I love living in the heart of the city. I love the pulse, I love the culture, I love the vibe – but sometimes you need to swap out the staggering skyscraper views for some scenic mountain beauty.
Enter Tallulah Falls + Gorge.
Just a quick 90-minute trip from Atlanta, the state park offers guests a glimpse of North Georgia’s charm. It’s a perfect weekend escape and *bonus* the price tag for the trip comes in at just $5 for parking.
The impressive two mile long, 1000 feet deep canyon boasts time-stopping views of sheer cliffs, towering trees, boulder-filled streams, and a series of six stunning waterfalls. It’s a striking sight for those hiking open-access trails that skirt the rim, but those who manage to snag one of the 100 daily gorge floor passes, which give permission to actually trek down into the depths of the canyon, get immersed in some really dramatic views.
We arrived at the Tallulah Gorge State Park Interpretive Center ten minutes before the park opened and found a line weaving throughout the parking lot. As we tried to count the heads in front of us, we convinced ourselves that if we didn’t get a floor pass, the scene from the top would be special enough. Luckily, we slipped in at number 91 and 92 for the day and headed in for a 5-minute orientation on what to expect. You’re given a map, a brief run-down about the gorge, your free permit, and then sent on your way.
As we started out along the forested path that is the Hurricane Falls Trail, we were immediately greeted with beautiful, birds-eye views. After a few minutes of soaking it all in, we began the descent down hundreds of metal steps that lead to the suspension bridge dangling over Hurricane Falls. The bridge sways a bit – but not enough to make you queasy.
After waddling across, you’ll meet another set of stairs and platforms that lead you deeper into the gorge, inviting you to catch the view of the falls from the bottom. This is where you have the option to break out you permits and pass through the Gorge Floor gate.
We were warned in orientation to slip off our shoes during this part if we thought we might slip in. It’s a smart move. We both fell in as we leap-frogged our way across the boulder-filled river.
Once you’ve safely made it to the other side, you’ll begin the wooded, rocky, unpaved hike to Bridal Veil Falls. The “moderate/difficult” rating the rangers give this portion of the hike is pretty accurate. It’s doable, but if, like me, you’re not used to hiking, it quickly turns into a full body workout as you make your way downstream.
Here you come to massive, near-vertical sheets of rock. It’s intimidating – but the views… OH.THE.VIEWS….Pretty enough to make you forget you’re sore and a bit winded. We side-stepped our way along the top of the rocks, truly amazed at the sights that surrounded us. Even if you’re a super-human and not at all tired, you’re so deeply tucked in to the canyon at this point you’ll want to pause and appreciate.
After another wooded stint, you’ll (finally) reach Bridal Veil Falls. This is the spot to stop, snack, and swim as fellow hikers slip down the waterfall. As someone with the pain tolerance of a sleep-deprived toddler, I insisted my husband try the natural slide first. I mean, yes, everyone does it, but doesn’t sliding along the boulder hurt your back and bum a bit? Good news – it doesn’t. You slip right down and land in the chilly, deep natural pool. I will note that getting out was a bit of a struggle for my tired muscles – seriously, the rocks are slippery and slimy.
The next phase of the hike is where things took a turn for me. At this point, you have the option to go back the way you came or climb up the Sliding Rock Trail. The ranger had warned it was a difficult hike, but after the refreshing swim I felt recharged and ready to go.
To call it a “trail” is a generous term. It’s really just a steep string of boulders stacked up nearly 800-feet high. I stopped at least four times to announce I couldn’t do it anymore. The good/bad news is that once you get started you really don’t have another option but to continue. What was I going to do? Shimmy my way back down the steep cliff? That seemed more daunting. After a sip of water and pep talk from my patient hubby, I continued to climb – and curse – my way to the top.
The best part about choosing this route? You’re rewarded. When you do struggle you’re way up to the peak you’re given a gorgeous view with an easy walk back to your car. I imagine it’s much better than the millions of steps you’d have to take otherwise. Win.
Thinking about making the trip? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The whole loop is about 3.2 miles and takes about four hours if you build in time to eat and swim.
- They really do only allow 100 people to actually climb around the gorge floor a day. Get there early and make sure to check the schedule to make sure it isn’t a dam release day or else you won’t get the go ahead to pass the gate. Once you have a pass, you can go down into the gorge at anytime throughout the day, as long as you’re out by 4 p.m.
- Definitely pack water, bug spray, sunblock, and a snack – which we didn’t consider. What’s worse than being sore and tired? Being sore, tired, and hangry.
- If you’re not a huge hiker, you can still enjoy the park. We saw kids as young as four hiking along the rim trails and adults that looked to be well into their 70s.
- If it is raining, some of the gorge floor becomes impossible to pass. If you’ve made it to Bridal Veil Falls and it starts to pour, you’re doing the Sliding Rock Trail whether you want to or not.
Anyone else have advice for those looking to check out Tallulah?