Tallulah Gorge is a deep gorge in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, United States. The gorge stretches for approximately 26 miles (42km) along the course of the original Tennessee River through the heart of the Appalachian Mountain chain. It lies between Clingman’s Dome and Little Sugarloaf Mountain, two peaks which are part of the same ridge. The river enters the gorge just above its confluence with the Oostanaula River; both rivers lie within the upper reaches of their respective watersheds.
There are eight trails open to hiking in the park, ranging from easy to moderate difficulty. Hikers need to be wary of some dangerous areas, particularly those involving waterfalls and unfenced cliffs. Visitors may also drive onto the grounds to get a better view of the gorge and leave their vehicles there overnight if they wish. There are 13 picnic sites, plus a group campground of 40 campsites. Campsites feature grills, tables and access to clean drinking water. Picnic areas have playground equipment and vault toilets. Group camping accommodates groups of 20-40 people in tents or recreational vehicle shelters. Tent pads and toilet paper are provided. No pets are allowed on the premises.
Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by WestRock, Inc. in 2005. They found issues regarding accessibility to certain walkways and ramps, and concluded that overall, the facility was accessible to 75% of the population with disabilities. An analysis conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Disability Resources found similar results, with slightly lower percentages due to inaccessible features. Tallulah Gorge State Park has long been used for orienteering competitions. The park hosted the Southeastern Regional Championship in 1981, where it remains today.
The visitor center contains exhibits about the geology, natural history and cultural history of the park. The park provides several different routes down into the gorge, via the elevator located near the parking lot, and via the Skyline Trail, which follows the edge of the cliff overlooking the gorge. The park hosts numerous festivals, including the annual Fall Festival, sponsored by the Friends of Tallulah Gorge since 1971. Events include music, crafts, food, and other activities. The festival spotlights local talents and independent musicians. For five days in October, the park closes for fall foliage viewing. On Columbus Day weekend, the park opens for daily visitors, weather permitting. From May through September, guided tours of the gorge are offered daily.
Tours enter the park at 9am and 11am, 12pm and 2pm, and 3pm and 4pm. Reservations are required. The park hosts an annual conference every summer. Speakers come from diverse fields such as politics, education, business, and ecology to discuss current events affecting the environment, families, communities, and our world. The conference began in 1980, and has attracted nearly 900 participants every year. Tallulah Gorge State Park has a large number of volunteers working to maintain the park, improve the visitor experience, preserve the environment, and educate the public about conservation efforts in the gorge. Volunteers provide labor and money toward projects that range from trail clearing and maintenance to event planning and special project work. Nearly 500 individuals participate in the volunteer effort each year. Projects completed by volunteers in recent years include improvements to the visitor contact station, construction of the observation deck atop Lookout Mountain, and restoration work on historic buildings.
Education plays a key role in maintaining the health of the park. Volunteers lead school programs, host teacher workshops, and assist with community outreach programs. Over 30,000 students visit the park annually, primarily from middle Georgia and South Carolina. Programs designed specifically for schools include the Geology Trekker program, which allows middle schoolers to explore caves, mines, and other underground locations, and the Junior Ranger Program, which gives children ages 7 – 14 hands-on experiences exploring nature, learning about environmental issues, and becoming involved in outdoor sports and recreation. Other programs available to visitors include the Cliff Walk Nature Preserve, the George Sparks Observatory, and full-scale wilderness backpacking trips. Facilities include modern restrooms and showers, picnic areas, a playground, and a gift shop.
Parking fees are in effect from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day. Daily usage costs $8 per car, and annual passes can be obtained at any park information window. The park has an extensive system of trails, totaling almost 100 miles (160km). Most trails begin at Rainbow Falls, winding downstream through forest, field, and gorge. Popular trails include Laurel Hill Trail, Water Tank Trail, and Sycamore Trail. All trails are marked with blazes. Dogs and horses are not permitted on the trails, and bicycles must yield right of way to pedestrians. More difficult trails, including Hellhole Palisades Trail and Canyonlands Trail, require advanced preparation and skill. Numerous staircases and elevators are encountered, and hikers should prepare to finish a six-mile round trip hike in five hours or less. The park boasts seven major waterfalls along a 26-mile (42km) length of the gorge.
The gorge was formed by faulting during the Paleozoic Age, when the North American Plate moved westward over the Eastern Highland Rim. This faulting caused the formation of many canyons throughout the region, including Tallulah Gorge itself. During the time of European settlement, the area became known as Rotten Fork, until locals realized that the name didn’t fit the mouth of the creek very well, so they renamed it after the nearby town of Tallulah. In 1828, Henry Ware Jr., an early pioneer, built his home near the present site of Rock City on what is now the parkway at the entrance to the gorge. He named this stretch of land “Mill Creek Valley,” later changing the spelling to “Tallulah.” A mill soon appeared in the valley, powered by the waters of Tallulah Gorge. Ownership of the mills passed from one private family to another until they were purchased by Jeptha P. Kennedy in 1840.
Kennedy operated the mills under various names, most notably the Eureka Mills, before he sold them to William Williams in 1865. At first Williams ran the mills himself, but he soon hired a manager. When Williams died in 1871, his son, LeRoy Stradley, took charge. By all accounts, Stradley was an excellent businessman who treated his employees fairly and paid them well. However, like his father, LeRoy suffered from asthma, and spent much of each year away from the office in search of relief. His nephew Franklin Peachtree bought the company in 1896. Under Peachtree, the company grew rapidly, adding new lines of textiles and steam power.
Frank Johnson succeeded Peachtree as president in 1920, and remained there until his death four years later. After Peachtree’s death, his wife Edith struggled to manage the business. She finally gave up in 1928, selling the company to the Continental Can Company for $1 million. The CCC immediately turned around and sold the property three years later to the city of Atlanta for use as a park. With the help of Senator Richard B. Russell Jr., Jr., 1,000 acres surrounding the gorge were designated as Tallulah Gorge State Park in 1945. The state acquired more than 2,300 acres by 1954, creating what would become Tallulah Gorge State Park. The remaining acreage was added to create the adjacent Lake Burton State Natural Area in 1979. These two parks make up the largest continuous protected area in the state, encompassing 6,500 acres.
The park offers:
- rock climbing
- mountain biking