On the northeast edge of Georgia, a rock-lined gorge attracts visitors with its waterfalls and impressive sights.
By James & Dorothy Richardson
Admittedly, you can find plenty of scenic locations, breathtaking overlooks, deep valleys, and exciting waterfalls in the Southeastern United States, but when you have seen Tallulah Gorge, you will agree there is nothing like it.
The gorge, located in northeast Georgia near the South Carolina state line, impresses visitors with its 1,000-foot-high vertical rock walls, which were carved by the Tallulah River. The canyon itself is approximately 2 miles long.
There are several important stops to make in the park itself. You can stay in your motorhome overnight at the campground; visit the interpretive center and gather information about the park; take a hike (at least to the nearby rim overlooks); and learn about this area’s fascinating history.
The Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center is the starting point for your visit to the park. This state-of-the-art facility, which opened in 1996, contains 15,000 square feet of displays on the history and wildlife of the gorge, as well as interesting local and regional information, an award-winning film, classroom space, and a gift shop. Included are animal displays and a bird-watching station with binoculars set up for easy identification of any species that might be seen. The center is named for a Georgia conservationist, counselor, and educator who devoted 30 years of her life to preservation causes and natural resources.
Trails lead from the interpretive center in either direction along the rim to overlooks into the gorge. In all, six trails are open to the public. You can take an easy, short walk from the interpretive center on the North Rim and South Rim trails (approximately 3/4-mile) to the first overlook. From there you gaze south into the gorge, with Oceana Falls (50 feet high) below you. You can see Bridal Veil Falls (17 feet high) at the far end of the gorge. If you turn back and retrace your steps, you can continue past the Interpretive Center to more overlooks, which offer views of Tempesta Falls (76 feet high) and L’eau d’Or “” Water of Gold “” Falls (46 feet high). Other cascades in the gorge include Hurricane Falls (96 feet) and Sweet Sixteen Falls (16 feet).
Sliding Rock and Hurricane Falls trails lead to the floor of the gorge. Both are very strenuous and require a permit from the visitors center, which is free. Stoneplace Trail is designed for hiking, mountain biking, and backcountry camping. Shortline Trail is a 3-mile paved route that follows the old Tallulah Falls Railroad bed. It’s suitable for bicycles and in-line skates, as well as hiking.
Recently a suspension bridge was added across the gorge; it’s 250 feet long and hangs 80 feet above the gorge floor. The bridge is part of the Hurricane Falls Suspension Bridge loop trail and adds a half-mile to the trail’s length with 300-plus steps. But the suspension bridge is worth the extra effort. Complete trail information and maps are obtainable at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center.
Tallulah Falls “” The Town
The town is located near the park, on U.S. 441/23. It’s only 1.5 hours northeast of Atlanta and 2 hours south of Asheville, North Carolina.
Tallulah Falls has an interesting history. It became a busy resort town with the popularity of the falls. People compared the gorge to Niagara Falls and came from all over to gawk. According to articles, Joseph LeConte, one of the founders of the Sierra Club, made numerous visits to the gorge. By 1835 visitation to the falls had grown enough that some local residents offered lodging and food to visitors. That inspired the opening of the Tallulah Hotel in 1840. The area was accessible to many more tourists when the railroad reached Tallulah Falls in 1882. At the town’s peak, 17 hotels and boardinghouses were open for business. Many of the hotels were full-service establishments, offering rental horses, tennis, and music on the verandas.
But that was all to end. The Georgia Power Company took an interest in the river’s power, and the company bought rights to the land north of the falls, with the intention of nearly cutting off the water that created them. Despite intense opposition, including that from the widow of Confederate General James Longstreet, the power dam was built, with construction completed in 1912.
After you’ve seen the gorge, this bit of lore is difficult to imagine, but on July 24, 1886, a Professor Leon crossed the gorge on a high wire. Karl Wallenda repeated the stunt on July 18, 1970. Karl was the founder of the Flying Wallendas, an internationally known daredevil circus act famous for performing “death-defying” stunts without a safety net. The latter feat did cause some increase in the town’s income, but only briefly.
Without the beautiful falls, few people wanted to visit the park. The nearby town began to die. In 1921, a fire burned many of the buildings. Very little that was destroyed was ever rebuilt, and the grand era was over.
