Much like a rumpled green quilt, the land where Georgia tucks in against the two Carolinas rises and falls in peaks and valleys that hold a variety of outdoor surprises. Some of nature's most delightful beauties are the waterfalls here.
Cool and clear, waterfalls sparkle throughout the Three Corners like gemstones on a patch of velvet. One, Whitewater Falls, sits on the border between North and South Carolina and plunges 411 feet to become the longest drop in the Eastern United States. The drive to get there twists through a forest of mixed pine and hardwoods south of Sapphire, North Carolina.
From the Whitewater Falls Recreation Area parking lot, a wheelchair-accessible blacktop path rises a short distance to a sheer dropoff with a spectacular view of the falls. From there you can descend a steep flight of stairs to a lower observation platform.
Follow U.S. 64 west from Cashiers, North Carolina, and you'll find Bridal Veil Falls, and Dry Falls, where you can go behind the water without getting wet. Or, dip down into Georgia and visit Toccoa Falls, which is higher than Niagara Falls. Then slip over to the area north of Helen for a look at Anna Ruby Falls, a beautiful double waterfall.
Amicalola Falls State Park, near Dawsonville, Georgia, claims the highest cascading waterfall in the state. From it you can take an 8-mile trail to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. If you're a fisherman, be sure to take your gear along and try your skills at catching trout in the swift mountain streams.
Amicalola Falls State Park: 240 Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville, GA 30534; (706) 265-4703.
From Canyon to Mountaintop
Eons ago, the Tallulah River created a jagged 1,000-foot-deep chasm of beauty in northeast Georgia. The river drops 500 feet in less than a mile as it runs through Tallulah Gorge. Grand Victorian hotels once overlooked the canyon, but that was before a dam was built in 1913 to tame the river's fury. When the river slowed to a trickle, most people lost interest in coming.
Then, more than 30 years ago, famed aerialist Karl Wallenda astounded onlookers as he walked a tightrope across Tallulah Gorge. Today the area around the gorge is a state park, and you can view the site of Wallenda's amazing feat from one of 10 scenic overlooks. The South Rim and North Rim trails around the edge offer spectacular views.
For a more challenging hike, take the Sliding Rock Trail to the floor of the gorge. The return trip is back up that same trail or up the 598 manmade steps of the Hurricane Falls Trail. Only a limited number of hikers are allowed into the gorge each day, and the trip takes a good half-day or more. For something a little more sedate, the park offers a 3-mile round-trip "rails to trails" path.
To reach the highest point in Georgia, head to Brasstown Bald Mountain, which rises 4,784 feet near Hiawassee. A steep 1/2-mile trail leads from the parking area to the visitors center at the top of the mountain, where you can see four states. If you're not up to the hike, ride the shuttle bus.
Tallulah Gorge State Park: P.O. Box 248, Tallulah Falls, GA 30573; (706) 754-7970 or www.gastateparks.org; for camping reservations, (706) 754-7979.
Brasstown Bald Mountain Visitor Information Center: Georgia 180 Spur, Blairsville, GA 30512; (706) 745-6928.
The Wild and Scenic Chattooga
The path of the Chattooga River, a steep slash through the Chattahoochee and Sumter National Forests between Georgia and South Carolina, is stunningly beautiful. In some places, sheer cliffs rise high above the river's sandy shores. Boulders, big as houses, reveal intricate designs carved by time, weather, and water. Silver-white waterfalls billow gracefully off mountains. And the river itself roils through rapids named Corkscrew, Jawbone, and Sock Em Dog.
Only three outfitters hold permits from the U.S. Forest Service to take passengers down the Chattooga River. These are Nantahala Outdoor Center, Southeastern Expeditions, and Wildwater Ltd. Weekends fill up fast, so make your reservations well in advance.
Those Cold Mountain Streams
Swift and clear, the area's mountain streams hold the secrets of the rainbow, brown, and native brook trout. Take along your own fishing equipment, or stop in at one of the local outfitters. They'll furnish you with everything you need. Most offer guided trips as well. Two of our favorites are in Highlands, North Carolina.
The Highland Hiker: 601 Main Street, Highlands, NC 28741; (828) 526-0441 or www.highlandhiker.com.
The Mill Creek Store: 450 North Fourth Street, U.S. 64 East, Highlands, NC 28741; (828) 526-9256. Inquire about the Orvis-certified fly-fishing school.
Exploring this rugged terrain on horseback offers an entirely different view of the Three Corners area. Trails for horses run through Sumter National Forest and the Chattahoochee National Forest, but you have to bring your own mount.
To take a horseback ride that lasts just an hour or an entire day, with horse furnished, contact Dillard House Stables in Dillard, Georgia; (706) 746-2038 or www.trhorses.com.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chattahoochee National Forest: Tallulah Ranger District, 809 U.S. 441 South, Clayton, GA 30525; (706) 782-3320. Located east of Clayton on U.S. 441.
Discover Upcountry Carolina Association: P.O. Box 3116, Greenville, SC 29602; (864) 233-2690, 1-800-849-4766, or www.upcountry-sc.org.
Highlands Chamber of Commerce: P.O. Box 404, Highlands, NC 28741; (828) 526-2112 or www.highlands-chamber.com.
Nantahala National Forest: Highlands Ranger District, 2010 Flat Mountain Road, Highlands, NC 28741; (828) 526-3765. Located between Highlands and Cashiers, off U.S. 64.
Rabun County Chamber of Commerce: 232 U.S. 441 North, Clayton, GA 30525; (706) 782-4812 or www.gamountains.com/rabun.
Sumter National Forest: Andrew Pickens Ranger District, 112 Andrew Pickens Circle, Mountain Rest, SC 29664; (864) 638-9568. Located on State 28, just about 6 miles north of Walhalla.
Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.