Desoto Falls is named after Hernando de Soto, one of the first Europeans to visit the Southeastern United States. While taking the grand, (and very bloody), tour of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and possibly Louisiana he apparently dropped a piece of armor near these falls, giving them their name. Whether you remember him as the guy who murdered and pillaged his way across a continent while spreading diseases that would wipe out the vast and complex Mississippian Culture or you remember him as that guy who really should have gotten a haircut before the official portrait, these are still pretty good falls to go check out.
Is it goat approved? Nah. Busy, busy, busy.
How you get there: Google “DeSoto Falls, Georgia 30528”. The parking area is not very big (20 cars tops). It is possible this is a fee parking area, but I honestly can’t tell if the box is for campsites or for parking.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 1 mile out and back. At this time the upper falls are closed.
Best season to do this hike: Year around.
Trails to Take
Leave the parking lot in the direction of the campground area. Follow the signs, which lead through the campground area, over a bridge, annd then you can go left to the lower falls (1/2 mile) and right to the upper falls (3/4 mile). Except of course for right now when the trail to the upper falls is closed due to debris and storm damage. The lower falls is kind of small and underwhelming, but I hear the upper falls is better.
The upper falls trail is closed due to storm debris as of 12/2017
The parking area only holds about 20 cars.
Seriously, what was he thinking? Hernando should have stopped at a barbershop on the way to the official expedition portraiture.
Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia, which makes it a pretty good place to get a good view and possibly also struck by lightning. As humans generally like to be high up and also generally forget to consider the whole lightning thing till it’s too late, there is a really cool building you can stand on the roof of at the top of Brasstown Bald. Ideally not during a thunderstorm though. For those not in to being zapped, if it is raining you can go check out the nearby Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area, which is a petroglyph site at the bottom of Brasstown Bald.
Is it goat approved? Uh. I think you can answer that one on your own.
How you get there: Google it! Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia…this shouldn’t be a hard one to find. The Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area is at 34.882316, -83.878733.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 1 mile out and back at Brasstown Bald and negligible wandering around at the archaeological site.The trail runs from the parking area to the summit, and while the grade is significant the trail is paved and probably rated from even the less well made baby stroller. For a less…lame…hike try the Arkaquah Trail that runs from the Track Rock Archaeological Site to the summit of Brasstown Bald at 5.5 miles one way. and 11 mi round trip. I will be doing that on a less icy day though as I hear it has a lot of rock drop offs and I prefer not to die.
Best season to do this hike: Year around, but in the winter payment is on the honor system. However, the buildings (and bathrooms) are also closed in the winter too.
Trails to Take
The trail starts at the large parking area, (no really, this thing is huge). The trail-head is between the bathrooms as the park store in the cabins. The only spruce I have ever seen in Georgia is right next to the trail head too. The trail itself is paved and ascends rapidly through rhododendron thickets. There are benches at each switch back. Halfway up the trail cross the Wagon Trail. The Wagon Trail is actually an old wagon road constructed by convict labor. Now, the sign says it was built in the 1950s, which is contemporary with the use of convicts for really crummy construction projects in the Southeastern US. However, the sign also says that local families got together in “wagon trains” to use the road to go visit other settlements. Okay, I know this is North Georgia and all, but seriously, they had something better than buckboards as recently as the 1950s right?
Anyway, I digress. The trail continues up, crosses the road to the summit, turns and corner, and wah lah! A really awesome forestry tower comes into view. During the winter these buildings are closed, but the staircase to the roof remains open, allowing visitors to take in the 360 degree viewing platform at the top. You can see Hiawassee and Yonah Mountain from up here!
TRACK ROCK GAP ARCHEOLOGICAL AREA
The archaeological area is more popular as a place to park and access Arkaquah Trail than as an archaeological site it seems like. The tiny parking area only fits about 3 cars, so you may have to park on the side of the road to go see it. The trail starts behind the forestry service sign identifying the site. It’s very short and ends at a pile of unremarkable looking rocks identified with numbers. This is the archaeological site. The petroglyphs are best viewed in glancing light like you get at sunrise or sunset because they are cut into dark, worn rock unlike their more familiar Southwestern cousins.