In the early 1990s, then-governor Zell Miller announced that a new state park would be built on the rim of the gorge. Most importantly, a plan was devised with Georgia Power to increase the flow of water and let it rush over the falls again. Shortly after the governor’s park announcement, U.S. 441 in Georgia was widened, including a 6-mile section in front of the park, which increased traffic to the area.
Today the town of Tallulah Falls offers canoeing, boating, and fishing in three area lakes. In addition, the Georgia Heritage Center for the Arts invites visitors to tour the displays created by a group of artists who pool their resources and talents. Individual artists demonstrate their particular craft and their work is available for purchase. The center, located on U.S. 441, is open daily. Other craft shopping opportunities are available at the Co-Op Craft Store, housed in the Historic Train Depot on U.S. 441; the Tallulah Gallery, located on the Tallulah Gorge Scenic Loop; and the Tallulah Point Overlook, which affords another view of the gorge (advertised as the only free roadside view of Tallulah Gorge). The overlook store is said to be a mountain tradition since 1912. It’s open daily, too. Canoe rentals are available there also.
The “Water Releases”
The waterfalls at Tallulah Gorge are controlled by the Georgia Power Company. The company now increases the daily flow of water over Tallulah Dam, which varies from 0 to 15 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 35 to 50 cfs. It administers two kinds of special water releases throughout the year also. The first type, whitewater boater releases, increase the water rate to between 500 and 700 cfs; they occur the first two weekends in April and the first three weekends in November. The second type, aesthetic releases, increase the water rate to 200 cfs; they typically take place the final three weekends in April, the first three weekends of May, and then regularly on weekends from mid-September through the end of October. More info about the specific release dates for 2007 can be obtained at the state park.
Fishing and boating are available at three lakes in the Tallulah Falls area, along the Tallulah River. The largest “” Tugalo Lake (597 acres with 18 miles of shoreline) “” lies at the mouth of the TaIlulah River where it empties into the Chattooga River, and is known in places for its dramatic white water. Shore and boat fishing are permitted on all three lakes. The 63-acre TaIlulah Lake, the smallest of the three, imposes a 5-horsepower limit for boats, but Lake Yonah and Tugalo Lake have a 25-horsepower limit (the rules are enforced). Access to Tallulah Lake is via public dock and ramp near the town hall. Tugalo Lake has a state-park-operated ramp. Tallulah Lake has a public beach at the Tallulah Gorge Day Use Area on U.S. 441. The area also includes tennis courts and a playground.
If you don’t catch enough fish for dinner, you can always visit an elegant restaurant at a historic inn. Glen-Ella Springs Country Inn and Restaurant is located 17 miles down a gravel road off U.S. 441. The experience is worth the drive. A towed vehicle is preferable to driving a motor coach down the road, but the owners say an RV can negotiate it and there is plenty of room in the parking lot for turns. From Tallulah Gorge State Park, drive south on U.S. 441 for 2 miles. Turn right on Old Historic 441 (not Old 441). Then take the first right on Shirley Grove Road and the second left on Colonel Hough Road and follow the signs. Call (877) 456-7527 or (706) 754-7295, or visit www.glenella.com for more information.
Be inspired by nature’s fancy handiwork in northeastern Georgia. Get off the beaten path and discover stunning Tallulah Gorge and its neighbor, Tallulah Falls.
TalIulah Gorge State Park
338 Jane Hurt Yarn Drive
TalIulah Falls, GA 30573
A $4 parking fee is charged at the interpretive center. The park is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to dark. To get to Tallulah Gorge State Park from the south (Atlanta and Perry), use Interstate 85 to Interstate 985, which changes to U.S. 23. Proceed north on U.S. 23 until after its intersection with U.S. 441 and turn north. U.S. 441 passes by the park.
P.O. Box 94
Tallulah Falls, GA 30573
The Campground At Tallulah Gorge
Terrora Campground, located at Tallulah Gorge State Park, has 50 RV sites with full hookups. It includes rest rooms, showers, a phone, a laundry, a dump station, a pavilion, and a playground. It’s open year-round and located near the entrance to the park on Jane Hurt Yarn Drive. For reservations or information, call (706) 754-7979.