If there ever was a definition of a “gorge,” Tallulah Gorge is it. Sheer rock faces standing as much as 1000 feet on each side of a river form a bottom so narrow that trails are impossible for much of the Gorge. There are 5 significant waterfalls in the Gorge but only 2 can be viewed from river level. The others are viewed from the rim.
The best way to provide a description of the waterfalls is to use the same approach used by the friendly folks manning the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center, which serves as the visitors’ center for Tallulah Falls State Park; that is, to follow the trail. You can see 4 of the 5 waterfalls along what will be a total of 2 ½ miles of trail. The trails provide impressive scenic overlooks that give you the views you are wanting. Numbers appearing here refer to the overlook numbers as shown on the trail map accompanying this article.
Leaving the Interpretive Center you start down the North Rim Trail where it is a short walk to Overlook #2. Here, you can get a front view of L’eau d’Or Falls (46 feet) and the Hawthorn Pool, which functions as the base pool for this waterfall. You’re standing about 350 feet above the river at this point. You’ll also notice Tempesta Falls directly below you but you won’t have a good view here, that view is from the South Rim Trail later.
Immediately past #2, you’ll encounter a warning sign about what is about to come. You will be starting down 620 steps just to get to the suspension bridge over Hurricane Falls and, if you want to visit the base of Hurricane Falls (96 feet), you’ll be descending/ascending a total of 1062 steps before you emerge up on the South Rim Trail. Don’t be fooled, the climb up from the river is strenuous although they do provide adequate resting points.
Arriving at the suspension bridge, you’ll be passing over the brink of Hurricane Falls at a height of 85 feet above the river. Steady photos can be tricky given how the bridge swings. If you want a better view of the falls, take a left as you exit the bridge and you’ll be facing 221 steps down to the viewing platform where you can see more of the falls and its most excellent base pool.
Now, comes the hard part, the climb up to the South Rim Trail. Take your time and plan on resting 2 or 3 times. At the top of the steps, turn left on the trail and stop at Overlook #8 (650 feet above the river) where you will get probably the best view of Hurricane Falls. You’ll also be able to see Caledonia Cascade, small stream flowing 600 feet down the rock face across the gorge.
Moving on to Overlook #9, you get to see a top-down view of Oceana Falls (50 feet). You’ll also be able to see, a little further downstream, Inspiration Point at the top of the highest rock face in the Gorge. It is standing 1000 feet above the river.
Backtrack up the South Rim Trail past the steps down to the bridge and continue on to Overlook #7 where you will finally get a good view of Tempesta Falls (76 feet). Following the trail will take you to the highway bridge crossing the Gorge. Be careful here, the traffic is fast and close. Once across the bridge, you will be reunited with the North Rim Trail for Overlook #4, which gives you a view under the highway bridge back to Tallulah Falls Dam (250 feet). Follow the trail back to the Interpretive Center.
The Rim trails do not take you to see Bridal Veil Falls, in fact, there is no overlook at all for these falls. It is downstream from Oceana Falls and is the only location where swimming is permitted in the Gorge. It is a good sliding rock that attracts a lot of folks. Bear in mind that a Gorge Pass is required for each person taking the Sliding Rock Trail. Passes are available at the Interpretive Center and only 100 hikers/swimmers are allowed on the Gorge floor at any one time.
“Spectacular” is probably an understatement for the Gorge. Waterfallers may think this will be a disappointment since they won’t be able to access the waterfalls at river level but, it won’t be. The soaring views and the beauty of the river and the Gorge are something to see. Viewing a waterfall from 650 above is not something you will do very often in this part of the country.
(Probably the best way to get to the Gorge from Greenville is to take I-85 South to Georgia exit 173. Then take GA Hwy 17 for 17 miles, passing through Toccoa (check out Toccoa Falls) and intersecting with US 441. Right on US 441 and, after about 11 miles, you’ll find the town of Tallulah Falls and the bridge over the Gorge. Cross the bridge and immediately turn right. Follow the signs to the Interpretive Center.)