More than 20 years ago, I practiced my budding photography skills while exploring many of the hiking trails with waterfalls in Georgia.
From Amicalola Falls and Anna Ruby Falls to Tallulah Falls and Panther Creek Falls, these North Georgia waterfall hikes tapped into my lifelong love of nature and eventually inspired me to travel all around the world.
Now, as empty nesters, we have a lot more time to explore my native state.
But I was surprised to discover that one of the best waterfalls in Georgia was one I’d never even heard of– Hemlock Falls, near Moccasin Creek State Park in Clarksville, GA.
We heard about the Hemlock Falls trail through a hiking group on Facebook. We were looking for easy waterfall hikes in North Georgia, because we were bringing our 13-year-old Australian Shepherd, Huckleberry, along for the trip.
It ultimately proved to be one of the most beautiful waterfall hikes we’ve ever done, with stunning cascades, pristine forest landscape, and just over 200 feet of elevation over the course of a mile.
Read on for some history about the area around the falls, our guide to hiking the Hemlock Falls trail, and directions on how to get to Hemlock Falls from Clayton and Helen, GA.
READ MORE: The 10 Best North Georgia State Parks
Hemlock Falls, GA Info
ADDRESS: 3655 Georgia Hwy 197, Clarkesville, GA 30523
PHONE: (706) 947-3194
COST OF ENTRY: Free (including free parking)
HEMLOCK FALLS HOURS: Always open
Hemlock Falls History
Hemlock Falls is located in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, just across the street from Moccasin Creek State Park, which is on Lake Burton in Clarkesville, GA.
While the town was founded in 1821 as the seat of North Georgia’s Habersham County, the 2,775-acre Lake Burton wasn’t created until 1919-1920.
Before that, the Upper Tallulah Valley region was inhabited by Cherokee Indians. Their land was surrendered to the State of Georgia in 1817, and settlers began arriving in droves after gold was discovered on nearby Dick’s Creek in 1828.
The town of Burton (which now lies below the surface of the lake) was named after its first postmaster, Jeremiah Burton.
The lake that bears his name was one of the first big hydroelectric projects in North America, providing electricity that spurred the city of Atlanta’s growth.
Moccasin Creek State Park started as a simple campground in 1963, after Fulton Lovell (then Director of the Georgia Game & Fish Commission) oversaw the purchase of a 32-acre tract of land.
It was originally run by the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery (which is located inside the park), but became so popular that it was made Georgia’s smallest state park in 1966.
Although the Hemlock Falls trail lies just outside the boundaries of the state park, it has become one of the most popular North Georgia waterfalls for hiking due largely to its close proximity.
Hiking the Hemlock Falls Trail: Beginning
It’s easy to see why people love Hemlock Falls, Georgia (note: there are similarly named waterfalls in Ohio, Indiana, and New Jersey).
The gravel road entrance, which also leads to the trail to the Moccasin Creek State Park wildlife observation tower, is clearly marked. And the trail itself is marked with a stone sign.
While parking is somewhat limited, there were still a few spaces available at midday on a gorgeous Saturday in October.
As for the 1.9-mile, dog-friendly, in-and-out Hemlock Falls Trail, it’s one of the easiest, most well-maintained, and most beautiful North Georgia waterfall hiking trails we’ve ever trekked.
You can immediately hear the roaring rapids of Moccasin Creek on your right before you even start hiking to the falls.
As you trod the gentle, but muddy slope steadily rising through old growth hardwoods, you’ll catch glimpses of the creek rolling over its rocky bed through dense thickets of rhododendron.
Hiking the Hemlock Falls Trail: Middle Section
As you gradually climb a ridge high above the creek, look for a small bench on your left at around the half-mile mark.
That’s a great place to stop and look down at the roiling rapids, and a small ribbon-like waterfall on the opposite bank.
Go a little bit further and– if it’s rained recently– you’ll see an impressive waterfall dropping down to your right. Then you’ll reach a footbridge crossing over the creek at around the 3/4-mile mark.
As the trail continues to climb, keep an eye out on the left-hand side. You’ll notice rushing rapids, a small but noteworthy waterfall, and a side trail leading to a massive rock outcropping.
The rocks are a little wet and slippery here, but manageable as long as you watch your step and hold on to the rock ledge to steady yourself.
This is a fantastic place to take a breather, and the close-up view of these lower falls are dramatic, to say the least.
Hiking the Hemlock Falls Trail: The Grand Finale
The rollicking lower falls and the thunderous sound that envelops you as you make your way to the one-mile mark are all appetizers for the natural splendor that awaits you at trail’s end.
Though it measures just 15 feet high, Hemlock Falls impresses with the width, breadth. and force of its whitewater as it tumbles over the rocky ledge into a cool, tranquil pool below.
Framed by massive rhododendron up top and big rocks down below, Hemlock easily ranks among the most picturesque waterfalls in Georgia. And the boulder-strewn sandy beach makes for a great place to relax, enjoy a picnic lunch, and take it all in.
There’s plenty of room in the amphitheater-shaped area, and most people we encountered were either wearing masks or mindful of social distancing.
There’s not a bad spot for photography here, but you’ll need to scramble through some underbrush and across some big boulders to get the shot depicted in this story’s featured image. When you’re done, simply descend the trail the same way you came.
A word of caution: You may notice some people hiking above the falls, and it used to be possible to hike further to the 40-foot Upper Moccasin Creek Falls.
However, this part of the hiking trail has suffered damage from various hurricanes and snowstorms over the last decade, and is not maintained. By all accounts, it is unpassable at best and likely dangerous. Proceed at your own risk…
Hemlock Falls Directions
How to Get to Hemlock Falls From Clayton, GA (15 Miles)
From S Main St in downtown Clayton, turn left onto US-76 W/E Savannah St and follow it for 10.8 miles.
Turn left onto GA-197 S, and follow that road for 3.7 miles.
After you see Lake Burton and Moccasin Creek State Park on your left, take the next right onto Andersonville Ln.
You’ll see the small parking lot on your left at the end of the gravel road.
How to Get to Hemlock Falls From Helen, GA (20.1 Miles)
From downtown Helen, head west on GA-17 N/GA-75 N/N Main St/Unicoi Turnpike toward White Strasse
In a mile, turn right onto GA-356 E and follow it for 10.8 miles, passing Unicoi State Park & Lodge along the way.
Turn left onto GA-197 N, and follow that road for 7.7 miles. You’ll see Lake Burton and Moccasin Creek State Park on your right.
Turn left onto Andersonville Ln, and follow it for a half mile until you reach the small parking lot at the end of the road. –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett
Best Clayton, GA Hotels & Cabin Rentals
Mountain Aire Cottages & Inn – Excellent location and quiet.
White Birch Inn – Get the celebrity treatment with world-class service.
Kingwood Country Club & Resort – Peaceful with beautiful scenery.
Pet-Friendly Cozy Cabin with Views By Black Rock – Entire vacation home • 2 bedrooms • 1 living room • 3 bathrooms • 1464 ft²
Heaven’s Rest Vacation Home – Entire vacation home • 4 bedrooms • 3 bathrooms • 2896 ft² • 6 beds (1 full, 1 king, 1 sofa bed, 3 queens)
Best Clarksville, GA Hotels
Big Whiskey – Cute & cozy hotel with cabin- look. No 2 night minimum required.
Holiday Inn Club Vacations – Apple Mountain Resort – Kid-friendly, pool, hot tub, balcony.
Glen-Ella Springs Inn – Family rooms, pool, terrace, Full English/Irish breakfast.