Hike 0.4 miles on the easy-to-moderate Anna Ruby Falls National Recreation Trail in White County, Georgia, to see two waterfalls, streams, rock outcrops, and an interpretive nature trail.
By Tim Homan
Combined with adjoining Unicoi State Park and situated near Helen, Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area is by far the most frequently visited area in the Chattahoochee National Forest. This steeply sloped scenic area lives up to its designated status throughout the year, for it is always “scenic.” In addition to the uninterrupted splendor of the falls, each season brings its own beauty to the 1,600-acre tract. The spring blossoms, the shady lushness of summer, the autumn foliage, and the sparkling snow and unobstructed views of winter make Anna Ruby Falls a great place to visit in all seasons.
The asphalt path-which has numbered posts and a corresponding pamphlet that identifies common plants-begins at the upper end of the parking lot next to the information booth and bulletin board. The trail follows Smith Creek upstream through a predominantly hardwood forest to the base of the two waterfalls. Along the way, the turbulent brook swirls below the path, picking its way downhill through a maze of boulders. On sunny days the creek is a dazzling mixture of glinting white and green, alternately light with fast-flowing chutes and dark with short pools. Above the path, large rock outcrops and their improbably rooted trees further’ enhance the short walk.
The trail ends at the base of two waterfalls. To the left, Curtis Creek drops 153 feet in two stages, and to the right, York Creek plunges in a 50-foot column. Both streams originate from springs high upon the slopes of Tray Mountain; below their falls they mingle to become Smith Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River. Collectively known as Anna Ruby Falls, the paired cascades were named for the only daughter of Colonel John H. Nichols, who purchased the land surrounding and including the falls shortly after the Civil War.
The area was logged by Byrd-Matthews Lumber Company from 1900 to 1915, and has not been logged since. The falls were used as part of a flume to transport logs. In 1925, the federal government purchased the land to be included in the national forest; the scenic area was established in 1964.
There are two observation decks-one on either side of Smith Creek.
The lower deck is nestled close to the bottom of the 153-foot falls. Standing at the forward railing, you see tree trunks, boulders, and surging white water bisecting a framing forest; you feel the water-powered wind and mist.
Across the creek, a gravel path leads to the upper deck for a closer look at the smaller falls. On clear days, especially when the sun is overhead, rainbows quiver on the edges of plummeting York Creek.
Please stay on the paved trail. “Take only pictures-leave only footprints” is a good motto for long trails that receive little use. But here, along this short, heavily used trail through a preserved “scenic area,” leaving your footprints off the trail not only spoils the beauty of the wildflowers but also eventually destroys their habitat and leaves only mud.
Throughout: Cascading Smith Creek, boulders, and rock outcrops.
Mile 0.4: Paired waterfalls with drops from two different creeks. Curtis Creek falls 153 feet and York Creek drops 50 feet.
From Helen take GA 75 North. At Robertstown, turn right onto GA 356 toward Unicoi State Park. After traveling 1.3 miles on GA 356, tum left onto Smith Creek Road (FS 242) at the sign for Anna Ruby Falls. Follow the signs to the parking lot.
Note: The Forest Service charges a small fee to enter the scenic area. The road leading to the parking area and trailhead is gated at the scenic area boundary. The gate opens at 9:00 A.M. and closes at or near dusk year round. Visitors have permission to walk the 1.6-mile segment of road before the gate opens in the morning, but entry after the gate closes at night is forbidden.
Read more about the Chattahoochee River Corridor
- Canoe, Kayak, and Raft Georgia’s Chattahoochee River from Near Its Origin to Columbus
- Explore the entire Chattahoochee Watershed
- Take a 3-Day Driving Tour of the Chattahoochee River from the Headwaters to Apalachicola Bay
This hiking guide to the Anna Ruby Falls National Recreation Trail is adapted from The Hiking Trails of North Georgia by Tim Homan and is published in cooperation with the publisher Peachtree Publishers. With his meticulous attention to detail and accuracy, Homan has long been recognized as the authority on North Georgia hiking trail by serious hikers. His other books include Hiking Trails of Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock and Citico Creek Wilderness, Hiking the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness and others. For a complete inventory of his books see his Amazon Author Page. For an inventory of Peachtree Publishers books including its Nature books for children, go to the Peachtree Publishers website.