Tallulah Gorge (10-24-13)
The Tallulah Gorge is a 1,000-foot deep gash cut into the bedrock of the North Georgia Mountians by the Tallulah River. Within its depths are no fewer than six waterfalls, dropping nearly 500 feet in a one mile span, which are collectively known as the Tallulah Falls. Located about 15 miles south of the small town of Clayton, the Tallulah Gorge and its namesake river for eons marked one of the most rugged and violent stretches of river in the southeast. Beginning early in the 19th Century tourists began to flock to what is considered one of the so-called Seven Wonders of Georgia. Unfortunately, the greedy eyes of the southern dam builders saw the Tallulah River as a convenient source of energy for the nearby and growing metropolis of Atlanta and set about making plans to dam the river. Despite vigorous efforts by conservationists (which included, to my surprise and the pleasure of my inner Civil War addict, former Confederate General James Longstreet), the State of Georgia somehow couldn't come up with the $1 million to preserve the gorge and a dam was built directly above it in 1913. Overnight, the character of the river had been forever altered. Whereas previous to the dam the gorge saw water flow rates of up to 700 cubic feet per second (cfs), the dam restricted flow to a consistent and rather paltry 35-50 cfs. It took a full 80 years before a successful agreement could be made with the power companies before, in 1993, Tallulah Gorge State Park came into existence. Today, while still tame by historic standards, an arrangement between the State of Georgia and the Georgia Power Company allows for occasional aesthetic and whitewater water flow releases from the dam above providing the fleetest of glimpses at the gorges' former glory.
If there is one bright spot to having a restricted and consistent water flow it is the opportunity for the ambitious hiker to walk in relative safety along the floor of the gorge. I had visited previously but never had the opportunity, for one reason or another, to explore the Gorge Floor Trail. The State Park rations permits allowing access to the floor, allowing only 100 people down each day on a first-come-first-served basis. Double checking that I wasn't going on a high water release day and carefully planning to arrive early on a week day I was overwhelmingly pleased to grab Permit #1 for the day! My route of exploration would take me in a counter-clockwise loop around the rim of the gorge, stopping by each of the 10 developed overlooks, before dropping into the bowels of the gorge for what I discovered to be one of the most ruggedly enjoyable stretches of trail I'd ever been on. Let's go for a walk shall we...
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 34.739995, -83.390424
Hike Length: ~6.0 miles Hike Duration: 3:00
Trailhead Temp: 45'F
Min. Elevation: 1,000' Max. Elevation: 1,600'
Total Vertical Gain: 600' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 100'