After all these years of wandering around in the north Georgia mountains, I sometimes start to think I’ve seen it all.
But I’m wrong.
Just last week, while tracking down an altogether different sort of place that I’ll tell you about in a future column, I happened to come across a spot I’ve never visited before. That spot is Helton Creek Falls, a beautiful (and delightfully accessible) set of two spectacular waterfalls not far from Blairsville.
How had I managed to miss Helton Creek Falls? I’d certainly heard about it. I’d even read about it. But I’d never visited it – and since I still had several hours of daylight, I decided it was high time to do so.
Helton Creek Falls, here I come!
The easiest way to get there is take US 19/129 south from Blairsville, looking for Helton Creek Road. Coming from the north that way, the turn-off will be on your left (it’s just past the entrance to Vogel State Park). Make the turn, and then continue about 2.3 miles to a small pullout parking area on the right side of the road. The trailhead is right next to the parking area and is identified by a small sign.
That’s the easy way in.
There’s another way, however. You know how they say that getting there is half the fun? Well, if you approach Helton Creek Falls via Georgia 348 (that is, from the other end of Helton Creek Road), things go from ordinary to adventure – and the reason is two (count ‘em, two) creek fords.
Yes, the kind of crossing that you do without benefit of bridge.
“You mean, as in drive through the water?” said Wife of Mine when I told her about it later.
“Yep,” I said. “That’s what I did. Twice!”
“Well,” she said after a moment, “I’m glad you didn’t take the van.”
Truth be told, the van might have had trouble with the crossings, especially the second one. But the old gray truck took ‘em both in stride.
What’s it like to drive through a creek? That depends on the condition of the road (which can change after high water), on the height of the creek, and also on the height of your vehicle. If it’s rained recently and the creek is up at all, forget the creek ford route and go in the other way. I mean that. It doesn’t take much water to make a car lose its footing, and then you’ve got a real mess on your hands.
The same thing applies if your car is low to the ground. My trusty truck has plenty of clearance, but your Maserati probably does not. And believe it: There’s nothing to take the fun out of a day in the woods like suddenly seeing an inch of water sloshing around the floorboard of your car.
These creek fords are further complicated by challenging approaches and exits. The second ford (closest to the falls) can be particularly challenging.
So…if you have any doubt at all, then don’t take the route with the fords. Go in the other way, off 19/129, instead.
Remember: you ford creeks at your own risk.
If you come in from 19/129, it’s easier. You’ll soon come to a small parking area (which can be packed on weekends) where the trail begins.
As waterfall trails go, this one is not bad. However, it is rough and/or muddy in spots.
From the parking area, the trail descends toward the creek and soon swings left to cross a tiny wood footbridge over an equally tiny tributary. Not far beyond that, a short spur trail and a set of wood steps curves down to the base of the lower falls. It’s a great place for making a photo, but watch your footing at the bottom of the steps.
After checking out the view there, return to the main trail and continue toward the upper falls. This portion of the trail can be a little more of a challenge.
You’ll note that it’s possible to swing left off the trail toward the top of the lower falls. But resist the temptation to do so. Good advice: stay away from the top of any waterfall. The rocks can be wet and unexpectedly slick, and it’s too easy to slip and fall. Take this seriously. Stay on the main trail!
Continuing on, you’ll soon come to the upper falls observation platform. From the safety of the platform, you’ll have a grand view of the upper falls. It’s another great spot for a photo.
I think you’ll like Helton Creek Falls!