Olde Mountain Tales
We pulled into the drop-off to register for our online reserved camping site. Bear Parking Only signs made us smile. Just two miles northeast of Helen, Unicoi State Park & Lodge is centered around beautiful Lake Unicoi here in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.
The 1,000-acre park offers unparalleled hiking trails leading to Anna Ruby Falls and Helen, Georgia, an alpine town with a Bavarian-inspired spirit of architecture and festivals of fun.
Smith Creek – a peaceful tributary of the Chattahoochee River – winds from the base of Anna Ruby Falls to Unicoi Lake and is a celebrated trout fishing spot.
It all began 300 million years ago. You are in mountains that are part of the Blue Ridge, which runs from Virginia through North and South Carolina into Georgia. The geology here is ancient. When the continental plates collided, Earth’s surface buckled and heaved these mountains upward. Erosion over millennia has given us their present form.
These are old mountain tales. As you hike, tune into the sounds of the wind rustling the leaves, the birds calling from their branches, the pleasing sound of rushing water coming closer as you near one of the many waterfalls in this pristine region.
We loved the easy hike to Anna Ruby Falls from its park entrance on a paved surface with slight inclines and an average of 45 minutes round trip. It’s actually two falls for the joy of just one!
Did you know? Legend says a local Civil War soldier, Colonel John H. “Captain” Nichols, found these falls on horseback and named them after his only daughter, Anna Ruby.
Tumbling down from Tray Mountain, Curtis and York Creeks flow over exposed granite to form these two beautiful falls.
- The taller of the waterfalls forms from Curtis Creek and cascades 153 feet.
- York Creek joins it with a 50-foot waterfall drop.
At the base of these falls begins Smith Creek. And here’s where the ultimate journey starts. Rain and snow melt to increase the rush of these waters on its 550-mile journey through Georgia and Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. Wave to the people on the beaches far south of here because you are connected by mountain streams!
Rhododendron is indigenous to this region. Commonly seen along stream sides, this flowering tree is sacred to the Cherokee. Did you know the leaves are poisonous? Still, the ancestors of this land would grind the roots into pulp to treat arrow wounds.
Take a closer look: Take notice in late winter that the tightly curled leaves will begin to unfurl. The tighter they are curled, the colder the winter has been.
Back at the campsite, we relaxed by the heat of our fire ring and roasted s’mores as the stars and constellations wink into view on dark nights without clouds. We are so grateful to be camping before the busy-ness of summer.
I hope nature treats you as gracefully as it did us on our long weekend camping trip. Here’s how you can go, too:
Book Your Stay: The Unicoi Lodge has 96 recently renovated lodge rooms, and 29 Georgia State Park cabins across the 1,000+ acre property. Tent camping, R/V sites and glamping are also available. A complimentary lodge shuttle provides a ride to and from Helen and Anna Ruby Falls. Your driver is a local resident, so have fun gleaning town to-dos (tips are appreciated). Check out a calendar of activities at Unicoi State Park & Lodge.
By Denver Smith