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 yet to find 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 and if not, check out our map for some other options. Enjoy.
It’s not everyday you find a trail that takes you to two waterfalls but the High Shoals Trail between Hiawassee and Helen is the perfect combination of two beautiful falls, High Shoals Falls and Blue Hole Falls, on the same easy-ish hike.
There are two ways to get to the trailhead. The shortest path is to take Indian Grave Gap road off GA-17/GA-75. This is about 12 miles north of Helen and about 10 miles south of Hiawassee so it depends on which way you’re coming. If you decide on this route, there is a very small creek crossing within the first mile of turning off the highway. It is small, shallow, and even a small four door car should have no problem getting across.
The longer route to the trailhead is via Tray Mountain Road. If you’re an off-roading fan, you already know about this great spot. You don’t need four wheel drive on this road but it is bumpier, nastier when wet, and has plenty of little offshoots if you want to off-road. To take this longer route to the falls, just take Tray Mountain Road immediately after heading north through Helen and follow it around Indian Grave Gap road to the High Shoals trailhead
There is not a lot of parking here so please be courteous and leave plenty of room for folks to get up and down the road. This is also a fairly active bear area. We’ve never seen a bear in this spot but we always see scat and the largest bear ever caught in Georgia was captured here. No need to panic as hundreds of people come here every month. But as always, don’t be stupid and pay attention to what’s going on around you and you’ll be fine.
The trail is pretty easy as it only descends and ascends a few hundred feet. There is a bit of an incline on the way back up but our 3 year old walked the whole way, although we took our time. It is just under 2.5 miles round trip so it’s just the right length so that it’s not too short or too long.
Right above the small parking area, there is a spot that could hold a half dozen tents although it’s really only set up for one group, i.e. you probably don’t want to set your tent next to strangers in a spot that small out of common courtesy. But if you wanted to bring some friends, there is enough room at the first spot for tents and some hammocks. It is primitive though so no restrooms. There is another clearing further down the trail both before and after the small creek crossing at the bridge, after about a half mile to three-fourths of a mile. We’ve never seen anyone camp here but there are a few scattered fire rings and plenty of space for it.
The trail itself is pretty easy. Rocky in a few spots but always dry and relatively flat once you get past the first half mile. Like most North Georgia trails near water, you can expect to find a ton of rhododendrons and mountain laurel lining both sides of the path. In spring, these are in full bloom and make this hike extra special.
The first falls you come to is Blue Hole Falls. When the sun is out it’s pretty easy to see how this waterfall got it’s name as the water has an amazing deep blue hue to it. There is a viewing platform from which to check out the falls and a small rocky area below the platform before the creek makes it way down to High Shoal Falls. The water is ice cold. People say it gets warm in the summer but we’ve never felt it. It is one of the colder creeks/rivers in all of North Georgia in our opinion.
We should stop here and give a quick mom and dad lesson for those of you might be tempted to go off-trail and do something like . . . I don’t know . . . jump from the top of a waterfall. In our “youth” and before we knew better, we’ve been known to jump off waterfalls into deep swimming holes. But we have been learning a lot lately and one of the things we have sorted out is that messing around off-trail does have long lasting repercussions to the land and soil. We don’t want to beat you over the head or shame you into not doing it. But anytime smart people like the National Forest Service take the time to leave you a note, we’ve learned that it’s usually for a reason and since we didn’t go to school and get a Masters in Forestry or Conservation, we’re going to defer to folks smarter and more intimately impacted than us. So our strong suggestion is not to jump or do anything we wouldn’t do.
Keep on walking a short distance past Blue Hole Falls and you will come to High Shoal Falls. It’s hard to decide which one of the two waterfalls we liked better but High Shoals with a lot of water is pretty nice. Instead of tumbling over the top of the falls like most, it slips and pours through a crack or little sluice at the top before fanning out near the bottom. It’s really quite pretty even with just a little bit of water but really awesome when it’s going good.
There are plenty of places to spread out here to rest, picnic, take photos, or string up some hammocks. The trail actually continues just a little further down below High Shoal Falls to a small clearing where you could feasibly fit 1-2 tents. But this spot is definitely a great place for hammocking.
We love this hike and it has become one of our go-to favorites. Particularly with the kids. It’s just the right length to feel like you got a good hike in but not long enough that it takes all day or leaves you exhausted. As always, remember to leave the trail better than you found it by participating in our Bring A Bag Challenge. You can also leave your own user review by utilizing the slider above.