From the minute I first step foot onto the trail at Raven Cliff Falls, hear Dodd Creek flowing nearby, and see how quickly the forest swallows me, my breathing begins to normalize.
I know I’m in for some breathless moments on this moderate hiking trail in North Georgia, but my immersion into the forest canopy seems to immediately invigorate me.
I quickly discover that much of the 2.9-mile hike to the waterfall will be alongside this flowing (and sometimes falling) water, and my excitement grows.
About a mile in, we reach my favorite part of the hike, when you see a 20-foot waterfall right next to the path. But of course you hear it first, and when I finally see it begin to peak through the trees, it stops me right in my tracks.
For some reason, it seems like such an unexpected and beautiful surprise– a destination less than a fifth of the way into the 5.8-mile round-trip journey.
This hiking trail in Helen GA offers you a lot more than just reaching the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which is my favorite kind of outdoor experience.
Hiking the Raven Cliff Falls trail doesn’t feel like an intrusion upon the area’s natural landscape, but instead feels as if it blends seamlessly into the landscape of towering hardwoods, evergreens, moss, and North GA wildflowers.
I would personally rank this among the very best day hikes in Georgia. Many others would seem to agree, as this is an extremely popular place to visit, although weekday mornings bring less crowds.
Read on for our guide on how to get to Raven Cliff Falls, including some history of the area, driving directions, and an overview of the hiking trail.
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Raven Cliff Falls Trail Info
ADDRESS: 3000 Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy, Helen GA, 30545
COST OF ENTRY: Day Use: $5
HOURS: Open 24 hours a day.
HIKING TRAIL: Rated moderate, 4.9-miles round-trip, heavily trafficked hike.
AMENITIES: Composting toilets available upon entry to the parking lot.
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Raven Cliff Falls History
Located in White County GA, Raven Cliff Falls is part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests.
As with most of the North Georgia mountains, this area was occupied by the Chickasaw and Catawba tribes of Native Americans until the 18th century, when the Cherokee people began migrating south.
The Cherokee were later forced to give up their land (which led to redistribution via the Georgia land lotteries) and head west on the Trail of Tears after the signing of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835.
White County was created from part of Habersham County in 1857, and named for David T. White, who helped attain passage to create the new county.
By the late 1800s, much of the area surrounding what is now the mountain town of Helen was being deforested at an alarming rate.
So the Chattahoochee National Forest was established in 1936 in order to restore the forest and protect both the watershed and the wildlife that inhabits it.
Today, the trout-rich waters of Matthews Creek are ranked among the most beautiful in the Blue Ridge region of Georgia, according to the Georgia Conservancy’s guide to the North Georgia Mountains.
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Hiking the Raven Cliff Falls Trail
After you pay the $5 parking fee, you’ll walk towards the Raven Cliff Falls trailhead, where you immediately ascend some wooden steps built into the steep incline.
To your right, you’ll see the first campsite set alongside the gorgeous stream of Matthews Creek. There was once a wooden bridge to help with crossing the stream here, but it was taken out by a recent storm. So wear waterproof hiking shoes!
Some trees have created a dam-like bridge you can cross if you’re brave enough to test your balance. Or, like me, you could find some rocks to hop across the stream to the other side.
Note that there are many steep parts along the trail, as well as obstacles such as rhododendron roots and boulders. You’ll also walk across many moss-covered (i.e. slick) wooden bridges over the gentle streams that feed Matthews Creek.
The banks of the creek are covered in moss and wildflowers, with dappled light coming through the dense forest canopy. You’ll smell the hickory trees and fresh water trickling among the rocks as your breathing alternates between the steep inclines and the more level, gentle ground along the creek.
If you need to break up this hike into sections, there are many downed trees along this trail, which can serve as benches while you catch your breath.
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Each stop along the way comes with a different view of the gorgeous stream traveling down the mountain you’re climbing. You’ll eventually reach a 20-foot drop into a tranquil pool, which is a great place to cool down during the hike.
If you continue further up the often-rocky path, you’ll reach the breathtaking, 60-foot-tall, cliff-slicing waterfall that drops between a fissure in a mossy, lichen-covered granite boulder.
Climbing down to the base of this waterfall, you can feel the mist cooling you down after the 2.9-mile trek in.
In reading about the Raven Cliff Falls hike, I found some hardy hikers talking about climbing even further up the treacherous path to see the view from the very top of this waterfall.
In my research for this story, I decided to take the risk, just to see what all the fuss was about. After completing that portion of the hike, I do not recommend this (even for experienced, sure-footed trekkers), as the risk is really not worth the reward.
While you can see some expansive scenic views from the very top, you can see much better ones along the Richard B Russell Scenic Highway without putting your knees, and possibly your life, at risk.
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Camping at Raven Cliff Falls
Camping along the trail to Raven Cliff Falls is first come, first served.
The trailhead here offers picturesque creekside camping just steps from your car, where composting toilets are available.
There are also many backpacking campsites scattered along the trail to the waterfalls, which offer a little more solitude for those willing to haul all their gear in.
Unfortunately there are no amenities whatsoever provided at these campsites, aside from the remains of previous campers’ fire rings (which are very basic and created with river rocks).
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Raven Cliff Falls Directions
Directions From Helen
From downtown Helen, take GA-17 North towards GA-75 N for 1.3 miles. Turn left onto GA-75Alt N and follow it for 2.3 miles, then turn right onto GA-348 W for 2.7 miles and make a left into the Raven Cliffs Trailhead.
Directions From Blue Ridge
From downtown Blue Ridge GA, take GA 76 E for 20.9 miles, then turn right onto Blue Ridge Hwy. Make an immediate left onto Blue Ridge Street, and in 0.3 miles turn right onto Hunt Martin St. Turn right onto Cleveland Street in 0.3 miles, and follow that until it turns into US-129 S/US-19 S. Turn left onto State Rte 180, and in just under a mile turn right onto GA 348 E. After 11 miles, turn right into the Raven Cliffs Trailhead.
Directions From Metro Atlanta
From Atlanta, take I-85N to I-985N, following the signs for Gainesville. Continue onto US-23 N for 8.3 miles, then then turn left onto GA-52 W. Follow that for 6.2 miles, then make a right onto GA-283 S. In 0.3 miles, turn left onto GA-283 S/Holly Springs Rd, then go 2 miles and turn right onto US-129 N.
In 7.3 miles you’ll continue onto Appalachian Pkwy/Cleveland Bypass, then turn left onto US-129 N. Turn right onto Albert Reid Rd in 0.3 miles, and follow it for 2 miles before turning left onto John Head Rd. This road eventually turns right and becomes GA-75Alt S.
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