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Staying outside in Georgia makes good keep-physical-distance sense. Even better for families, Georgia waterfalls and hiking paths are free. North Georgia mountains and day trip locations in nearby Tennessee should include the great outdoors in the Blue Ridge Mountains and a charming little city with the same name. Multigenerational options are abundant in the forests and on trails leading to Georgia waterfalls.
The mountains of North Georgia offer up beautiful waterfalls, some with Cherokee names. There is also a state park or two and forests such as the Chattahoochee National Forest. That means playing outside and keeping proper distances to stay safe. Always check before embarking on your Georgia waterfalls journey to be sure your destination is open. Trail and waterfall regulations change frequently.
Many of these hike-to falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains feed the Chattahoochee River. Then, those waters flow 500 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
How’s that for connecting to the bigger world on a little hike?
Read More: Great Georgia Road Trip Ideas
Starting Your Georgia Waterfalls Adventure
Headquarter in the community named for the mountains — Blue Ridge. That’s Fannin County, Georgia, with adventures to open a whole new way to engage in the South. Or make this a road trip from Atlanta for a day in the midst of wildflowers and rhododendron.
Amicalola Falls State Park is a well known waterfall site with hiking options. Branching out to another recreation area is a good plan too. Even the names are intriguing: Tallulah Falls, Tumbling Waters, Cohutta, Angel Falls, Panther Creek Falls, Anna Ruby Falls and Hemlock Falls among them.
Practice balancing or wobbling on unsteady terrain before heading to the Tallulah Gorge State Park. That’s because the suspension bridge can feel daunting and disorienting. It’s 80 feet above the rocky bottom.
Tallulah Falls is adjacent to the state park. Kurt Wallenda crossed on a tightrope. I prefer paved paths suitable for strollers and bicycles. Special blooms to look for are trillium and monkey-faced orchids.
Access Hurricane Falls on a loop from Tallulah Falls when the gorge is open. Ten observation decks provide make-you-dizzy views along this steep two mile hike.
Some of the towns to find even more beautiful waterfalls beyond Blue Ridge to consider are Blairsville, Dawsonville, Helen, Clayton and Toccoa. Rabun County too.
These are mostly family friendly strolls not grueling hikes. To find the tallest and widest and free-falling versions, check out the World Waterfall Database.
Georgia Waterfalls Hikes
Blue Ridge offers major trail systems, including access to the famed Appalachian Trail, extending 2,000 miles to Maine. Touch a bit of the Appalachian Trail since it begins in Fannin County at the top of Springer Mountain.
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My family prefers an easy hike with shorter paths in this Blue Ridge system of 300 miles, including short trails suitable for beginning hikers. A half-mile hike to beautiful waterfalls feels like a gift. When the hiking trail is longer, some complaints are possible!
Reviews and descriptions offer distances and round trip numbers are valuable when choosing waterfall hikes. Plenty in this region are short hikes.
Three Forks to Long Creek Falls
The hike to Long Creek Falls includes a scenic 5.3-mile drive into the forest following Noontootla Creek to the Three Forks area to begin a two-mile round-trip hike following Long Creek to a beautiful cascading waterfall with two drops totaling 50 feet. Take a picnic.
Swinging Bridge Trail
Ramble the Benton MacKaye Trail south from Hwy 60 for three miles for sweeping views of the pristine Toccoa River flowing beneath the “Swinging Bridge.” The longest suspension bridge east of the Mississippi, the passage was built by the USDA Forest Service and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in the mid-1970s.
Trails on this 17-mile hiking/mountain biking system near Blue Ridge intersect and loop from one- to 5.5-miles.
Benton MacKaye Trail to Fall Branch Falls
A short distance away and part of the larger Benton MacKaye Trail, Fall Branch Falls is a double waterfall with mountain laurel and rhododendron growing along the trail and creek bank. The hike to the falls is about 30 minutes round-trip. Does that sound like a short hike to you?
Read More: 5 Awesome Sun-Drenched Georgia Beaches
Straddle a state line
The Georgia/Tennessee state line is in downtown McCaysville. Planting one foot in each state is free too.
Downtown Blue Ridge
Remember downtown Blue Ridge for lively shops and restaurants when busy sidewalks feel normal again. That’s true too for the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad cars; rides aren’t free but gazing at a real-deal passenger train is.
Find the free downtown playground across the street from the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association. Virtual classes and exhibits help with physical distancing. In normal times the national juried shows, changing galleries, artists-in-residence and a full schedule of festivals are inside and admission is free.
Gorgeous Georgia Waterfalls
Seek out many waterfalls by asking the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce for maps and easy-access ideas.
Fall Branch Falls
The upper portion of Fall Branch Falls is a series of cascades that lead to a single major drop of some 30 feet, with the water plunging into a deep pool at the base of the falls. These falls, along the Benton MacKaye Trail, west of Aska Road, are a shorter, although a bit harder walk than Long Creek Falls.
Long Creek Falls
The most popular of the waterfalls in Fannin County is Long Creek Falls, which can be seen by hiking down a short side trail from the combined Appalachian/Benton MacKaye Trail. These falls total about 50 feet in two distinct drops. A leisurely 30-minute hike to the falls is uphill on the way in, downhill on the way out.
Sea Creek Falls
Located in the Cooper Creek Scenic Area, Sea Creek Falls are an easy walk of less than one-tenths mile. The first, or upper falls are a series of steep cascades ending in a brief drop. The second falls are also a series of steep cascades. The water flow is heavy either in late winter or spring, or after a summer rain.
