a good place to leave the trail to access the ruins and the upper falls. Start down a bit of a path with some cut branches. In a few feet, it will be best to turn left and descend alongside the upper falls down a short but steep slope. You could have avoided this part altogether by turning off the trail slightly earlier, but that point is also steep and hard to recognize. You will eventually come out at the creek around the base of Upper Sorrels Branch Falls at 0.45 miles.
Upper Sorrels Branch Falls itself is a nearly-vertical sliding waterfall of about 30 feet. It isn't very photogenic but it can be a nice bonus to the Sorrels Branch hike. Of more interest though are the ruins at the falls. Stretching between the base of the upper falls and the top of the lower falls - only a few dozen feet downstream - is an odd stone enclosure with several levels. It is completely surrounded by walls on four sides. As best as I can tell through my research, there is no clear history of this structure out there, and even the forest service didn't know. It would make sense for this to be some sort of structure related to power generation for CCC Camp Soapstone, but in that scenario, it would be strange that the lower end of the stone enclosure is walled off too. Another somewhat likely guess is that this was once a grist mill, but it doesn't make sense that a mill would be constructed at such a hard-to-access (at the top of a waterfall) place! Perhaps the stone enclosure is just the ruin of something that was never finished. If you have a tip regarding the origin of this stone structure, please comment or message me. Until someone comes back with concrete evidence, all of us will only be able to guess about the origin of the ruins.
From Upper Sorrels Branch Falls, simply return along the same way back to Highway 180 and then your car. You will conclude the hike at 0.8 miles.
0.0 - Highway 180/Dirt Road Junction
0.15 - Sorrels Branch Trailhead
0.3 - Lower Sorrels Branch Falls
0.45 - Upper Sorrels Branch Falls
0.8 - Highway 180/Dirt Road Junction
Hike just to Lower Sorrels Branch Falls - 0.6 Miles
Another good waterfall with a short hike to see in the area is Rogers Branch Falls off Indian Grave Gap Road.
8/10/2021 03:38:06 pm
The stone structures appear to be trout "tanks" which were used to raise trout for stocking streams for fishermen. They look similar to those at other former CCC camps including at Warwoman Dell, among others.
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