The petroglyphs mostly consist of animal tracks, medicine wheel like designs, and human figures, many overlapping one another as several different carvers visited the site. One boulder has jagged notches in it, theorized to be from ritualized noise making. In general, the petroglyphs are not spectacular, and the site has seen historical vandalism (two petroglyphs have been removed from one boulder), however, the fact that petroglyphs exist at all in the rainy, erosion prone and heavily populated North Georgia mountains is pretty impressive. It makes you wonder if there aren’t other sites buried in leaves and slowly eroding away under our torrential thunderstorms somewhere.
Notches from ritual noise making
Historical removal of petroglyphs
Bird track petroglyph
Medicine wheel style petroglyph
Human figure petroglyph
Brasstown Bald has an entrance fee, and is a popular tourist attraction. The winter is the best time to have it to yourself.
The parking area at Trap Rock Gap Archeological area can just about hold 3 cars. As it is a popular place to park to hike Arkaquah Trail it can be difficult to get a spot.
The say the view from the top is lonely. I say the view from the top of Georgia is really freaking cold when the wind picks up!
I generally avoid washing my truck on the principle that paying a good $10 for what the rain will do for free is kind of a waste of hard earned money that could instead be wasted on goats. This has led to many an interesting detour to drive down the forestry road that will almost certainly lead to a car ford. There aren’t as many of those in Georgia as there are in New York, but the gravel road to High Shoals Scenic Area is one such spot. A quick disclaimer though: if you drive something short and two wheel drive, this may be a pretty harrowing crossing. But cross you must if you plan to go see these waterfalls!
Is it goat approved? Actually, I would take a goat on this one, I just happened to have the dog with me this time. It is busy, but it is sort of remote, unpatrolled, and in very cold weather likely to be pretty sparse on the traffic. Warm weather watch out though!
How you get there: The parking area is at 34.815687, -83.727172. Google has it mapped as “High Shoals Trail Head”. The falls themselves are around 34.815687, -83.727172 (High Shoals Falls) and 34.821386, -83.722687 (Blue Hole Falls).
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is about 2 miles out and back. The trail is very steep, but there are lots of switch backs and the general grade is pretty okay. Old people and small children were doing it if that gives you a better idea.
Best season to do this hike: Year around, but in the event of snow/ice the road will likely be frozen over, and after really heavy rain the car ford will only be doable in Noah’s Ark.
Trails to Take
The trail is really easy. It starts behind the parking area, descending rapidly past a trail sign. There are a series of switchbacks, and the the trail finds the valley floor. It follows a significant creek, (High Shoals Creek), crossing some bridges, then descends again. At this point the sound of waterfalls is readily apparent. The trail switch backs and is relatively well maintained.
Blue Hole Falls is on a short side trail that comes off unexpectedly to the left. This is a small falls with a deep swimming hole in front of it. A viewing platform has been built here. High Shoals Falls is further down the trail, and can be seen from a viewing platform at the trail’s terminus. This is a significantly sized fall that collects a lot of ice in the winter!
Google will get you killed on this one. Google likes to drop people in very scary places in the North Georgia mountains and gun ownership is pretty much universal around here. So, when Google says “Go down Moody Rd”, don’t go down Moody Rd. This is a private road that dead ends and is nearly impossible to backup on. The local population isn’t too friendly either. The road you actually want is nearby, (within 0.5 of a mile). It’s a forestry service road with a sign that says “High Shoals” and other things about WMAs.
The car ford was forded by cars, Jeeps, and one very worried Ford Ranger, but I saw a Mustang refuse it. Consider the value of your car and the last time it rained before you attempt the ford.
The parking area is TINY. Come early, and park off the side of the road if the parking area is full.
The road up runs through a lot of shade – if it iced recently try this hike on another day.
Never in my life have I had to have my truck pulled back out, but it’s comforting to know that North Georgia’s Jeep fraternity is always somewhere nearby with a handy winch for the day that “car ford” turns out to be rated for jacked up Jeeps only!
Looking to spice up an otherwise ordinary day hike? If you’re near Blairsville, GA take a quick swing past the roadside Helton Creek Falls on your way to bigger fare like the Appalachian Trail and Vogel State Park.
Is it goat approved? Nope. Not a good option for goats…way too busy.
How you get there: GPS your way on over to these coordinates: 34.753684, -83.894221. You park on the side of the road, and the waterfall is literally on the side of the road beneath you. The road down from Hwy 19/129/11 is gravel, but it is in good shape.
