Hiking Tallulah Gorge:
For spring break my family decided to take a short trip to hike Tallulah Gorge and then raft the Chattooga River (there is another post on our rafting trip). Tallulah Gorge is just a two hour drive northeast of Atlanta. My son Tanner had already been with some friends and said we would not be disappointed. According the the state park’s website the gorge is one of the most spectacular gorges in the southeast and is an impressive two miles long reaching almost 1,000 feet deep.
We first pulled into a turn off before the Tallulah Gorge State Park near the school which lead to views of the lake and dam from above. The view is impressive and there are picnic tables and a small sign about the incline rail system used to build the dam in 1911. Below is a photo of the lake and dam and my family on the old incline rail car. You can see how steep the drop is and why the rail car was required.
We then drove to the Tallulah Gorge State Park and paid $5 for our carload. Pretty good price for a spring break outing. The park is open from 8am until dark and the office is open from 8 am until 5 pm. We parked at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center and went in to plan our adventure. It was very crowded since it was a gorgeous day during Georgia’s spring break. It was nice to see so many families enjoying the great outdoors. Many people had their dogs which are allowed on the rim trail, but not onto the gorge floor.
The Visitor’s Center has rangers stationed with maps and advice, rest rooms, snacks, a small gift shop, and some exhibits on the history and ecosystem of the area. I wish my kids had let me read the signs in the exhibit. The old photos were amazing and painted an alluring history of trains bringing people to this Victorian resort destination starting in 1882. The train lead right up to the gorge and thousands of visitors would flock here in the summer to enjoy the cool mountain air and stay in several grand hotels. The dam was built in 1913 which reduced the flow of the falls in the gorge significantly. Then a fire destroyed the resort town in 1921 and it never recovered to its same glory.
My boys dragged me out of the Visitor’s Center to get started on the hike. We decided to hike the North Rim trail, then down the stairs toward the bottom of the gorge, and up the other side to the South Rim Trial and back to the Visitor’s Center. Note that to hike all of the way to the bottom of the gorge you need to read some rules and obtain a free permit. There are only 100 of these permits given out per day.
We hiked along the shady path until we came to the lookouts. Below is a photo from lookout #2 of L’Eau d’Or Falls and Hawthorne Pool. The deep gorge with its rugged rock cliffs and the rushing water of the falls making its way to the lovely pool below was a splendid sight.
After taking in the grander of the first views into the gorge, we started the long hike down the many, many stairs toward the bottom. It was nice to have benches along the way to rest if necessary. It was a fairly warm day and going down was easy, but what goes down must then come back up, and we knew up would be much more challenging.
After awhile we reached the swing bridge crossing 80 feet above the gorge. This was my favorite part of the hike since I love swing bridges. The bridge was very sturdy, but thankfully did sway as you went across. That’s the fun part of a swing bridge!
After crossing the bridge you have the option to continue further toward the bottom of the gorge, but we decided we had gone deep enough and started the long climb back up the gorge to hike the South Rim Trail. When we reached the top of the stairs there was a great view back to the visitors on the North Rim Trail above the rocky ledge. You must look closely to see the tiny people on the ledge.
We hiked along the South Rim Trail to various breathtaking views into the gorge. Below is Hurricane Falls and Pool with the Visitor’s Center perched high above. If you look closely you can see the swing bridge in both photos.
The trail was well built with well maintained paths, sturdy stairs, bridges, and benches along the way. This bench was set in a cave of sorts.
We continued to hike along the lovely trail until we reached the road and dam. I would not want to be the one who gets on those orange ladders along the dam. Not sure what they are for. We walked across the bridge next to the road back to the North Rim Trail and back to the Visitor’s Center. There were several more look outs along the way that gave different perspectives of the amazing gorge. I was a little disappointed in my photos, since mid-day light can never do justice to the beauty of an outdoor wonder like this. I will go back again in the early morning or late afternoon light to enjoy it again and get some better photos. I also would like to get a permit next time to go all of the way to the floor of the gorge.
Now that we were finished with the hike, my family indulged me and let me watch the 15 minute film, Tallulah Gorge. Unfortunately, the large screen was broken so I was the only one in the room watching it on a small TV. However, it was an incredible film that was made in 1994 and 1995: credit given in the photo below. It showed old photos from when the gorge was a Victorian resort town in the late 1800’s. There was also footage of the dam being constructed, rock climbers, kayakers, and a tight rope walker. I recommend taking the time to watch the film.
These photos were in the film. Can you imagine hiking the gorge in these clothes? I can’t!
Outside of the theatre, there was information on films shot in Tallulah Gorge including Disney’s film The Great Locomotive Chase about a Civil War adventure and Deliverance shot in 1971 in Tallulah Gorge and the Chattooga River about four suburbanites on a canoe trip in North Georgia. There was also information on famous people who have lived in and visited Tallulah Gorge including a fascinating story about the owner of the Grand View Hotel hiring a tight rope walker to cross the gorge as promotion for his hotel back in 1886.
I recommend Hiking Tallulah Gorge. It is one of the most spectacular gorges in the southeast, and the information in the Visitor’s Center helps bring the fascinating history to life. The hike out of the gorge is tough, but worth the effort. And if you are not up to hiking the stairs, there is the option to hike around the rim and enjoy the views from the top.