Raven Cliff Falls near Helen, Georgia. Photo by JMC Artistic Photography
Raven Cliff Falls: A Top Hike for Fall
This past Monday, we had some friends in town we wanted to take for a hike. Raven Cliff Falls is usually our go-to hike near Blairsville. You really can’t beat it. It has all the good stuff plus some. We tried to get out the door as early as possible, but by the time we got kiddos and all the furry ones squared away, it ended up being close to 9 a.m. When hiking, we usually try to get to our destination in the early morning or evening hours because those are the best times for Jason's photography and because that's peak beauty time for us. The light is perfect, and there are less people, so you get that solitude feel a little more. But Monday, it didn’t matter that we were a little later than normal because it started out and continued to be overcast.
I love hiking under overcast skies. Give me the choice of that or a sunny day, and I will pick cloudy 10 times out of 10. The colors always seem more saturated and really pop, even in the winter. Monday was no exception. Actually, we hiked with a steady mist all day, too. That made for a lot of mud. What many might think would lead to an unfortunate hiking experience due to not exactly ideal conditions, ended up being what made the trip even more amazing.
Raven Cliff Trailhead is in the Chattahoochee National Forest, close to both Helen and Blairsville, off Richard Russell Scenic Highway. When you’re coming from Blairsville traveling to Raven Cliff, the drive alone is worth the trip. When you top Hogpen Gap, you're treated to an incredible view. The rock wall up there is usually iced over in the winter making it even more impressive. Once you get to the entrance, you drive down and park at the gravel parking lot; it’s free and open year-round. On pretty days, during peak seasons, it gets filled up quickly. That’s another reason we like to go early mornings.
The Raven Cliff area is a very popular camping destination with good reason. If you’ve been there you understand why. Who wouldn’t want to fall asleep listening to the river, surrounded by beautiful forest? If you’re planning on hiking it on a nice holiday weekend, then you might want to suffer getting out of bed a tad earlier. The lot has a vaulted toilet (think equivalent of porta potty) but has no water. They also have picnic tables, but I highly recommend packing in your lunch and having a picnic at Raven Cliff Falls. There are a lot of rocks to “dine” on. There’s nothing better than saving breakfast, lunch or dinner to have while on the trail. I swear it makes it taste better. We always carry out all our trash and leftover food back with us.
The hike itself is moderate in difficulty. You’re not climbing too much since you’re only gaining an elevation of about 560 feet, but there are a lot of roots and rocks to look out for, as well as a couple of narrow paths. The Forest Service’s website says the trail length is 6.6 miles round-trip. With that said, it’s a great trail for most ages and is great for dogs, too. We had a mixed party in our group and everyone did amazingly. We were all inspired by my friend’s mom who, might be a little older in age but is definitely young at heart, hiked the whole trail with a bad hip. I’m certainly not recommending that, but she was a champ, for sure. She’s a strong woman! I hope Jason and I are still exploring the trails at her age. We also took our middle dog, who is about the size of a small cat, and he practically ran the whole thing, loving every second of it.
The trail follows along Dodd Creek almost the entire way, so you get to hike to one of nature’s soundtracks, making for a peaceful walk. The forest itself is stunning. It is so green! Even the trees are covered in an almost fluorescent-looking green moss. Since we were hiking under clouds, it almost looked as if the moss was glowing.
The great thing about Raven Cliff is, if you or someone you’re with is not able to complete the trail, there are several waterfalls you pass along the way. So, just because you don’t go the entirety of the trail doesn’t mean you won’t get to see a waterfall. Jason and I normally scale down the side to venture to the falls, so he can get some compositions and I can go in the water. It can be a little steep and tricky, and possibly not for younger kids, but it is well-worth going down if you’re able. It’s pretty amazing to stand in the water and look up at the fall.
When we made it to Raven Cliff Falls we had lunch on the rocks and explored around a little before making the trek back. The waterfall is such a unique one since it flows through some massive granite rocks. There are three drops making up the fall, with total length of around 100 feet. Jason and I have gone up to the top of the fall before and wanted to do it again, but due to all the rain, it was a little too treacherous, so we chose to be responsible this time. Guess that just means we must make a trip back soon.
Raven Cliff Falls Trail is worth every step, even in the mud, especially in the mud. It is without a doubt one of our favorite hikes in the area and the one we always recommend to someone coming in Sunrise Grocery scouting for a new place to explore.