Tallulah Gorge State Park is a natural wonder in Georgie that families will really enjoy. With gorgeous hiking, waterfalls, swimming holes, and more, the park is full of the stuff that amazing and memorable day trips are made of, so get packing. Kristina tells us all about how to enjoy this beautiful Georgia State Park, what to expect, and even where to grab something to eat.
Day Trip to Tallulah Gorge
It’s a day trip! Getting to Tallulah Gorge State Park, approximate driving time from:
- Greenville, SC 90 minutes
- Atlanta, GA 90 minutes
- Columbia, SC just under 3 hours
- Charlotte, NC 3 hours
Planning to stay awhile? If you’re planning a family vacation or weekend getaway, here’s where to stay near Tallulah Gorge State Park. Note: Kidding Around earns when you book through this link via an affiliate relationship with STAY22.
Tallulah Gorge State Park is only 90 minutes from Greenville yet seems a world apart when you get to the vast gorge. I had no idea a place like this existed. I was researching some hiking trails and wanted to stay within a certain driving distance and decided to check this place out. I wasn’t disappointed! The park is very unique and I’ve got all the info you need to know before you visit this nearby wonder.
History of the Tallulah Gorge State Park
The land at Tallulah Falls was originally inhabited by the Cherokee, who called it Ugunyi, and they lived there until white settlers appeared in 1820. The Cherokee typically avoided the falls and did not hunt there but the white settlers flocked there, inspired by the beauty of the waterfalls through the gorge. The town of Tallulah Falls became a summer destination for wealthier families, especially once the railroads were laid in the region in 1882 from Atlanta. The town became a resort town and by 1897 it had three churches, hotels, post office, and restaurants, all supported via the tourism industry.
At the turn of the century, power companies began competing for the rights to dam the falls for hydroelectricity. Conservation efforts led by Helen Dortch Longstreet, who saw the possible destruction of the beauty of the gorge happening because of the power companies, laid the groundwork for the state park. The dam was completed in 1913, which created a lake above the gorge and at the time, supplied North Georgia and Atlanta with electricity. It’s still in operation today but is a smaller component to the electricity grid.
The state park was created in 1992 and on weekends in the spring, summer, and fall, controlled releases from the dam invite brave kayakers to run the falls a handful of weekends out of the year. Hiking on the gorge floor is prohibited during these releases, the dates of which can be found on the Tallulah Gorge website.
The gorge was formed by the strong currents of the Savannah River, which cut through the rock. It’s about 1,000 feet deep and two miles long.
Hiking at Tallulah Gorge State Park
There are 20 miles of hiking trails at the park and they have everything from strenuous and challenging to leisurely and easy. There are maps everywhere at the gorge and inside the Interpretive Center so be sure to grab one and or take a screenshot.
The North and South rim trails are easy (about 3 miles total for both trails) and the overlooks are stunning. You can see straight down into the gorge and check out all the waterfalls. On the summer day we first visited, the clouds were wisping in and out of the canyon and it was beautiful. There are signs at each overlook that tells you what you’re looking at. I cannot even imagine how stunning this place must look when the leaves change color in the fall.
The suspension bridge is what you may see photos of when you Google the park. I love suspension bridges and was excited to see this one – my first question to the Park Ranger was how to get to it! It swings 80 feet above the gorge floor and is so beautiful. But here’s the thing: you have to walk down (and then back up) 620 metal steps. These steps are no joke: they are steep and one of the Rangers told me a lot of rescues happen on these stairs because people think they can do it and then find out they cannot make it back up.
An important thing to note is that dogs are not allowed on this trail or the Sliding Rock Trail on the gorge floor.
We did the hike down into the gorge to see Hurricane Falls and then back up to the South Rim and headed off to the North Rim for a total of a little over two miles. My kids (ages 11 and 7) and I are experienced hikers and while the stairs were pretty brutal, we didn’t have any issues completing the hike. One thing to note is that the connection of the North and South rim trails is over a busy highway bridge at the dam. You don’t have to cross the road but you do need to keep a close eye on your kids if you choose this route.
