Summer is a time when I always want to hike next to water. The cool spray of a waterfall, the breezes from rivers and the sounds of rushing water seem to make the heat of the day just melt away…or at least more tolerable!
For waterfall lovers, visiting DeSoto Falls and Helton Creek Falls is an easily doable day trip from Atlanta, and this area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is truly a delightful place to put together several short hikes of moderate elevation. On a recent trip to North Georgia, both falls at DeSoto and the falls at Helton Creek were at maximum capacity due to the heavy amounts of rain we’ve had so far this season, making them even more spectacular than usual.
A piece of armor found here that was thought to be from Hernando de Soto’s expedition in the 1500’s, gave these falls their name. The DeSoto Falls Recreation Area is located just off Georgia Highway 19/129 and is south of Blairsville, Georgia. This scenic area is a popular spot for camping, trout fishing, picnics and hiking. At just over 2 miles to visit both falls, these well-marked and easy to moderate trails are great for families with children and provide diverse views of forest, rhododendron-lined rushing creeks and not one, but two lovely waterfalls.
The trailhead to the upper and lower falls is picked up at the paved parking area where you will have to pay a small fee to park if you don’t have a National Park pass. You’ll follow the trail down past a shady picnic area next to the rushing Frogtown Creek, then intersect with a paved drive in the camping area and head to the left for a few feet until you reach the signage and wooden bridge that crosses Frogtown Creek. Cross the bridge and follow the signage to the left for the lower falls and its observation deck, then retrace your steps back to the bridge and continue on the green-blazed trail to the larger, upper falls. Both picturesque trails run beside lovely old pines, rock outcroppings and rushing waters, and both have varying amounts of moderate elevation that provide breathtaking views of the falls on approach. As with the lower falls trail, you’ll retrace your steps back on the upper falls trail to the bridge over Frogtown Creek and then to the parking lot to complete the hike.
Helton Creek Falls
Slightly north of DeSoto Falls and before you reach Vogel State Park lies the somewhat hidden Helton Creek Falls. It’s a really nice one to see on the same day as DeSoto because of their close proximity off the same highway. The trail to Helton Creek Falls is an easy, short trail culminating in a well-sighted observation deck, making it a comfortable addition to the DeSoto hike. The caveat here is getting to the trailhead.
Heading north from DeSoto Falls on Highway 129/19, turn right at Helton Creek Road. The part graveled, part packed dirt and heavily pitted 2-mile long road to get to the trailhead can be a bit precarious and parking on a crowded day is at a premium. The road runs past rental cabins and like most mountain roads to cabins, it is very narrow in spots. If you aren’t comfortable with backing up to let someone else pass, you may not want to tackle it. We managed it in a regular, non-4-wheel drive vehicle as all the while I was expressing my desire for having a 4-wheel drive vehicle! My best advice is to go slowly, be aware of blind spots and be prepared to pull over to allow others to pass in less than ideal situations.
As they say, ‘Good things come to those who pursue…’ or something like that, and the payoff of dealing with the road is really worth the effort here because these falls are a massive sight to behold. And for those interested in swimming, they have a large and popular swimming hole at their base. The trailhead can be found on the right as you enter the small pullout parking area and it’s a .2 mile hike to the falls. There are a few abrupt changes in grade which allow for some wonderful views of the creek and rushing water over tiers of rocky outcrops as you make your way to the observation deck at the base of the falls.
While this area doesn’t offer picnic tables that we observed, the parking lot appears to be a happy place for tailgating.
Additional Trail Tips:
• As mentioned above, be prepared for the road to access Helton Creek Falls.
• Want to fuel up before you go? Click on “Trail Mix” to check out this new section and get some delicious recipe ideas for before, during and after your hikes. New links will be continuously added.