Editor’s Note: As a reminder, we like to keep our reviews of waterfalls short and sweet. We hope you didn’t come here looking for a huge dissertation on why we think one is better than the other or some scientific breakdown complete with water analysis. They are waterfalls. We have never found one we didn’t like. Our goal here is to simply provide you with some photos and to give you our uneducated and subjective thoughts in 5 categories – Ease of Hike, Distance of Hike, Crowds, Options for Exploring, and The View – so that you can make a decision about which of North Georgia’s amazing waterfalls you think might be the best hike for you. We hope these simple rankings and photos help you sort all that out. Enjoy.
I CAN NOT believe it took me this long to officially make it to Helton Creek Falls. I feel like I’ve been to every North Georgia waterfall from east to west and everything in between over the past 15 years but yet have somehow never made it to Helton Creek. To be fair, I have tried to go twice before but it was on busy Saturdays and what little parking there was, was overflowing with cars and people. But I finally gave it a try on a slow Tuesday when it was pouring down rain and alas . . . I found one of my new favorite waterfalls.
Helton Creek Falls is located between Helen, Blairsville and Suches. Sort of in the dead middle of that triangle. You can get to it in either direction – coming off US-19 south of Vogel State Park or from Highway 348 (Richard B. Russel Scenic Highway) just past the Hogpen and Tesnatee Gap area a few miles south of State Road 180. Helton Creek Road runs east to west from US-19 and Highway 348 and Helton Creek Falls are right in the middle of it.
Both directions into the falls bring you through small, secluded residential communities. It literally feels like you are driving in someone’s driveway and you are going the wrong way. You’re not. Just drive slow and be courteous and remember that people live here and don’t like fast cars tearing down their road. We like coming in from the east off of Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway and leaving out on the west side. There are two small creek crossings (easy for any vehicle as water is always low) if you come in this way and it brings you past Dukes Creek Falls and Raven Cliff Falls if you come up from Helen or Cleveland. And cheat sheet . . . you can exit out to the west and stop by Sunrise Grocery and then visit Mountain Crossings on the way back down. Two of our favorite shops in North Georgia.
Alright. Enough of all that. Y’all want to know about the waterfall right?
It’s awesome. Seriously one of the best that we’ve been to and a new favorite. The one negative is that it gets busy due to it’s proximity to Vogel, Blairsville, and Helen. If you can deal with that or pick a slower time, everything else about it scores super high.
It is a very short hike. I didn’t even measure it because by the time I got on the trail and my backpack out we were there. But it has to be under a quarter mile and is on a fairly maintained dirt and gravel trail. It does drop down in elevation to the base of the falls, but our 3 year old walked the entire path with no problem at all so it’s suitable for all ages with the exception of maybe the elderly.
Helton Creek Falls is divided into two falls, the lower section and the upper section. The lower section has a small 20 step stairway that takes you down to the bottom. From here you can look back up towards the falls. If you want to string up a hammock, this is the place for you as there aren’t many hammocking trees on the upper section. The water is pretty shallow here and a great place for the kids to splash around in. The creek bends back around to the right but we didn’t push too far back in that direction. There is not much of a beach but I suppose you could bring a towel and sit in this area although you’re probably better off grabbing a rock.
The upper section is the better of the two falls. There is a small wooden platform that goes up to it but you can get down in the falls by following the foot path to the left of the deck. The base of the falls is huge and has a pool at the bottom that is much deeper than the one below and much deeper than it looks. The closer you get to the falls and the rock, the deeper it gets . . . over 6 feet deep the last 4 or 5 feet. So while it’s not “swimmable” it’s “wadable” and more than enough to cool you off on a hot day. You can even swim up to the rock face and go under the waterfall. Not very far but it does make for a good picture. If you go on a day after it’s been raining or in the winter and fall, you will see the water at it’s highest and most photographable. The waterfalls and wading area themselves are in a huge clearing so there is always sun light on them making legit photos challenging. Go at dusk or on a really overcast day. But you already knew that if you were a professional photographer.
There is a small foot path off to the right of the falls where it looks like people have found a way to the top of the upper section. We didn’t give this a try as it had been raining for days and everything was slippery and loose.
In between the lower and upper sections is a clearing in the trail where you can climb out on top of the lower falls but I DO NOT recommend this. We’re pretty good at walking on slippery rocks and the top of those falls were some of the slipperiest we’ve been on. We almost fell 3 times in 30 seconds trying to get a picture before we got smart and realized we liked our arms and camera not broken. It’s a longer tumble to the bottom than it looks so just be safe and enjoy the falls from the bottom looking up.
If you come in from the east, like we recommended above, there is a small primitive camping site that is cleared out right before you get to the falls on the left side of the road. You can’t miss it. It looks like it gets used pretty regularly but other than that, your best bet is to camp at Vogel State Park if you want more of a campground feel and to try Raven Cliffs back to the south if you prefer something more primitive.
If you could get rid of 90% of the traffic Helton Creek Falls experiences, we would give this waterfall a near perfect score. The views are great (especially on the upper) and it is just short enough and easy enough to make it an awesome spot for a quick pop-in or for a longer trip. Because it is centrally located on the top end of two great scenic roads, you can make a loop of it by coming up from Helen towards Blairsville before dropping back down and coming out on the other side. We highly recommend this one.