Saturday, September 30, 2017

Anna Ruby Falls

Anna Ruby Falls
1 mile round trip, 160 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy
Access: Paved road to trailhead, $3/person entrance fee required (Federal Interagency Passes accepted)

Tumbling off the slopes of Tray Mountain in the north Georgia Blue Ridge, Curtis and York Creeks together form the parallel pair of cascading water at Anna Ruby Falls. The hike through lush forest along a burbling Appalachian stream to this waterfall is paved and easy, making this a perfect scenic hike for hikers of just about any skill and fitness level.

I hiked this trail on a one-day whirlwind tour of the north Georgia; after arriving at Atlanta Hartsfield early in the morning on a red-eye, I hopped in a car and drove north, doing other short hikes at Blood Mountain and Brasstown Bald. This was the last of the three hikes of the day before I returned to Atlanta; I was lucky that I was able to see the falls at all, as the access road had only reopened after being temporarily blocked by debris from Hurricane Irma just two days before I arrived. For hikers driving up from Atlanta, the fastest approach is likely to take I-85 north, then I-985 north until it turns into US 23 and the freeway ends; turning left onto Georgia 384 a while after passing Gainesville and following it until coming to Georgia 75; turning right onto Georgia 75 and following it through faux-Bavarian Alpine Helen, then following the signs for Unicoi State Park and turning right onto Georgia 356 a mile north of Helen. About a mile up the road, I took a left onto the road signed for Anna Ruby Falls and followed it past the Unicoi State Park facilities until I reached the USFS-operated recreation area around Anna Ruby Falls at the end of the road.

Faux-Bavarian Helen
The entrance fee at the falls is $3 per person. As Anna Ruby Falls is operated by Chattahoochee National Forest and thus run by the US Forest Service, entrance to the site is included with any federal interagency lands pass, including the America the Beautiful Pass; however, my experience both here and at Brasstown Bald suggests that these passes very rarely show up in north Georgia, as USFS employees at both sites were initially hesitant to accept the pass before I explained the scope of lands covered by the federal interagency passes. If you have a federal interagency pass and it is refused at the site, you can direct USFS employees to the Chattahoochee National Forest webpage covering this site.

The trail starts right behind a gift shop and visitor center at the large trailhead parking lot. The wide, paved trail starts on the west (left) bank of Smith Creek, ascending fairly gently through a hardwood forest with plentiful rhododendrons and mountain laurel in the understory. This would undoubtedly be a splendid hike in May and June when floral blooms would decorate the trailside.

Trail to Anna Ruby Falls
In 200 yards, the trail crossed Smith Creek on a well-built bridge and offered close-up views of the small cascades on the burbling stream.

Smith Creek cascades down Tray Mountain
The trail continued on the east bank of the creek, following the creek close enough that I could closely observe many of the small, pleasant cascades. I was surprised that there was still decent flow in the stream at the close of summer, as most Blue Ridge streams in Virginia tend to dry up late in the summer; I wasn't sure whether Georgia streams fared better or whether the reasonably good water flow was due to a thuderstorm earlier that afternoon. The slopes around the trail steepened as the trail began entering the canyon that housed the falls; large rock outcrops rose directly from the side of the paved trail.

Cascades on Smith Creek
A few more minutes of walking brought me to two viewing platforms at the foot of Anna Ruby Falls marking the end of the hike. The lower platform, on the right (east) side of the creek had a better view of the falls as a whole: the waterfall is really three separate drops, two on Curtis Creek totalling a 150-feet drop and one smaller drop on York Creek; the lower drop on Curtis Creek happened to lie just yards away from the waterfall on York Creek and the two creeks merged to form Smith Creek immediately below the twin falls. The upper viewing platform, on the other side of the creek, had a close-up view of the lower Curtis Creek falls; however, the other two drops were at least partially obscured there.

Anna Ruby Falls
There were a fair number of people visiting the falls even on a hot, humid midweek day with thunderstorms, so it's likely that this spot attracts hoards of visitors on nice weekends. Nonetheless, the waterfall is very pretty and certainly worth a visit for hikers in Atlanta or elsewhere in north Georgia.

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