Unless you’ve been living in your basement for the last few weeks, you may have noticed that it has rained…and rained…and rained. There have been brief flashes of sun, but the picture that my mind paints is one of deluges and monsoons.
Where does all that water go? A lot of it has gone into Lake Lanier. I heard this morning on the radio that the lake level is about four feet above full pool, and when you’re talking about a lake the size of Lanier, that translates into a lot of water.
Lanier, however, is just one of many things affected by all that precipitation. The trails are too wet for hiking, at least when I’ve been able to get out…the streams are too high for fishing…the boat ramps are all underwater…for the outdoor adventurer, it’s a list of woes that goes on and on. Poor, poor pitiful me, stuck inside, on the wrong side of the window looking out and not in.
How sad. But before I let it get me down, I’ll try to distract myself with another question instead: Where does all that water in the lake come from?
Well, Lanier gets a lot of its water from the Chattahoochee River. The river, in turn, gets its water from myriad smaller streams. And that’s where the idea of Chattahoochee Lemonade comes in.
If there’s one good thing about rain in the Chattahoochee watershed, it’s the fact that all that extra water does incredible things to waterfalls. Diehard waterfall fans know that, for there is no better time to visit and appreciate and photograph waterfalls that in the days following a period of sustained rain. In fact, I’ll bet that at this very minute there are untold numbers of waterfall aficionados making plans for some waterfall hiking just as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
I confess: I’m making exactly that kind of plan myself!
What Chattahoochee watershed waterfalls am I planning to visit? There are a lot to choose from, more than you or I, or both of us together, could visit in a week’s worth of Saturdays, but I’ve narrowed it down to a short list of four perpetual favorites.
Here they are, and happy waterfall watching!
Anna Ruby Falls, near Helen
We’ve mentioned Anna Ruby Falls before, and the chance to see it after lots of rain is not something to be missed. Anna Ruby is actually two waterfalls sitting side by side (a 50-foot falls on York Creek and a second 150-foot falls on Curtis Creek), and they’re easily accessed via a family-friendly paved interpretive trail at the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area near Helen. You can get to this site via Ga. 356 and Smith Creek Road. Just follow the signs. A small admission charge gives you access to this area, and the roughly half-mile trail to the falls begins to the left of the visitor center.
Dukes Creek Falls, near Helen
Dukes Creek Falls awaits you at the end of a moderately challenging, but definitely do-able, hike (about 1 mile in and another mile out). It’s accessible off Ga. 348, which turns west from Ga. 75A near Smithgall Woods State Park. The parking area for the falls (it’s marked by a sign, and there’s a small parking fee) is on the left a little ways down 348. From the parking area, you’ll descend to the main trail, where you’ll turn left and begin the long descent to the falls. The star here is actually a 150-foot waterfall on Davis Creek, a major tributary to Dukes Creek, but just to its right you’ll also see a set of cascades on Dukes Creek itself. Large wooden viewing platforms provide spectacular (and safe) views. Sure, the hike back will be uphill. But that’s a small price to pay to see this falls at its prime.
Amicalola Falls, near Dawsonville
Another must-see, rainy-season waterfall is Amicalola Falls in Amicalola State Park near Dawsonville. With a height of 729 feet, it’s absolutely unforgettable. There are viewing areas at the top of the falls as well as at the bottom, but you won’t see much from the top. The view from the bottom is the one you want, though fully appreciating it requires you to complete the challenging hike (climbing many, many stairsteps in the process) which begins at the parking area and ends at viewing platforms near the base of the falls. Note that a daily or annual state parks parking pass is required.
Helton Creek Falls, near Blairsville
Helton Creek Falls is actually a pair of waterfalls with a total drop of around 100 feet. These falls are accessible via the short (0.2-mile) and fairly easy Helton Creek Falls Trail. The trailhead is located off US 129 south of Blairsville. From Blairsville, go south on 129 for just over 11 miles and then turn right onto Helton Creek Road. The turn will be just over a mile beyond the entrance to Vogel State Park. After making the turn, continue for about 2.2 miles to the small pullout parking area and trailhead on your right. The trail takes you to good vantage points for seeing both falls. Warning: Never try to climb on the rocks around these falls! They are extremely slippery and offer a treacherous footing.