Highlight: Tallulah Gorge State Park

June 5, 2012

Tallulah Falls, Georgia is an extraordinary place. The gorge is the deepest canyon in the United States east of the Mississippi River, and from the edge of the gorge to the rushing water 1,000 feet below, there is certainly something for everyone here. Only 100 gorge floor permits are issued each day, so get there early!

There are remarkable rock formations, waterfalls, and wildlife to observe. Tallulah Gorge is home to several endangered or threatened species, including the Persistent Trillium, an extremely rare species of early-blooming wildflower found only in the gorge. These flowers are typically found on steep slopes growing beneath the plentiful rhododendron. The flowers can be found in late June and early July in rocky, well-drained coves and ravines. Botany enthusiasts will also delight in the Monkey- face, or white fringeless orchid, which flowers from mid-July to late August, and the Fringed Polygala, or flowering wintergreen. The small light pink or magenta flowers were used by Native Americans to treat skin ailments. The green salamander makes its home in the damp, shady clefts of the rocks on the river’s edge and up the gorge walls. The salamander is listed as threatened, though it can be found in isolated pockets in the eastern United States. Its lichen-like green markings are specific to the species, making a glimpse of one of them unmistakable.

Over millions of years, the Tallulah River has cut its way through the quartz to create the gorge, leaving beautiful waterfalls. The river drops about 600 feet in one mile over several falls. The first of the falls over which the water tumbles is L’eau D’or, at about 46 feet high, followed by Tempesta (76’), Oceana (50’), Bridal Veil (17’), and Hurricane. The tallest of these is Hurricane Falls, at about 95 feet. A natural sliding rock can be found just below the falls, and a swim in the crisp water is almost medicinal on a hot day.

The rock formations in the gorge are not only spectacular, but rich in history and folklore. The legend says that a Cherokee maiden named Tallulah, daughter of the chief Grey Eagle, found a wayward white hunter on one of the trails near the gorge. She took him to her father at his camp at Council Rocks, where it was decided that the hunter could stay the night in Grey Eagle’s camp. The young men of the tribe became jealous of Tallulah’s affection for the hunter, and it was considered a bad omen for a white man to be in the camps of the Cherokee, so they convinced Grey Eagle to sentence the man to death, bound and thrown over the edge of the gorge. Distraught, Tallulah ran and leaped over the edge as the white hunter’s sentence was carried out. This place came to be known as Lover’s Leap. After the death of his only daughter, Grey Eagle moved his camp from Council Rocks to an area two miles away, near Hickory Nut Mountain. Another striking rock formation on the gorge’s floor is Witch’s Head. This rocky ledge resembles the gnarled face of an old woman, and is a popular subject for photographing. According to Cherokee myth, a race of “little people”, known as the Yunwi, inhabited the many caves and hollows of the gorge. Cherokee medicine men declared that they had tried to talk peacefully to the little people as to the whereabouts of a group of hunters, but to no avail. The medicine men resolved that the band of hunters had been tricked by the little people into plunging over the rocks of the gorge. In the late 1800s, men began to try to cross over the chasm via tightrope. Professor Leon completed the feat in 1866, despite the fact that one of the main guywires stretched over the gorge broke. The second man to attempt crossing the gorge was Karl Wallenda, who performed the act in 1970 in front of a crowd of almost 40,000 people. The columns that held the wires still stand.

A good place for learning more about the history of Tallulah Falls, from Cherokee legend, geology and botany, to engineering, tourism, and tightrope walking, is the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center. This 16,000 square-foot facility is open to the public, has a variety of exhibits and sponsored events. Gorge and park passes are issued here. 

Cyclists and hikers can appreciate the Shortline Rail Trail. It is a gentle, paved, 2.5 mile trail that takes walkers and cyclists through beautiful woods and over a high suspension bridge. Plaques along the way tell the story of the railroad. Full Moon hikes are a popular activity in the gorge. This is a vigorous hike, washed in mountain moonlight along the North Rim Trail and down into the gorge, across the suspension bridge over Hurricane Falls and back up.

Could there possibly be more? Why, yes! In 1913, Georgia Power dammed the river, creating the 63-acre Tallulah Lake. The lake is clean and cool, with a sandy beach, camping areas, tennis courts, and picnic area. The park area offers many more hiking and biking trails, and several times a year, plays host to scheduled whitewater releases. Paddlers can enjoy a thrilling paddle through the gorge in the spring, and hikers can enjoy the aesthetic releases in the fall, though no gorge floor permits are issued because of the high waters. These releases are beneficial for the environment and provide spectators with the opportunity to see the water crash and tumble over the rocks as it did in the days before the construction of the dam. After a Saturday of hiking and paddling, swimming, visitors are welcome to attend the Bluegrass Jam down town. Saturday evenings, April through November, anyone is invited to watch or play. Be sure and visit the Tallulah Point Overlook to shop around for unique gifts, old-fashioned sodas and candy, and an amazing view.

Tallulah Falls is a stunning and unique place to visit or to live. We would love to welcome you! Come and visit.  


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1) Hickory Nut Mountain Rd, Tallulah Falls, GA 30573, Rabun Co.  
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