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DO IT: Hiking - High Shoals Falls

High Shoals Falls - Towns County

Across the northern part of the state, dozens of waterfalls cascade down the stone rockfaces of Georgia’s mountainous landscape. Some waterfalls are easily accessible and can be seen just a short distance from paved parking lots. Others lie off the beaten path and require a little extra effort. High Shoals Falls and Blue Hole Falls would be classified as the latter; however, once you make the trek, the falls will not disappoint.

The trailhead is accessible off GA 17/GA 75. Travelling north on GA 75, the appropriate turnoff to Forest Service (FS) Road 283 is on the right, 11.4 miles from downtown Helen, Georgia. Southbound travelers coming from Hiawassee will take a left turn at 9.5 miles, onto FS 283. A sign indicating the High Shoals Scenic Area should be visible along GA 75 as you approach from either direction.

Take your time as the turn approaches and do not confuse residential driveways for FS 283. Simply putting High Shoals Falls into your GPS may not provide accurate directions to the trailhead. FS 283 may also be referred to as Indian Grave Gap Road on some maps and GPS devices.

Remember, Forest Service Roads are not maintained the same as standard paved roads, so you will need to use caution on FS 283. Not only does the road have several sharp curves, there is a section shortly after the turnoff that requires vehicles to ford the narrow origins of the Hiawassee River. The water level varies seasonally and by rainfall; sedans and other low vehicles may have trouble crossing during times of higher water levels.

Total travel distance on FS 283 to the parking area is a relatively steep 1.5 miles. The trailhead is near the High Shoals Scenic Area sign, adjacent to the small parking area. The FS road will continue past the trailhead and the parking area is easy to miss if no other vehicles are present. Keep track of your mileage on FS 283 to ensure you stop at the right spot.

The High Shoals Falls Trail is an out-and-back route, totaling 2.56 miles. While it does change 540 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the turnaround point on the observation deck of High Shoals Falls, the trek still falls into the moderate range for most hikers.

Once you leave the parking area, you’ll head down a set of wooden steps onto the trail. After 0.2 miles, a sharp right will start the smattering of switchbacks on the trail. The pathway is marked by green blazes, but the well-worn trail is easy to track, even if your eyes wander to soak in the wilderness.

You’ll begin to hear the waters of High Shoal Creek well before the crossing at 0.6 miles.

NOTE: In 2018, the trail bridge crossing High Shoals Creek was damaged by summer flooding. A makeshift bridge has been created by hikers, but as of June 2019, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the trails within Chattahoochee National Forest, has the trail listed as closed. While the trail is technically closed, access is not restricted, and many hikers continue to utilize the trail.

After crossing the creek, the route will pass a campsite clearing and follow alongside the rippling water for the next 0.3 miles until the Blue Hole Falls viewing deck pathway appears on the left. Hikers can choose to view Blue Hole Falls first or continue to High Shoals Falls, catching Blue Hole on the return trip.

Blue Hole Falls is a shorter drop than High Shoals, but the power of the water in the 30-foot deluge has created a deep catch pool at the base of the falls, thus the name Blue Hole. Enveloped by rhododendron, the surging water of the falls counterbalances the tranquility of the flora around it. Hikers have been known to dip their toes in the cool water, while being careful of slippery, wet rocks.

Back on the main trail, the pathway descends toward High Shoals Falls rapidly with two switchbacks leading the way. About halfway to High Shoals (0.2 miles), a rock shelter that is well known to campers is on the left. In another 0.2 miles, the trail terminates at the High Shoals Falls observation deck.

If you’re not immediately in awe of the visual splendor that is this 100-foot waterfall, the rest of your senses will soon take over. The sonic quality of the water crashing over the craggy rockface, the reverberation in your chest due to the proximity to the falls along with the crisp, misty air should be enough to make the hike worth it.

Although pictures don’t quite capture all the natural splendor, photo opportunities are plentiful at High Shoals. The way the main falls and offshoots expand as the water descends helps expand the visual field and provide great texture. While the falls are framed by tall white pines and elegant birch, the sky is visible above the falls, which allows for some excellent photo opportunities at most times of the day year-round.

When you’ve had your fill, follow the same route out to the parking area, making sure to stop at Blue Hole Falls if you chose to catch it on the return – or want to see it again. Keep in mind that the 540-foot descent is now a 540-foot ascent. Although this hike is short, be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in warmer months, and leave enough daylight to return before dark if you’re not camping out.

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