High Shoals trail offers serene escape

Photo by Kara Pendley

Attending Georgia Tech means that tall buildings, sidewalks and a starless night sky are daily sights. Unknown to the many Tech students buried in their laptops, however, there is a world out there with bright night skies, mountains that dwarf the tallest skyscrapers and breathtaking waterfalls cascading down sheer rock cliffs.

Hiking is a great way escape the city and Tech’s constant stresses. Atlanta is in a prime location for the merger of city life and nature; The Chattahoochee National Forest is located just an hour north of Atlanta, an easy ride up GA 400. Within the national forest, there are numerous spots to hike, magnificent trails and some of Georgia’s tallest waterfalls.

Ten minutes away from Helen, a small town modeled entirely after a German Alpine village, one can find High Shoals and Blue Hole Falls tucked away in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. These magnificent waterfalls are two of the most impressive in North Georgia and well worth the drive.

The trail is hidden away on a gravel Forest Service Road; after a bumpy ride (and a brief charge through a small stream), hikers can find the trailhead at the top of the mountain.

From there, it’s a short, one mile descent through switchbacks by the High Shoals Creek until the trail branches off to Blue Hole Falls. A small wooden overlook provides a view of water plummeting 20 feet into a deep clear pool that would be perfect for a quick dip in the summer.

Backtracking to the main trail, hikers can continue down the mountain another quarter of a mile to a split in the trail. To the left, down small switch backs and stone stairs, lies the second larger waterfall. High Shoals Falls cascades down from 50 feet into a large pool, and adventurers can climb at least 30 feet up the waterfall where it splits around a large rock outcropping.

After enjoying the falls, visitors can climb the 500 feet of elevation back to the trailhead to complete the 2.7-mile roundtrip hike. For the more rugged adventurers, the trail passes a couple of campsites where visitors can pitch a tent for the night; one clearing offers the perfect spot to string up several ENO hammocks, build a fire and slackline between the trees. Needless to say, it is an ideal place for college students to spend a weekend getting away to enjoy nature.

Following a long day of trekking through the woods, hikers can grab dinner in Helen, a town that offers an authentic experience complete with cobblestone alleyways and German restaurants alongside bed and breakfasts. Overall, North Georgia and the High Shoals Trails allows for a complete experience far from the busy city.