One cool thing on the North Rim trail was the old remnants of the tower that 65-year-old tightrope walker Karl Wallenda used when he took 18 minutes to walk across a steel tightrope on July 18, 1970. Inside the Interpretive Center are photos, a portion of the cable he used, and tickets that were distributed that day. So cool!
I made an Instagram Reel about our visit that you may enjoy.
The Sliding Rock (Gorge Floor) Trail
I hiked the Gorge floor on my second trip to Tallulah Gorge and had read so many reviews of the trail and what to expect. I really try to be prepared and my kids and I all had enough water and snacks and the right hiking shoes. I did have second thoughts when a Ranger asked me directly, “do you know how dangerous this is?”. I mean, yes, I had an idea. But of course, hiking it is a whole other beast. Let me tell you how it went.
So, you need to know that there are only 100 permits per day that the park gives out. They are free but they are also in demand. To get one, you need to get to the park at least 30 minutes before they open and wait at the gate. Then you’ll be let in, able to park, and wait in line at the Interpretive Center. The other variable is weather: if it rained the night before or is raining that morning or the Gorge is releasing water from the dam, they won’t issue a permit. So watch the weather and look at the Gorge website to check the dates of the dam release.
We had camped right at the park the night before and ended up hiking the half mile or so from the campground to the Interpretive Center in the morning and were the very first people in line at 7:20 am (the park opens at 8 am). About 20 minutes later, the gates must have opened because cars just poured in. By 8 am, there was easily 100 people in line. A ranger came out to tell everyone that if you were wearing Crocs or flip-flops, you wouldn’t get a permit no matter if you were one of the first 100 people in line.
Once the doors opened, the ranger led us and about 50 other people to the bottom floor of the Interpretive Center for a safety class. The ranger had photos of the trail, gave us tips on water crossings and making sure to tell us that Oceana Falls, which looks a little like Bridal Veil (aka Sliding Rock) Falls, was definitely not the right one to swim at because it was “bone-breaking.” That waterfall was hence known as Bone Breaking Falls to us. See how you remember things?! He told us to make sure we had the right shoes and plenty of water and that this was not a hike for inexperienced hikers or little kids. This class lasted about 15 minutes and then we each got a permit and were on our way.
There are water fountains in the Interpretive Center so we filled our water bottles and headed down the stairs to Hurricane Falls where we would open the permit-only gate and head to the unmarked trail down to Sliding Rock, the only place in the Gorge you are allowed to swim.
The very first water crossing was a doozy. We had three kids ages 8-11 with us who were all experienced hikers, as are my friend and myself who went. My friend ended up getting in the water almost up to her waist halfway through the crossing to help the kids across. I was next in the water and slipped on a rock but caught my balance before tumbling in the water. The kids did awesome. It was so fun!
Then the next mile, which felt like forever, was all over boulders, walking over crevasses and drops, and crab crawling over a sloped rock above Bone Breaking Falls. That last one had me wondering what I had gotten myself into. I’m thankful my hiking boots have a really good grip. Once we got to Sliding Rock, it was even more fun to slide down the nearly 20-ft waterfall into the pool below. I have a slight fear of doing this but figured this was a bucket list item and headed down, nearly turning my whole body around because apparently I’m awful at sliding down waterfalls. My kids tell me everyone looked over to the waterfall when they heard me scream. I was fine. Totally fine. Promise.
The absolute coolest part of this hike for me was swimming the pool below Sliding Rock and looking up at the sheer cliffs of the gorge above me. It was truly an awesome experience. Getting out of the pool was another challenge since the rocks near the edges were really slippery. We ended up swimming all the way over to the right side of the falls to get out. That’s where you need to go anyways to complete the three-mile loop trail.
That last part is a straight up rock scramble over 0.25 miles where you gain 800 feet in elevation. It’s hard but as long as you take it slow, you’ll be ok. The whole trail was a lot of fun and the kids had such a blast.
This really isn’t a trail for inexperienced hikers though. Consider your own abilities, and those of whomever will be with you, before you go and make sure you have the proper footwear and water with you. Always carry a first aid kit as well and just take your time. I’m used to hiking a three-mile trail in a hour and a half usually with my kids. The ranger told us to plan for four hours and he was right on the money. We spent maybe an hour at Sliding Rock and the whole trip took us just over four hours. For some people, they are there all day since it’s a slow go.
