Tallulah Gorge

Spring is arriving in Atlanta in fits and starts. One day it’s sunny and 72, the next it’s dreary and in the 30s. We’ve had some amazing blooms this year, starting with some early redbuds in February and continuing through cherry blossoms and dogwoods and more redbuds and whatever those extremely tall trees with the sprays of white are. Gibbs Gardens has looked incredible each of the times I’ve gone. So far this year I’ve visited on four different Sundays: March 4, the first weekend they were open for the season, at which point cherry blossoms and daffodils were the main features; March 25, when the trees were mostly still bare, the cherry blossoms were gone, but the daffodils had been joined by colorful tulips and an array of pink-flowering trees, including redbuds; April 1, at which point the gardens were bursting with brightly colored petunias, white balls of viburnum, and pink azaleas; and April 22, when the Japanese maples framed the pools and walkways in sprays of brilliant red.

That last weekend, I’d considered going somewhere else. On Saturday the 21st I woke up thinking that I should go hiking. I liked the idea of going to Gibbs again, but I’d been three times already, and it would be nice to go somewhere new. Plus, there are many places in Georgia I’ve been meaning to see. I started poking around online and decided that Tallulah Gorge would be the perfect place–but I had already spent most of the day at home, and it’s an hour and a half drive to get up there, so I decided to hold off. The next day, it was supposed to rain, so I didn’t want to go that far only to not be able to spend much time. I decided last-minute to go to Gibbs again, banking on the rain not starting until around noon, and it worked out perfectly; the rain came as I was driving home.

The idea of going to Tallulah Gorge stuck with me, though, and when I saw that this weekend’s weather was forecast to be incredible, sunny and 72, I decided that Saturday, yesterday, would be the day.

The drive up was extremely easy. I didn’t need to leave Google Maps running; I simply read the directions and went: I-285 to I-85 to I-985, which turns into US-23. The turn for Tallulah Gorge’s Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center is right off that highway.

My first stop was Tallulah Point Overlook, which I’d read about online. It’s a gift and supply store with an ice cream and candy shop upstairs and a burger and fried peanuts stand off to the side. From the store’s back porch and the upstairs porch beyond the ice cream shop, you can look right into the gorge. There was a lot of foliage, so the view wasn’t amazing, but I did see some charging rapids between the trees. I was really glad I’d come, because I loved the store; it’s filled with homey trinkets and nice souvenirs and feels very charming and welcoming. I got a Tallulah Gorge t-shirt and a handmade pottery Tallulah Falls magnet. If it hadn’t been too early to eat, I would have had some ice cream.

After that I drove to the Interpretive Center. It was around 11 am at this point and the parking lot was packed. I ended up parking in the grass, next to several other cars doing the same. I wanted to get right to hiking, so I skipped the Interpretive Center and headed down past a sign that said “North Rim Trail.” I had a vague idea of what the trails were and which ones I wanted to go on–the rim trails go around the rim of the gorge and offer spectacular views, so definitely those. I was surprised to find the trail blazed with recycled tires, like some of the trails at Amicalola Falls. The overlooks were jam-packed with people. It felt more touristy than I had been expecting, though I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that a popular destination would have friendlier trails.

As soon as I hit the stairs for the Hurricane Falls Trail, I abandoned the North Rim Trail and headed down. I knew there was a suspension bridge and I definitely wanted to cross it. There are 310 steps down to the suspension bridge; I got through these fine and stepped out onto the bridge.

I was sort of expecting the bridge to be scary, or the views to be better, but the slight wobbling wasn’t frightening at all, and the views were obstructed by all the suspension lines. Being on the bridge didn’t give me as much of a thrill as I had hoped, but it was still neat.

After the bridge, there are 221 steps down to the gorge floor. We were allowed to walk down to a pier-like structure there that led out to a nice view of Hurricane Falls. Access to the actual gorge floor was cut off, as this weekend they are doing an “aesthetic flow” and allowing more water through the dam, so that Tallulah River is too high for people to walk near. Of course, this flow means all the waterfalls looked really cool, and Hurricane Falls was no exception.

Back up the 221 steps, I was starting to flag. My legs were shaking and I was starting to get short of breath. I had to stop several times to rest; thankfully there are platforms for this purpose, so I was able to get out of the way.

At that point I could have gone back across the suspension bridge and up the 310 stairs, but I chose to do the 347 steps up to the South Rim Trail, which runs along the opposite side of the gorge from the Interpretive Center. I did not notice at the time that there were more steps up than I had come down, but a guy going the other way mentioned it to me when I got to the top. Of course, this was after a lot of struggling and stopping and drinking water. I’m really happy to have conquered all those stairs: 1099, all told.

The overlooks from the South Rim Trail were great. At one point there were stone stairs leading up to some huge rocks that you could stand on. I climbed up there and someone kindly took my picture standing on one of the rocks, with the gorge in the background. (I took theirs in return.) Then I sat down on one of the other rocks and had lunch. It was great.

After that, it was just a matter of finding my way back to the other side of the gorge. I did not particularly want to try to do the stairs again. I thought I’d read online that it was possible to cross where the highway crosses, so I headed in that direction. Sure enough, it worked out. The signs got confusing, but I finally figured out that I needed to cross the road on the sidewalk and then take a flight of stairs down to the trail.

From on top of the bridge, I got a great shot of the gorge, and some photos of what may have been a peregrine falcon–I’m not sure, but it was big, and there is a family of them nesting in the cliffside, so here’s hoping.

Once back on the trail, I had some pretty cool views of the waterfall pouring out of the dam I had just crossed. Then it wasn’t long before I was back to the Interpretive Center and my car.

All in all, it was a very satisfying hike! I had a really great time. My legs are so sore today, but in that good way that gives you a sense of accomplishment. I’d love to go back in early spring or late fall, when the trees aren’t so leafy, to get less obstructed views of the gorge.

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