Russell Brasstown Scenic Byway
A Bounty of Waterfalls and Georgia’s Tallest Peak
|Mileage||39 miles (63 km)|
|DurationThe duration is an estimate of a one-way drive and does not include any stops or side-trips.||1 hour, 14 minutes|
|SeasonsThe seasons listed are the best seasons for this scenic drive. If Winter is not mentioned, the road may be closed during the winter.||Spring, Summer, and Fall|
|Roadways||Georgia Highways 17, 180, 348, and 74A|
|Forest PassesSome of the adventures on this scenic drive require an admission fee that these passes cover. Please read the drive description for more information.||America the Beautiful Annual Pass|
|ServicesThe cities or towns listed have either Food or Services such as gas, hotels, pharmacies, etc.||Cleveland, GA▼, Helen, GA▼, Young Harris, GA▼, Sautee, GA▼, Hiawassee, GA▼, and Blairsville, GA▼|
3.7 average from 42 votes
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Natural areas along this route require an entrance fee used to protect and maintain our most scenic treasures. Save time by purchasing your forest passes before you go.
Not far from the border of North Carolina, and about 1.5 hours from Atlanta, the Russel-Brasstown Scenic Byway loops within the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest passing lush forest, granite canyons, cool creeks, and bounteous waterfalls. From hiking, biking and horseback riding trails to wildlife viewing, bird watching, photography, canoeing and kayaking, there is much to do and see, depending on how much time you have.
We describe this drive beginning in Helen, but of course you can begin anywhere along the loop. Before heading out, visit Helen, a re-creation of a quaint Bavarian alpine village where you can stroll cobblestone streets exploring museums, antique shops, galleries and local shops.
Head north on GA-75, traveling along the Chattahoochee River. Turn right on GA-356 to visit Unicoi State Park and Lodge (H7) and the Anna Ruby Falls (H2) Recreation Area. There is a small day use fee to enter the Unicoi State Park, but you are permitted to drive through if you are just going to Anna Ruby Falls, which is a federal land and has its own entrance fee covered by the America the Beautiful Pass.
Don’t let the fees deter you as Unicoi State Park is definitely worth a visit offering recreation opportunities galore, as well as educational programs, art and craft demonstrations and photography expositions. Unicoi Lake is perfect for swimming and fishing for catfish, bluegill, and bass. There is also a handicapped accessible fishing dock. The Frog Pond Nature Trail is an easy 1/3-mile loop trail which features interpretive panels exploring the local flora and fauna. If you’re up for a more strenuous hike, take the Smith Creek Trail, which travels 5-miles (one way) to Anna Ruby Falls. You can walk a paved road or arrange for someone to pick you up if you’re not up for the hike back. The Visitor Center has more information about other trail options. Bikers will love the challenging Mountain Bike Trail, which was designed as a NORBA race course. There is a small fee to use this biking trail. Make it an overnight with campsites for tents and RV’s and nearby supply store, equipped cottages or cozy lodge.
Continuing on GA-356 leads to Anna Ruby Falls (H2). This popular destination features magnificent twin waterfalls, the 153-foot Curtis Creek Falls and 50-foot York Creek Falls. The falls can be seen from a number of vantage points, some with easy access and others require a hike. The Lion’s Eye Trail offers a chance for the blind or visually impaired a chance to experience nature with interpretive panels in Braille. Round out with activities such as educational programs to learn about the waterfalls, Foxfire, an algae that glows in the dark, or stargazing.
There is no outlet from Anna Ruby Falls, so you will have to backtrack to continue the drive on GA-75.
If you have time for a side trip, continue from Anna Ruby Falls on GA-356 heading east to two more state parks and a museum. Moccasin Creek State Park (H10) is the smallest of Georgia state parks but offers stellar camping and fishing along the shores of Lake Burton. You’ll find canoe and kayak rentals on-site and a nearby trout rearing station. Moccasin Creek is closed from December 1 — mid March. Check the website before heading out. At Black Rock Mountain State Park (H11) cool temperatures and panoramic views await from 3,640 feet of elevation. Enjoy 11 miles of trail ranging from the ADA half-mile round trip Falls Trail, to the popular 2.2-mile loop Tennessee Rock Trail or 7.2 mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail. Black Rock Mountain State Park is also closed from December 1 — mid March. Check the website before heading out. Nearby, is the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center (M1) which showcases the pioneer culture of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Discover original and reconstructed log cabins, tools, trades, crafts and more. There is a fee to enter.
Continuing along the byway on GA-75, stop at the Andrews Cove Recreation Area (H1). Walk the 2-mile Andrews Cove Trail which follows an old logging road and creek. Here you will also find an access point to the Appalachian Trail and camping.
The road curves its way to High Shoals Creek Falls Scenic Area (H13). Revel in beautiful vistas along the High Shoals Scenic Area and Falls Trail. This short 2.6 mile round trip passes two small waterfalls. First, view Blue Hole Falls from the wooden observation decks and continue hiking down to High Shoals Creek Falls. This is the perfect hike for hot days as the basin makes a great swimming hole. Having water shoes will come in handy.