About 21 miles from Ellijay on Hwy 52 is a spectacular 729-foot falls, the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Also, a strenuous 8.5-mile approach trail leads from the park to Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian Trail.
Helton Creek Falls
There are two falls on Helton Creek near Blairsville. A short trail descends to the first waterfall then climbs to the second larger waterfall. Beware – the rocks are slippery. From Blue Ridge, take Hwy 515 north to Blairsville. In Blairsville, take US 19/129 south about 11 miles. Turn left onto Helton Creek Road, the first road past the entrance to Vogel State Park. Go 2.2 miles; the road turns to gravel. There will be a small parking lot on the right in a curve, and the trail is marked.
Traveling Mom Tip: Find stunning views of many falls in Mountains and Waterfalls of North Georgia by Jack Anthony. No, the book isn’t free but you might find it in your library when it opens. Exceptional directions and details provided.
North Georgia’s Blue Ridge is 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate-575; drive a little more and consider these tours free, except your gas. Free driving tour maps are available from the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.
Beyond the charming downtown of Blue Ridge are mountain roads and country churches, pastoral valleys and river rapids, history and nature. Hawks and owls offer free glimpse of their soaring skills. Watch for woodpeckers, turkeys and mountain grouse near the forest edges. The flash of a white-tail deer is an everyday occurrence. Rarer, but not impossible, is sighting a black bear or bobcat.
Traveling Mom Tip: Do not drive on any rough forest dirt road in low clearance cars.
The Cohutta wilderness mountains rise in the west and the Blue Ridge to the south and east. The Cherokee considered the Cohuttas “poles of the shed,” holding up the sky.
Cherokee hunted the area extensively and played field hockey on the ball fields at Little Bald Mountain, today a group camping area. The Cohutta Wildlife Management Area (WMA) encompasses 95,000 acres, 40,000 within Fannin County.
The Cohutta Wilderness is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, inhabited by black bears and wild boars, along with smaller animals like bobcats, raccoons, squirrels.
Changing seasons bring blooms to mountain laurel (May), rhododendron (June), and a profusion of wildflowers (early spring), with ferns dotting the landscape all summer.
Averaging 15 to 20 miles along the Forest Service Roads, this is a three-hour drive through the forest. Consider a day-trip with stops to enjoy the view; take a hike and picnic at Lake Conasauga.
Traveling Mom Tip: Vehicles need to be in good mechanical condition with adequate fuel; low clearance cars are a bad idea on these rough roads.
Day Trips to Georgia Waterfalls
Dahlonega and Apple Alley are a day trip originally outlined by the U.S. Forest Service, beautiful any time of year, but autumn fall foliage, presents a particularly scenic drive. This half-day drive begins and ends at the intersection of Georgia Highways 5 and 515 in Blue Ridge, with round-trip mileage 102 miles. This tour includes to a swinging bridge, vineyard and apple orchard.
Named for Col. James Walker Fannin who was killed in the Goliad Massacre after the fall of the Alamo, Fannin County was founded in 1854. The land belonged to the Cherokee Indians but gold was discovered in Dahlonega in 1829 and in 1830 the U.S. Congress passed the Cherokee Removal Act resulting in the tragic Trail of Tears.
In 1860, the first Fannin County census counted 900 families or 5,139 residents, mostly small subsistence farmers. Today, some of the unique features of Fannin County are historic rural communities and settlements. Find “hollers” or coves, often in isolated and remote areas surrounded by mountains and nestled along the banks of picturesque streams or rivers.
Hemlock Falls and Cherokee Falls
An easy to moderate hike, even with kids, and the round trip is two miles. Find Hemlock at Moccasin Creek State Park. Towns on either side are Clayton and Hiawassee. There’s another Hemlock Falls in Cloudland Canyon State Park, 45 minutes from Chattanooga. This one actually gives a two-for-one hike. Cherokee Falls is there, too. Special experience here is the first glimpse—through slim spaces among tall trees.
Angel Falls and Panther Falls
These are a double bonus, also in Rabun County. Angel is the upper fall with an observation deck. Panther is the lower and admiring green root growth and moss is my recommendation. The hike to these two falls is 1.7 miles with very little incline.
Becky Branch Falls
A valley named Warwoman features the Becky Branch Falls, also in Rabun County. Why warwoman? She was a Cherokee who advised tribal councils about war and peace. Today, picnics work well here amidst abundant wildflowers and wilderness.
Lake Rabun and Minnehaha Falls
Visit these for a family day; these are kid friendly and the hike’s just two-tenth of a mile. The native American Dakota word for waterfall is—you guessed it, minnehaha. The cascades are multi-tiered.
Dukes Creek Falls
Helen is the town to find Dukes Creek Falls with two large observation decks. The two-mile round-trip hike is wide and easy but stairs do come first. The creek is accessible for playing—but cold. Since the trail is wide without much incline, this could be called a stroll instead of a hike.
High Shoals Falls and DeSoto Falls
The High Shoals Falls trail starts near Helen also. So are DeSoto Falls with a two-mile round trip. Good story about the name–a piece of armor was found here supposedly from Hernando de Soto!
Jacks River Falls
Need a rugged waterfall hike? Jacks River Falls in the Cohutta Wilderness Area is one. This 4.5 mile trail is recommended for experienced hikers.
Raven Cliff Falls
Another rugged choice is Raven Cliff Falls in White County in a Wilderness Area. Follow Dodd Creek for this five-mile round trip. Use caution.
TravelingMom Tip: When descriptions declare “carry the 10 essential items with you, prepare for rugged,” that means tools including compass, headlamp, first aid. matches, map, extra clothing and food.