Nestled between the lines of Rabun and Habersham counties lies Tallulah Gorge, a nearly four-mile hike featuring some of the most spectacular views Georgia has to offer. Tallulah Gorge is about a seventy-minute drive from our lovely Athens, but be warned: although it is an almost completely straight shot on US 441, sneaky cops hide in speed traps along the roadway. I have the Super Speeder to prove that Mountain City Cops have nothing better to do than hide behind trees and hope some poor little college student comes speeding by (in my defense the speed limit had not been posted for like, 12 miles).
I decided to spend last Sunday adventuring through Georgia’s own little wonder. Tallulah Gorge has hiking options for both beginners and experienced hikers. Being avid hikers, my other curly-headed friend and I opted for the Gorge Floor adventure. This is considered the more intensive and strenuous trail for the experienced hikers. To complete the hike to the gorge floor, a permit from the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center must be obtained. Only 100 permits are given out per day to ensure hikers that the trails will not be too crowded. Be sure to call ahead and make sure there are still permits available. Since they are free, they get snatched up fast. DISCLAIMER: this hike is tough! There were multiple times where we had to stop and take a break. “Over the river and through woods” gets a literal meaning during this intensive hike.
The most popular waterfall, Hurricane Falls, is the first stop at the top of the 1,000 foot gash in the earth known as Tallulah Gorge. After descending down what seemed like a few hundred stairs, we came across a suspension bridge. The bridge swung back and forth nearly 80 feet above tumbling rapids. The surrounding rock formations were smooth, glistening with the water that has rushed over them for centuries. We continued our descent down to the floor, stopping along the way to take in the scenery. North Georgia is absolutely beautiful this time of year. The trees have just begun to change color, drenching the landscape with hues of burnt orange and cardinal red.
After hiking for about 20 minutes, we reached Overlook 3, the last point on the normal North/South Rim Trail. However, Sarah and I did not stop here. A gate with the words “STOP HERE UNLESS YOU HAVE A PERMIT” marked the start of the real adventure. After tying our shoes around our neck, we hobbled over slick rocks and dipped our toes in the icy water. From here on out, shoes remained off as we trekked from waterfall to waterfall. Calling the pathway of scattered boulders a trail is being generous. To our left, rapids cascaded from fall to fall as we carefully navigated over rocks and under toppled trees. Lizards, turtles, and the occasional snake perched atop the rocks, warming themselves in the event the sun broke through the clouds.
Right before Oceana Falls, the trail takes a sharp descent down. The trail gets very steep and narrow; it requires a lot of concentration and careful maneuvering to not get injured. It was at this point where I almost seriously injured myself (if you know me, this isn’t a surprise). The best part of the trip was stopping at Oceana Falls after this particularly tricky part of the hike. It was around 4:00 in the afternoon when the breeze started whispering through the trees, and Sarah and I sat at the top of the rapid and shared roadside stand apples and peanut butter (you know, from the random people selling apples on the side of the road…Oops). The views were unlike anything I have ever seen before. Whether you just plan on an afternoon adventure, or you have a long weekend to spare, I highly recommend making the drive to Tallulah Gorge.