Here’s a riddle for you. What’s the best way to prepare for three hours of hiking in the Georgia woods? Damn, you’re on to my trick question. There’s no best way. Each hiker and hike is different. But did Hannah and I ever get our prep right today!
First, we warm up with a couple hours of early morning pickleball with our amigos and amigas at the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club. Then, we fuel up with a big breakfast at the Huddle House in Cleveland, Georgia, thanks to an invitation from three of our sister and brother pickleballers.
Today, we have set the bar really low to see actual water coming from the head of the waterfalls at Raven Cliff Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains this first week of October. You see, four days ago, in Laurel Falls 120 miles to the northwest in eastern Tennessee, we hiked along a mostly dry riverbed to what is usually an 80’ falls; not a trickle fell that day.
The Southeast as well as we in the Northeast and those of you in California and, well, most of the Sahara and Serengeti, are suffering through some serious drought at this time. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.
Amped after pickleball and breakfast togetherness, we head a mere seven miles out of Bavarian-themed Helen, GA along the small rural road of route 17/75 to an even smaller alternate 75, to finally the curvy mountain road of route 348 to the trailhead. Easy to find, the trail is one of many in the area for which we get excellent directions and maps at the Helen Welcome/Visitor Center in town.
When we ask the local pickleball/hikers what’s your favorite waterfall hike in the area, the unanimous answer is the five-mile roundtrip to Raven Cliff Falls.
Upon arrival at the Raven Cliff Falls Trail, we enter the forest path that parallels Dodd Creek for the next two miles. Bubbling and gurgling, and dare I say flowing, Dodd Creek is a welcome lift to our spirits that, maybe, just maybe, waterfalls await.
On this riverside trail into the Wildlife Management Area of White County, we gently rise in elevation towards the waterfalls. Fact is, it feels like we are on level ground most of the way. As a popular trail,we have many fellow hikers on this Thursday afternoon in the upper 70s.
With spectacularmini-waterfalls and cascades along much of the waterway, we hike under the forest canopy with blue sky above, while below us, swimming holes dot Dodd Creek. The sun-dappled trail is a delight for us hikers, but makes it tough getting the lighting right for us modestly-skilled photographers.
After an hour of an easy going trail of dirt with few rocks, we arrive at the fortress wall of Raven Cliffs. Tucked in a mountain granite fracture, the Raven Falls are so dark that it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture in this cavern-like setting. Deciding not to climb further to the head of the falls, which is very rocky, very rooted, and quite vertical, we have the glamour and glory of the falls with its tumbling water here at the base.
At the middle of the three destination falls, there are hikers of all abilities loving life and picnicking. The fact is the drought of 2016 has taken its toll on these falls as well. Though there’s just enough water to splash over our hiking boots, we find that the tranquility of the forest makes up for the lack of waterfallian drama.
Heading back to the trailhead an hour way, it seems Dodd Creek itself is where the action is. With rivulets coming down the mountain, the main river has more splashing and sparkling water than the falls itself. Hiking down to the river, we get our best waterfalls picture of the day and, in fact, on our entire weeklong Tennessee/North Carolina/Georgia hiking adventure.
No doubt, we’ll come back in the spring when Dodd Creek roars and Raven Cliff Falls thunders; for that coincides with our return to the South after a winter in New England to play with our Yonah Mountain pickleball family.