Gorge-ous Georgia: Nearby Rabun County Offers Falls, Overlooks and Fine Southern Fare

Gorge-ous Georgia
The gorge and its natural wonders sit about 15 minutes from Clayton, Ga. The county seat of Rabun County offers visitors a place to truly be in the center of it all. The downtown is a mix of nostalgic charm and modern inspiration.  Story by Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

Relatively easy trails allow you to visit both sides of the gorge and view most of the waterfalls.
L’eau d’Or Falls can be viewed best from an overlook about 300 feet above the waterfall.
To reach the bottom of the gorge you must be prepared to tackle as many as 600 stairs.

Imagine standing atop the Sunsphere looking down toward a 46-foot-high waterfall rushing past deep green forests, golden rock walls and into a gorge. That’s the view you get from the overlook at L’eau d’or Falls (French for “water of gold”) in the Tallulah Gorge of Northeast Georgia. The railings cling to a cliff about 300 feet above the river below. A closer look reveals the remnants of a water compressor built in 1910 as part of man’s efforts to tame this stretch of river and provide electricity to a growing city called Atlanta.
Today, a dam at the top of the gorge controls the water flow, but that doesn’t mean the rush of water isn’t impressive. Several times a year there are aesthetic water releases and at least annually a full water release draws in kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts from around the world.
A relatively flat trail leads around both the North and South Rims of the Tallulah Gorge. Nearly a dozen overlooks offer a bird’s eye view of the gorge’s stunning waterfalls, whitewater rapids, massive stone walls, and burgeoning plant life.
At the deepest point in the gorge, three Sunspheres would stack on top of each other with a little room to spare. It is no wonder that standing along the edge of the canyon is so awesome. Also inspiring is knowing that Karl Wallenda crossed to the other side of this chasm on a tightrope back in 1970 with thousands people watching his every step.
Hurricane Falls sits in the middle of the Tallulah Gorge. At 96 feet high, it is the tallest of the waterfalls here. A suspension bridge crosses just above the point where the water starts dropping over Hurricane Falls. Getting to that bridge requires some serious stair climbing. There are more than 300 steps there, and to get to the base of Hurricane Falls requires another 221 steps to a viewing platform. Hikes along the canyon floor require a permit, so if that is your intent, make arrangements before walking down all those stairs.
Before the beginning of the 20th century tourists flocked in great numbers to witness the natural wonders here. Pretty soon, the town of Tallulah Falls sprang up next to the gorge. It was a town filled with hotels, resorts and other businesses. Eventually the numbers of tourists dwindled, the hotels fell into ruin and only the power company operating the dam kept a large presence here. The gorge is now protected largely by a state park (and the power company). Although there isn’t a lodge here, there are a campground and cabins and a grand interpretive center providing a closer look at the natural history of the area and man’s influence on the gorge. Behind the dam is a small lake and beach, along with places to picnic. Tourists continue to come in large numbers, but most only stay for the day.
On historic US 441 is the only roadside view of the gorge. A rustic roadside attraction offers a place to see where Wallenda walked as well as a chance to strike a pose on a “tightrope.” Tallulah Point has been in operation since 1912. Inside, shop for souvenirs, buy locally handmade crafts and pig out on some Georgia barbecue. The roadside attraction takes you back to a time when this would have been a must-see stop on any road trip.
The gorge and its natural wonders sit about 15 minutes from Clayton, Ga. The county seat of Rabun County offers visitors a place to truly be in the center of it all. The downtown is a mix of nostalgic charm and modern inspiration. The historic Clayton Inn serves as a reminder of this town’s early days as a mountain retreat. Just a few blocks away, dine and hang out at the Universal Joint and Zeppelin’s Pasta House. Downtown also offers a chance to browse a few shops and grab a Coke at an old-fashioned drug store soda fountain.
From just about every spot downtown the mountains can be seen looming just north of the city. One mountain in particular provides one of the best places from which to see this small valley town. Black Rock Mountain State Park isn’t overly developed but provides spectacular views just a short walk from your car.
Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. It is filled with a number of overlooks, including one at which you can sit in a rocking chair and gaze at the splendor of this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Another easy-to-reach place is Ada-Hi Falls, a simple and inviting stream of water typical in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Near the entrance to the park is the road leading to the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center, a place that offers a unique glimpse into the history of these mountains.
Rabun County is also home to the famed Dillard House, where people have been dining since 1917. All the meals here are served family style and the views from the property are nearly as unforgettable as the food itself. For people wanting a longer Dillard House experience, there is lodging here, too.

 © 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.