Close your eyes and imagine a waterfall. How do you feel? A handful of natural memories are so overwhelming to the senses that they never fade. An Appalachian waterfall has a subtle earthy smell from the rocks and vegetation being disturbed; it produces a cool breeze felt through the humid mountain air; it surrounds you with mist; it bathes you in an insulated yet spacious, clean white-noise; and it sparkles in your eyes like a jewel. Helen puts dozens of Blue Ridge waterfalls within reach, each its own natural meditation. Late winter to early spring is undoubtedly waterfall season. Here are the reasons why you should visit now, followed by the falls that top tourist lists.
In the lush Blue Ridge foothills, weather rarely prohibits enjoyment. That said, sweaty and peaceful may not go together in your mind. July temperatures average 84 degrees here. Late February and early March, on the other hand, range from lows in the mid-30s to highs in the upper-50s—this is “crisp weather” that many waterfall seekers expect. An early morning trip may yield a magical blanket of fog on the water parted by the falls. You probably won’t need gloves, but a small day pack can guarantee you stay comfortable throughout the experience.
Hiking to the falls is just a little easier when the underbrush is still thinned by winter. You also have more view options and clear views with fewer leaves. This is the time for the perfect picture—so have your phone handy and be ready for a quick Insta-worthy shot.
Mosquitoes prefer temperatures that remain above the 50s. If you want to really take your time sitting still in front of the falls, bugs may be a deterrent in summer. Further, undergrowth returning inevitably means ticks, fleas, and other stinging creatures will be more prevalent. This is the comfortable time of year you don’t need bug spray.
Helen is a Bavarian-styled village, just 1.5 hours from Atlanta, and it’s the Oktoberfest capital of the South. We have 200 shops packed into two square miles. At the same time, the bustling little town is surrounded by peaceful mountains and streams and wide swaths of national forest. While we love our tourists milling about in our town square, there are many ways to visit and experience this area. In fact, the crowds are nearly as predictable as the seasonal weather changes—and Helen only has about 400 full time residents! Late winter and early spring wins for having most of the outdoors attractions to yourself before everyone is off for summer vacation, before Oktoberfest, and after the winter celebrations that bring the most traffic.
Extra persons and pets will appreciate all of the above points if you are planning on bringing company. Now let’s talk about the waterfalls themselves:
Anna Ruby Falls (5.6 miles from downtown)
Tray Mountain, the seventh highest peak in Georgia (4,430ft) is the origin for two creeks that come together gloriously by dropping in tandem at Anna Ruby Falls. Curtis Creek drops a dramatic 153 feet, while York Creek comes in lower and drops 50 feet. They fall together in a symphonious series of smaller rocky tumbles. The hike to the falls is a one-mile paved trail, which offers observation decks and a picnic area. As a top waterfall in the state, it can be a very busy place, but not this time of year. Enjoy the 1,600-acre Ruby Falls Scenic area while you are here. It’s all pet and kid friendly.
Raven Cliff Falls (7 miles from downtown)
If you are inspired by dramatic mossy rock formations, this primeval waterfall is for you. Follow peaceful Dodd Creek along several smaller drops before it suddenly falls and splits a granite outcrop. You will hear the sound of the double-cascading fall build as you walk the well-maintained, 5-mile round-trip trail. Tent camping areas near the falls are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Dukes Creek Falls (7 miles from downtown)
Just south of the Ravens Cliff trailhead, Dukes Creek Falls Trail provides a view of Yonah Mountain and the payoff of a waterfall that drops nearly 200 feet. The first tenth of a mile segment of this 2-mile trail is paved and leads to the first and tallest of three viewing decks.
High Shoals and Blue Hole Falls (11.9 miles from downtown)
In neighboring Towns County, you can see two unique waterfalls in one 2.5-mile round-trip hike. Cross a covered bridge and a stream in the course of seeing the majestic 50-foot High Shoals Falls and continue to the more serene Blue Hole Falls, known for its crystal-clear pool. Enjoy some quiet time at the Blue Hole Falls observation deck and reflect on an adventure well spent.
If you expand your radius from Helen as a homebase, you’ll find that you can make several trips back before ever exhausting your unique options. Once you see those above, you’ll want to quietly sneak back to Helen every year to see them again. Late winter and early spring comprise our true waterfall season (but you might want to keep that secret to yourself!).
For a list of cozy mountain accommodations you’ll love waking up to while you’re in Helen, click here now.