Turn left on GA-180. Then take the steep, winding Spur-180 to Brasstown Bald Mountain (H9). Rising 4784-feet, Brasstown Bald is the tallest peak in Georgia and delivers unparalleled, glorious views of rolling mountains and valleys long into 4 states. At the summit is the Brasstown Bald Mountain Visitor Information Center, (closed in winter) with museum and fascinating exhibits. Walk all, or part of the Arkaquah Trail which makes a round trip of 11-miles if you visit Track Rock Petroglyphs or the 1.2-mile Brasstown Bald Trail where rhododendron’s flower in June. Evening visits are popular for spectacular sunsets and autumn is a big draw for the brilliant hues of red, yellow and orange foliage. There is an entrance fee covered by the America the Beautiful Pass.
Our route backtracks to GA-180. In a few miles, you can drive to the Track Rock Petroglyphs (A2) by turning right on Trackrock Gap Road. One of the most important rock art sites in the Southeastern U.S., the carvings are believed to be created by Cherokee and/or the Catabwa and Creek Indians more than 3,600 years ago. The site is free to enter.
The official byway continues along GA-180 towards GA-348. At this intersection you may want to detour on US-19 South for a side trip to Vogel State Park (H8). Located at the base of Blood Mountain, this park is one of Georgia’s oldest and features many buildings constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corp. Lake Trahlyta is open to non-motorized boats making this a peaceful retreat for swimming, fishing and tent camping and cabin rentals. Take the easy one mile trail that circles the lake and spur trail which leads to the 110-foot Trahlyta Falls. While in the area, continue south on US-129 to Desoto Falls Scenic Area (H3), then hike to the falls which cascade like a delicate veil. Enjoy trout fishing on Frogtown Creek and overnight camping. There is a day use fee covered by the America the Beautiful Pass.
Continuing on GA-348, two more waterfalls await. Raven Cliff Falls (H5) cascade down three separate drops, and flows through a split in a granite outcrop into Dodd Creek. Access is via a moderate 5-mile round trip hike through canopied forest and bright green moss.
The 2-mile round trip well-maintained trail to the Dukes Creek Falls (H4) leads to misty observation decks and the rush of water down over the granite. The first .1-mile is an accessible path which leads to a nice view point.
Dukes Creek continues through Smithgall Woods State Park (H6) offering prime trout fishing. Anglers should call ahead for reservations as spots are limited. Also enjoy hiking, biking, wildlife watching, educational programs and overnight camping and cabin rentals.
Our drive ends as we return to Helen, GA. but we recommend a few more stops if time allows.
In Helen, visit the Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound (A1), a burial site now listed on National Register of Historical Places.
Heading west on SR-52, visit the Amicalola Falls State Park (H12). At 729-feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. Many viewpoints, hikes, educational programs, a mountain-top lodge and campsites make this a prime destination, especially in autumn for leaf-peeping. Stretching from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine is the 2,175 mile long Appalachian Trail. Begin your journey here — or take the 8.6-mile Three Forks Trail for a moderate day trip that explores diverse terrain and culminates with breathtaking views from the summit of Springer Mountain.
Or head east to Tallulah Gorge State Park (H14). Carved by the Tallulah River, the 2-mile long gorge drops to a depth of almost 1000-feet. Surrounded by mountains, enjoy rugged, pristine natural beauty and panoramic views. The surrounding forest is home for birds, reptiles, and endangered peregrine falcons, as well as the persistent trillium, a delicate flower found no where else in the world. Learn about the history, wildlife and geology of the gorge at the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center which features state-of-the-art displays, regional information and the opportunity to sign up for ranger-guided hikes and programs. Hiking the North and South Rim Trails is an easy way to observe picture-perfect views of the gorge and five waterfalls. If you want to get close up and personal, be prepared for an extensive stair-climb. A hike on the Hurricane Falls Loop Trail to the gorge floor includes 1,099 stairs and crosses a cool suspension bridge that sways 80-feet above the rocky strewn bottom. While crossing, think of Karl Wallenda, who bravely walked across the gorge on a tightrope in 1970. Note that a permit is required to hike to the gorge floor. Only 100 are available each day, so we recommend you get there early on peak summer weekends. Have proper footwear, no sandals flip flops or crocs, or you will be denied a permit. Pack a bathing suit, towel, water shoes to best enjoy the natural rock slide into a refreshing pool of icy water. And don’t forget to save your energy, snacks and water for the climb back up. Other park amenities include mountain bike trails, swimming, fishing, rock climbing, and campsites for tents, trailers and RVs. A few times a year, for only a few hours, the dam is opened, and the rush of white water is a draw for thrill-seeking extreme kayakers. All Georgia State parks charge a parking fee.
If you are heading south towards Atlanta, don’t miss the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park (A3). Rich in history, the park preserves the Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign in 1864. Take the self-guiding auto tour to the top of the mountain, which explores many sites, including the 24-Gun Battery, Wallis House and Sherman/Thomas Headquarters. The Visitor Center features a film and exhibits along with hiking information and the museum enlightens via interpretive panels and artifacts such as uniforms, a Confederate saber, telescope and much more. Learn more about the Cherokee people who had roots here since before 1,000 B.C. In the 1830’s they were forced to relocate due to the discovery of gold. Their journey is known as the Trail of Tears. Entrance to the park is free.