Height: See Hike Description
Trail Type: Every material mentioned on this website
Hike Distance: 3 miles round trip
Difficulty: Holy Sweet Jesus
WARNING: This is the hike you do when you’ve done every other hike on this website. If this is one of the first hikes you attempt, you will hate nature and waterfalls for the rest of your life. But if you’ve gained some experience along the way, this is just a really strenuous hike. Either way, it’s not to be taken lightly.
The Tallulah Gorge is a little over two miles long and stretches over 1,000 feet from top to bottom. Meanwhile, thousands of cars zip by on US 23/US 441 just a few hundred feet away, possibly not realizing what sights lie practically next to the road. There are seven waterfalls listed in the gorge, but you’ll likely only get to see five of them.
There is a $5 fee per person to enter Tallulah Gorge State Park. Along with the trails in and around the gorge, there’s a nice interpretive center and campground on site.
The Tallulah Gorge was almost lost forever in the early 1900s when Georgia Railway and Power began damming the rivers in North Georgia to create power for Atlanta’s streetcars. In the late 1800s, the area was already a massive tourism spot. But in 1919, Georgia Railway and Power, despite fundraising efforts by the Georgia Assembly, built a 126-foot tall dam at the north end of the gorge, which eliminated the original Tallulah Falls – the roar of which could be heard for miles. Tallulah Gorge State Park was eventually founded in 1993 with cooperation from Georgia Power.
From the intersection of US 76 and US 23/US 441 in Clayton, drive south on US 23/US 441 for 10.8 miles. Turn left at the stoplight onto Jane Hurt Yarn Road and follow the signs to the parking area.
Theoretically, you could walk along the Rim Trail and see all of these waterfalls from several hundred feet up and it wouldn’t be a terribly difficult hike. The trail along the top of the gorge is wide and relatively level. But if you’re going to Tallulah Gorge, you might as well go all out and take the Hurricane Falls Loop Trail, which is what all of the park employees recommend if you want to see as many waterfalls as possible.
From the Interpretive Center, you’ll head down the trail made of recycled tires. Get warmed up by heading left and walking ¼ mile to overlooks 1 and 1A. Overlook 1 gives you a distant overhead view of Oceana Falls, a 50 foot slide at the south end of the gorge. Overlook 1A gives you an overhead view of Hurricane Falls, but that’s not the best view.
Head back to overlooks 2 and 3 for overhead views of Tempesta and L’Eau d’Or Falls. From overlook 2, you’ll get your best view of L’Eau d’Or Falls, a 46 foot slide that drops over three different sections into a deep, brilliantly blue-green pool. As you follow the trail from overlook 2, you will be bombarded by signs warning that if you have breathing or knee problems to turn back now and save yourself. Why would these signs exist? Because you’re about to go down 300 stairs.
The stairs lead down to a suspension bridge that hangs roughly 80 feet over the top of Hurricane Falls. On the other side of the bridge, you have the option of going down another 200 stairs to the base of Hurricane Falls. You might as well do it, especially since Hurricane Falls is the prettiest falls in the gorge.
This is also where those with permits – given to the first 100 visitors to the park who want them – get access to the gorge, which gives you the privilege of roaming all around the bottom of the gorge. Since you can get to the base of Hurricane Falls without a permit, I don’t see why you’d want one unless you plan on spending the entire day down there. Hurricane Falls is the tallest falls in the park at 96 feet. From the wooden viewing platform, the falls burst from around the other side of a large rock wall and curve into another deep, brilliantly blue-green pool.
Now, you’re probably aware that what goes up must come down. Well, in this case, what goes down must come back up, meaning that if you went all the way to the base of Hurricane Falls, you now have 500 steps back up to the top. In all, once you reach the top of the gorge, you’ll have walked down and up 1,099 stairs. If you’re a bit obsessive compulsive, you might wonder why they didn’t just make it an even 1,100. But I guess it’s not that important.
From the top of the stairs on the other side of the gorge, you can go left for another ¼ mile to overlooks 8, 9, and 10. In all honestly, overlook 9 is the only one worth checking out, which gives you another upstream view of Oceana Falls, as well as the bottom portion of the Caledonia Cascade, a 600 foot falls that probably dries up in the summer. You also can’t see the whole thing – only the last 70 feet or so.
Head back in the other direction and stop at overlook 7 for your best view of Tempesta Falls, a 76-foot slide. Overlook 6 doesn’t have much to offer, so stay on the trail as it comes out to the highway. Yes, the trail continues as a sidewalk along US 23/US 441 because once you’ve gone down into a 1,000-foot gorge, walking beside a major highway doesn’t even faze you. Cross the bridge over the Tallulah River and down one last set of stairs to rejoin the trail. Overlooks 5 and 4 offer a view of the dam as it lets some water from Tallulah Falls Lake down into the gorge. At designated points throughout the year, authorities open the dam and let a massive wall of water into the gorge for whitewater kayakers. The trail eventually loops back to overlooks 3 and 2, completing your hike.