The Interpretive Center
I’ve found that visitor centers at parks are truly underrated establishments. My kids and I have learned so much about local areas through just checking out the visitors’ centers wherever we travel. The Interpretive Center at Tallulah Gorge State Park is no exception. This place is a museum in and of itself!
It is two stories with a switchback walkway in the center that has animals, both alive and stuffed, to see and learn about, plus exhibits on the many habitats of the gorge, Cherokee legends, and even a mini-theater that plays a 15-minute movie about the history of the town and state park every half hour.
There is an awesome exhibit on the top floor that shows a replica of the town in the 1800s plus tells all about the Native peoples who first inhabited the land, the construction of the dam, the introduction of the railroad, and the history of the resort town.
My kids and I really enjoyed this part and spent about 40 minutes after our hike going through the exhibits and learning all about the animals and history.
Camping at Tallulah Gorge State Park
The state park offers 57 RV, tent, and backcountry sites and you can pick up the trails right from the campground. This would be ideal if you especially want to hike the Sliding Rock Trail since you can be one of the first ones in line since you’re camping there! Backcountry sites start at $20 and campsites start at $37. I thought the campground was pretty great. There are electrical outlets and water at each site and the bathhouse was really nice!
Tallulah Gorge Full Moon Hikes
This is one thing we did not do but it sounds super cool. The park will open at night so guests can hike down (and back up – remember #stairs) to the suspension bridge to see the full moon. You must register in advance and the admission is $10 in addition to the $5 parking pass. 2023 dates and times are below:
- April 5, 2023 from 8-9:30 pm
- May 5, 2023 from 7:50-9:20 pm
- June 2, 2023 from 7:45-9:15 pm
- July 1, 2023 from 7:45-9:15 pm
- July 31, 2023 from 8:30-10 pm
- August 30, 2023 from 8:30-10 pm
- September 29, 2023 from 7:45-9:15 pm
- October 28, 2023 from 6:45-8:15 pm
- November 27, 2023 from 5:45-7:15 pm
- January 25, 2024 from 6:15-7:45 pm
- February 24, 2024 from 7-8:30 pm
Tallulah Falls Lake
We saw the beautiful lake during our hike but didn’t visit it. Besides Sliding Rock, it’s the only other place you can swim at the gorge. There’s a sandy beach and picnic area for the enjoyment of guests.
The Ranger told me that if you Google “Tallulah Falls Post Office” and if you look to the right of the Post Office, there is a small area to walk down and drop in your kayak or paddleboard. You could also just drop it in at the beach. The $5 parking pass at the state park covers this lake as well. If you camp at the park, you’ll have a day-use pass you can use here.
Visiting Tallulah Gorge State Park
Admission to the park is a $5 parking fee that can be paid in cash or via an app that you scan the QR code with your phone when you get there.
Dogs are not allowed on the hike down to Hurricane Falls, the suspension bridge, Sliding Rock Trail on the gorge floor, or at the lake whatsoever. Dogs are allowed on leash on the rim trails.
Hours are 8 am – dark and the office is open daily 8 am – 5 pm.
Know your limits and health regarding the trails with the stairs. And bring enough water. There are signs everywhere indicating how difficult it is, and to bring water. We passed a couple of water bottle and water fountain filling stations on the stairs, which were much appreciated. One wasn’t working though so be prepared.
During the summer and busy fall leaf-peeping season, the park will close the gates when they reach capacity, usually pretty early, around 8:30/9 am. So if you want to go, get there when the park opens.
Please exercise Leave No Trace and pack out what you pack in and don’t litter. The park is beautiful but we saw so many discarded plastic water bottles along the stairs and it was so sad. Not only does it take away from the natural, stunning environment but it makes it really hard to pick up since it’s very steep terrain.
One of our awesome readers recommended grabbing coffee/tea and small bites at Tallulah 1882, right across the street from the park entrance. We saw it but didn’t stop so now we have to go back! After our gorge floor hike, we did stop at the general store right behind Tallulah 1882 for ice cream and it was so good. The owner was so kind also.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
338 Jane Hurt Yarn Rd, Tallulah Falls, GA
Have you been to Tallulah Gorge State Park?