Photo courtesy of Jim Parnham
The 96-foot Hurricane Falls in Tallulah Gorge State Park.
A motorist driving along US 441 south of Clayton, Ga., and crossing over the dam that forms Tallulah Falls Lake, might never guess that Georgia’s most rugged gorge is just below. Tallulah Gorge State Park is home to five major waterfalls dropping hundreds of feet over a two-mile stretch. Cliff walls stand on either shore as tributaries cascade into the river below. One of the tributaries forms Caledonia Cascade, at 600 feet the fifth-highest waterfall east of the Mississippi.
This route is not for the casual hiker. Those folks should stick to the trails along the rim. Only more agile, fit hikers should tackle the climb down into the gorge, across the footbridge, and then back up the other side. Walking down 500-plus steps on one side and up 500-plus steps on the other gets your heart beating, but it’s not a technical challenge. Not only will you see the gorge from the rim and go down and then up all those steps, you’ll hike and scramble right down on the floor of the gorge. That’s the best way to see the bottom three of the five big waterfalls and become more a participant than a spectator.
Hiking the gorge floor requires a permit. Permits are issued to the first 100 or so folks each day, so show up early. Also, permits are not issued during inclement weather, so pick a nice day. Besides getting there early for the permit, it’s a good idea to start in the morning, since you won’t want to rush. The permit carries no charge in addition to the entry fee, but everyone gets a talk from the ranger about safety precautions and what to expect.
Once on the floor of the gorge, your first obstacle will be crossing to the other side of the river. This requires either near superhuman leaping ability (rock to rock) or wading through waist deep water. Either way, chances are, by the time you get to the other side you’ll be wet. Just upstream of the crossing is the 96-foot Hurricane Falls.
Work your way down the left side of the gorge. There is no marked trail, but you can see where folks have been before. Much of the time you’ll be climbing over, around, and between river boulders. It’s really not too difficult; just don’t expect to move quickly.
The real challenges come in the areas around Oceana and Bridal Veil Falls, as well as at the base of Caledonia Cascade. At these locations, the more rock-climbing experience you’ve had, the more comfortable you’re likely to be. The kind of hiking you’ll be doing will resemble what is known in the climbing world as friction moves. In other words, you are relying on friction to keep your feet from slipping on the rock. The “grippier” your shoes, the better (leave the stiff boots at home today). Pick your route carefully. In the case of Oceana and Bridal Veil, stay well left of the falls, lower your center of gravity by getting on all fours, and stay off anything that is wet or looks wet. Don’t be embarrassed to scoot along on your rear if necessary.
Park rules allow you to go down as far as the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls. There’s a plunge pool here the size of a small lake, and it’s a great place to swim or have picnic or both. Hang out here as long as you like, but remember, you have to get back to the footbridge over the same terrain you covered on the way down.
Aside from the gorge floor, the remainder of the hike takes in all the overlooks that let you peer into the gorge from high above. It’s fun to look down on the waterfalls and pick out where you were earlier in the day.
An app for the Appalachians
Hikers who want to travel smarter on trails in the southern mountains now have one more good reason to stash their phones in their daypacks, thanks to a mobile app called Great Hikes of the Southern Appalachians, available for the iPhone.
The new app is the brainchild of Jim Parham, guidebook author and founder of Milestone Press, an Almond, N.C., publisher that has been producing outdoor adventure guidebooks since 1992. “This app takes advantage of the GPS function of your phone to show your precise location on the trail—or while driving to the trailhead,” says Parham.
The result is an app with hikes organized by state and region—all proven routes described in detail by expert hikers. Users can also choose a hike by category—for example, a day hike, an overnight, or a waterfall hike—or choose from hikes closest to their current location, whether they are at home or on vacation in the mountains.
Great Hikes of the Southern Appalachians is a free app with an in-app purchase option. Users get a “catalog” of hikes with basic information—trailhead location, distance, elevation gain, a photo, and hike synopsis—to help them choose which hike they want to buy; each individual hike is priced at $.99. Once a hike is purchased and downloaded, the app functions with no data plan or phone service required.