A short drive from Alpine Helen exists a dark forest and cool waterfalls, just waiting to be explored.
A short drive from Alpine Helen exists a dark forest and cool waterfalls, just waiting to be explored.

Raven Cliffs Trail: Hiking in North Georgia with Kids

 

Hiking in North Georgia with Kids

The worn footpath wound upwards, hugging the mountainside. I kept my eyes on the thick roots jutting out from the red Georgia clay beneath my feet, so as not to trip. Why on earth I had chosen to wear swim shoes instead of sneakers? What was I thinking? We had spent the earlier part of the day wading through a mountain creek, but that was hours ago. I could hear the roar of the water, cascading over the rocks at a dizzying depth below. A couple of Japanese guys had climbed down to the waterfall to take photos. I wondered how they were going to get back up. Ahead there was a passing zone on the trail, where a couple heading back to the trail head, stepped around a tree to let us pass.

“Is it far?” My husband asked.

“Only a mile or so to go.” The man answered. “All uphill.”  My legs wobbled at the thought. Our daughter groaned. Welcome to hiking in north Georgia with kids.

We love to visit the northern parts of Georgia, with the mountains, creeks and waterfalls, so vastly different from the flat lands of Florida, and when the summer temperatures soar to the triple digits at home, the mountains of Georgia make the perfect escape. We have visited the area around Helen, Georgia for years, but this was our first trek through the wilds of the Chattahoochee National Forest on Raven Cliffs Trail.

There are incredible waterfalls on the way to Raven Cliffs falls
There are incredible waterfalls on the way to Raven Cliffs falls

 

Raven Cliffs Trail

Located near Alpine Helen on the Russell/Brasstown Scenic Byway, Raven Cliffs Trail Head is an unassuming little parking area with the only toilet in the area. The trail through Raven Cliff Wilderness Area is 5 miles round trip, uphill hiking (this mileage amount is often disputed, and according to our own hike, we logged over 6 miles on our trek). It follows Dodd creek, winding over it and around it all the way to Raven Cliffs, so the sound of water is everywhere. Primitive camping is permitted in this area, and there were several  noisy campsites set up near the trail head, half a mile and more in, there are nicer, quieter  flat sites beside the creek (bring your bug spray!). The canopy overhead is so dense in places that we thought it was going to storm at some point, but it was the trees, not clouds.

Raven Cliffs Trail winds through the Raven Cliff Wilderness Area in North Georgia
Raven Cliffs Trail winds through the Raven Cliff Wilderness Area in North Georgia

We visited this trail on a weekend, so it was busy with visitors, families and lots of people hiking with their dogs. There were plenty of places to stop and wade in the creek and waterfalls along the trail. The actual cliffs of Raven Cliffs are sheer rock walls (like a fortress) with water cascading through them. It’s a steep climb through rubble-like rocks on the final part, but we clambered up and were rewarded with a pool of ice cool water to wade our tired feet. We met another hiker who climbed further up to the top of the cliffs and said you could see everywhere. We stayed in the shadow of the cliffs and by the waterfall.

A great outdoor adventure and chance to explore wild Georgia, this trail is strenuous, and great for families with teen/tweens.

Things to know before you go:

  1. The trail head compost toilet is the only toilet around and it has no running water.
  2. Bring your own drinking water. We carry ours in a day pack. Even though the trail follows a creek, think before you drink.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes.
  4. Be aware and watch out for snakes (though we did not see any on this adventure).
  5. If you plan on camping, hike farther in, and remember to carry your trash out.
  6. Watch your kids. Parts of the trail are literally cliff hugging with drop offs. Accidents can happen on the trail. And the rocks at the waterfalls are super slippery.

    Waterfalls on the Raven Cliffs Trail near Helen, Georgia
    Waterfalls on the Raven Cliffs Trail near Helen, Georgia

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