Time for hike: Pretty much no time at all. However, you can combine it with a trip to Vogel State Park, the top of Blood Mountain, Desoto Falls, or any of the other fascinating spots in the area to make it a hike instead of just a photo op.
Best season to do this hike: Year around, but the middle of summer it fills up with swimmers.
Trails to Take
There isn’t really much of one. The trail is next to the parking area, drops immediately down to the base of the falls, then climbs up the side to a small viewing platform. A hole has been cut/hacked through the side of the park service viewing platform so you can climb down, do a great job eroding the bank, and go swimming beneath the falls. I am sure the park service just loves this.
There is a gravel road. So, like that prize Mustang convertible? Probably not a good option.
Roadside waterfalls tend to be popular. There isn’t a lot of parking. Do the math.
Re-hiking trails you have done before when you are almost out of buffer is pretty suicidal :D.
For a trip into a living picture postcard, grab your toboggan (that’s Southern speak for a knit hat) and your snowmobile (the Northern equivalent of a four wheeler) and take a trip to the Upper Penisula of Michigan’s most accessible falls – Tahquamenon Falls.
The “fall” is actually 2 falls in one, separated by either 4 miles of snowmobile-able road or snowshoe enabled trail. This is a great day trip to get out of the house with dogs, dependents, or dad when staying inside one more second isn’t an option. Oh, and if you’re lame you can drive to both falls too.
Is it goat approved? If the goat has snowshoes maybe.
How you get there: Lower falls parking is at 46.609447, -85.205915 and Upper Falls Parking is 4 miles north at 46.579444, -85.252585. Note that at the Upper Falls the rear two parking areas in heavy snow are reserved for snowmobile parking. There are HUGE signs for each of the falls.
Time for hike: You can visit both falls in about 2 hours with photo-op time if you are with adults. With kids, plan on more like 4 hours. The lower falls is a 2.5 mi round trip out and back walk from the parking area, down the closed park road, and over to the overlook. The road is unrecognizable in snowy weather. The upper falls is a 2/3 a mile walk out and back to the overlooks.
Best season to do this hike: Come in winter for a winter wonderland worthy adventure.
Trails to Take
The parking lot is to the right as you enter. There are no actual signs for the trail to the lower fall, it is behind the closed gate. The trail is groomed, and follows the road bed that you can drive down…if you come in the summer.
The view is picture postcard worthy, and the trail slopes gently down, eventually reaching the lower (closed) parking lot. The path goes through the main park area, and then off to the overlooks. The ice is not generally thick enough to go out to the island because the water is moving on the river, but the near side bank overlooks are pretty good.
The lower falls itself are underwhelming if you’re used to the Appalachian waterfalls, but the unusual color of the water makes a beautiful contrast with the snow. It’s not dirty – the dark color originates from the tannins left behind by decomposing hemlock and spruce needles. The foam at the base of the falls is from the softness of the water, rather than pollution!
If you brought your snowshoes you can go from the overlooks at the lower falls up to the upper falls. The hike is 4 mi one way. Otherwise, turn around and walk the 1.25 mi back to the car.
The upper fall is the busier of the two falls, with the parking lot packed even in winter time. The brewery is to the right as you enter, and the car parking to the left. Don’t park with the snowmobiles (unless you are one)! Park with the cars. The trail head is readily visible, and goes past the bathrooms.
The trail branches, and either direction leads to overlooks of the upper fall, but the right hand, farthest over look has the best views. There are 90 something steps to the “brink” at this final and best overlook, as a forestry sign puts it, but the average person will find the trip decidedly less ominous.
The lower falls is payment free if no one is in the kiosk in the winter. The upper falls has a self serve kiosk, and out of state cars are $9 a piece! Ouch. Anyway, plan ahead on how you want to deal with this. In the dead of winter no one seems to be checking if you paid or not…
No four wheel drive? Not a problem so long as you don’t go during snow or right after snow has fallen. They plow the roads. We did this run in a two wheel drive Nissan.
If you get hungry the brewery at the upper falls (http://www.tahquamenonfallsbrewery.com/) does do lunch and dinner, but its filled with snowmobilers and has a 15% add on charge for take out! Caveat emptor! But it is open year around. For more reasonably priced fare, go to nearby Paradise, MI.
A perch can survive being frozen inside ice so long as the fish itself doesn’t completely freeze before the ice thaws. Fish for the FTW.