HomeParentingIncredible Natural Wonder in Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park
Incredible Natural Wonder in Georgia: Tallulah Gorge State Park
July 12, 2022
Tallulah Gorge State Park is a natural wonder in Georgie that families will really enjoy. With gorgeous hiking, waterfalls, swimming holes, and more, the park is full of the stuff that amazing and memorable day trips are made of, so get packing. Kristina tells us all about how to enjoy this beautiful Georgia State Park, what to expect, and even where to grab something to eat.
Day Trip to Tallulah Gorge
It’s a day trip! Getting to Tallulah Gorge State Park, approximate driving time from:
Greenville, SC 90 minutes
Atlanta, GA 90 minutes
Columbia, SC just under 3 hours
Charlotte, NC 3 hours
Tallulah Gorge State Park is only 90 minutes from Greenville yet seems a world apart when you get to the vast gorge. I had no idea a place like this existed. I was researching some hiking trails and wanted to stay within a certain driving distance and decided to check this place out. I wasn’t disappointed! The park is very unique and I’ve got all the info you need to know before you visit this nearby wonder.
History of the Tallulah Gorge State Park
The land at Tallulah Falls was originally inhabited by the Cherokee, who called it Ugunyi, and they lived there until white settlers appeared in 1820. The Cherokee typically avoided the falls and did not hunt there but the white settlers flocked there, inspired by the beauty of the waterfalls through the gorge. The town of Tallulah Falls became a summer destination for wealthier families, especially once the railroads were laid in the region in 1882 from Atlanta. The town became a resort town and by 1897 it had three churches, hotels, post office, and restaurants, all supported via the tourism industry.
At the turn of the century, power companies began competing for the rights to dam the falls for hydroelectricity. Conservation efforts led by Helen Dortch Longstreet, who saw the possible destruction of the beauty of the gorge happening because of the power companies, laid the groundwork for the state park. The dam was completed in 1913, which created a lake above the gorge and at the time, supplied North Georgia and Atlanta with electricity. It’s still in operation today but is a smaller component to the electricity grid.
The state park was created in 1992 and on weekends in the spring, summer, and fall, controlled releases from the dam invite brave kayakers to run the falls a handful of weekends out of the year. Hiking on the gorge floor is prohibited during these releases, the dates of which can be found on the Tallulah Gorge website.
The gorge was formed by the strong currents of the Savannah River, which cut through the rock. It’s about 1,000 feet deep and two miles long.
Hiking at Tallulah Gorge State Park
There are 20 miles of hiking trails at the park and they have everything from strenuous and challenging to leisurely and easy. There are maps everywhere at the gorge and inside the Interpretive Center so be sure to grab one and or take a screenshot.
The North and South rim trails are easy (about 3 miles total for both trails) and the overlooks are stunning. You can see straight down into the gorge and check out all the waterfalls. On the summer day we went, the clouds were wisping in and out of the canyon and it was beautiful. There are signs at each overlook that tells you what you’re looking at. I cannot even imagine how stunning this place must look when the leaves change color in the fall.
The suspension bridge is what you may see photos of when you Google the park. I love suspension bridges and was excited to see this one – my first question to the Park Ranger was how to get to it! It swings 80 feet above the gorge floor and is so beautiful. But here’s the thing: you have to walk down (and then back up) 620 metal steps. These steps are no joke: they are steep and one of the Rangers told me a lot of rescues happen on these stairs because people think they can do it and then find out they cannot make it back up.
An important thing to note is that dogs are not allowed on this trail or the Sliding Rock Trail on the gorge floor. Speaking of that trail, you need a permit for the 2.5 mile trip and only 100 are issued each day. If the dam water is being released or there is inclement weather, the park won’t issue any permits. If you want to hike this trail to Sliding Rock, where you can swim and slide down a massive rock waterfall, get to the park early as the permits, which are free, go fast.
We did the hike down into the gorge to see Hurricane Falls and then back up to the South Rim and headed off to the North Rim for a total of a little over two miles. My kids (ages 11 and 7) and I are experienced hikers and while the stairs were pretty brutal, we didn’t have any issues completing the hike. One thing to note is that the connection of the North and South rim trails is over a busy highway bridge at the dam. You don’t have to cross the road but you do need to keep a close eye on your kids if you choose this route.
One cool thing on the North Rim trail was the old remnants of the tower that 65-year-old tightrope walker Karl Wallenda used when he took 18 minutes to walk across a steel tightrope on July 18, 1970. Inside the Interpretive Center are photos, a portion of the cable he used, and tickets that were distributed that day. So cool!
I made an Instagram Reel about our visit that you may enjoy.
The Interpretive Center
I’ve found that visitor centers at parks are truly underrated establishments. My kids and I have learned so much about local areas through just checking out the visitors’ centers wherever we travel. The Interpretive Center at Tallulah Gorge State Park is no exception. This place is a museum in and of itself!
It is two stories with a spiral walkway in the center that has animals, both alive and stuffed, to see and learn about, plus exhibits on the many habitats of the gorge, Cherokee legends, and even a mini-theater that plays a 15-minute movie about the history of the town and state park every half hour.
There is an awesome exhibit on the top floor that shows a replica of the town in the 1800s plus tells all about the Native peoples who first inhabited the land, the construction of the dam, the introduction of the railroad, and the history of the resort town.
My kids and I really enjoyed this part and spent about 40 minutes after our hike going through the exhibits and learning all about the animals and history.
Camping at Tallulah Gorge State Park
The state park offers 57 RV, tent, and backcountry sites and you can pick up the trails right from the campground. This would be ideal if you especially want to hike the Sliding Rock Trail since you can be one of the first ones in line since you’re camping there! Backcountry sites start at $20 and campsites start at $37.
Tallulah Falls Lake
We saw the beautiful lake during our hike but didn’t visit it. Besides Sliding Rock, it’s the only other place you can swim at the gorge. There’s a sandy beach and picnic area for the enjoyment of guests.
The Ranger told me that if you Google “Tallulah Falls Post Office” and if you look to the right of the Post Office, there is a small area to walk down and drop in your kayak or paddleboard. You could also just drop it in at the beach. The $5 parking pass at the state park covers this lake as well. If you camp at the park, you’ll have a day-use pass you can use here.
Visiting Tallulah Gorge State Park
Admission to the park is a $5 parking fee that can be paid in cash or via an app that you scan the QR code with your phone when you get there.
Dogs are not allowed on the hike down to Hurricane Falls, the suspension bridge, or Sliding Rock Trail on the gorge floor.
Hours are 8 am – dark and the office is open daily 8 am – 5 pm.
Know your limits and health regarding the trails with the stairs. And bring enough water. There are signs everywhere indicating how difficult it is, and to bring water. We passed a couple of water bottle and water fountain filling stations on the stairs, which were much appreciated. One wasn’t working though so be prepared.
During the summer and busy fall leaf-peeping season, the park will close the gates when they reach capacity, usually pretty early, around 8:30/9 am. So if you want to go, get there when the park opens.
Please exercise Leave No Trace and pack out what you pack in and don’t litter. The park is beautiful but we saw so many discarded plastic water bottles along the stairs and it was so sad. Not only does it take away from the natural, stunning environment but it makes it really hard to pick up since it’s very steep terrain.
One of our awesome readers recommended grabbing coffee/tea and small bites at Tallulah 1882, right across the street from the park entrance. We saw it but didn’t stop so now we have to go back!
Tallulah Gorge State Park 338 Jane Hurt Yarn Rd, Tallulah Falls, GA