It’s one of the most beautiful and accessible waterfalls in the mountains of North Georgia. But you have to know its there or you’ll miss it like I almost did during my trip through these mountains. Bring a camera, plan to stay for awhile, and you’ll have a great time exploring Anna Ruby Falls in Helen, Georgia.
The adventure begins at the Visitor Center in a large parking lot with plenty of room for cars, RV’s, and campers. The 0.9-mile roundtrip hike follows a paved path, making it one of the most accessible waterfalls in the state. The path does get a bit steep at points but I passed two people in wheelchairs the day I visited.
The path meanders along Smith Creek, crossing it once just a few minutes from the parking lot, and then again near the waterfalls. There are several cascading waterfalls to enjoy along the way and even the warmest of summer days feels cool beneath the canopy of leaves.
At the end of the trail are two wooden observation decks. The lower observation deck sits atop a few stone steps and the upper deck a short set of stairs. However, those in wheelchairs can still enjoy the view of the twin waterfalls from the bridge that crosses between the observation decks.
The upper observation deck has a few bench seats and stretches out a bit toward the falls. This was my “basecamp” for about an hour as I captured photos of the falls and then sat back with a good book. The roar filled my ears with noise but didn’t overwhelm me or distract me. It was a great place to take a break and enjoy a bit of nature.
One of the neat additions to the hiking options at Anna Ruby Falls is the Lion’s Eye Trail. This short trail was designed for the blind or those with visual impairments. Several interpretive signs are written in braille so people can learn a bit about the forest while hiking the trail.
More ambitious hikers can reach the waterfalls from nearby Unicoi State Park via the 8.7-mile Smith Creek Trail. This moderately strenuous trail ascends nearly 800′ from the park’s campground to Anna Ruby Falls while climbing over Smith Mountain in between (the waterfall is just 400′ higher in elevation than the trailhead).
The trail follows the Sautee Ditch, a 7-mile waterway that was created during Georgia’s gold rush in the late 1800s. This trail is not handicap accessible at all as it climbs stairs, crosses footbridges, and has a pretty steep section leading up Smith Mountain. Along the way the trail crosses a few creeks while hidden beneath a canopy of leaves that provides good shade on sunny days.
If you’re thinking the climb might be a bit too much, try hiking the trail one-way from Anna Ruby Falls to Unicoi State Park. This route has a modest 400′ ascent up Smith Mountains and then a near-steady descent to the state park from there, making for a much easier hike.
You have to know about Anna Ruby Falls or you may never find it on your own. It’s in a bit of a hidden area just north of Helen, Georgia. The official address is 3455 Anna Ruby Falls Road, Helen, GA, and that address plugged into my GPS got me there. But cellphone signal was very weak so you may not be able to rely on cellular data for your GPS.
The visitor center is located at the end of a road on the east side of Unicoi Lake, part of Unicoi State Park. You’ll pass the Beach House, a popular place for recreation on the lake, along the way to the visitor center. The road loops around and back to the campground, but you’ll want to turn onto Anna Ruby Falls Road. Five minutes later you’re there.
The waterfalls are maintained by the Cradle of Forestry in America (they also operate the attraction at Brasstown Bald). The gates are open 9am – 6pm daily, but they may close under severe winter weather conditions. They also charge an admission fee of $3 per person.
The Anna Ruby Falls Visitor Center has a large gift shop with local arts and crafts, books, and clothing, restrooms, and a place to fill up your water bottles before hitting the trails.