Desoto Falls, Georgia

Photo by me, May 2018.

Last Sunday I was up and out early to make the drive up to Desoto Falls in far northern Lumpkin County in the Blood Mountain Wilderness. Desoto Falls is located just south of the Appalachian Trail crossing on U.S. Highway 19 at Walasi-Yi.

Photo by me, May 2018.

Desoto Falls is named after Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who is said to have explored this area in the 1540s. Now it is without a doubt that de Soto did explore many parts of Georgia including the North Georgia Mountains in the 1500s. Hernando de Soto is considered to be the first European to explore the interior portions of the southeastern United States. Historians do have a good idea from the expedition records where de Soto's party explored but there is no exact route known where he did travel. So to claim that armor that was found near the waterfalls is from his party does make for an interesting legend but the claim may be dubious. Nonetheless, Desoto Falls is named after him just as the Desoto Falls in Alabama is too.

Never in my time in the woods have I encountered warnings of "people have died" here and other warnings of potential death, that was until I visited Desoto Falls in the mountains of North Georgia.

The sign above in the photo states, "several people on the waterfalls and fallen to their death." Note that it says several.

This is one of those people that have unfortunately died at Desoto Falls by falling to their death. He was a teenage boy from Virginia that was camping with his family at the campground at Desoto in 2013. He disappeared from their campsite at night and was found the next morning at the bottom of the falls dead.

Photo by me, May 2018.

Yet another sign warning visitors that people have died on these waterfalls by being careless. This sign is at the base of the largest waterfall at Desoto. You might notice the cross on the sign with the blue ribbon. The name on the cross is of the person that I mentioned above that died here in 2013.

With all the posted warnings here you might think Desoto Falls would be the most dangerous place in the state, but it is no more dangerous than any other place out there in the woods. As with any time you spend out in the woods you should always exercise cautious judgement and common sense but most of all enjoy yourself. Nature is wild and can be unpredictable so taking unnecessary risks may result in injury or death any time you set foot into the woods. Accidents will happen and never will you be able to safeguard against every hazard, but you can use common sense to help minimize your risks.

That being said, Desoto Falls is no more dangerous than any other waterfall out there. Yes, it is a huge waterfall and people have died there but you can easily fall and kill yourself on a small waterfall too on the slick wet rocks. So do not let the deaths and warning scare you away from visiting Desoto because it is safe if you use common use and stay on the trails.

Photo by me, May 2018.

If the warnings of death by falling were not enough to scare you, there are the bears that might get you. I saw two warnings posted about bears being active in the area. In the North Georgia Mountains this type of warning is not uncommon to see especially in area near campgrounds where there is food. In all my time hiking and camping in these mountains I have yet to encounter a bear, outside of the Smokies, but I know that eventually I am going to see one. Bears generally do not like humans and will often run away if you make enough noise. Yes, it is possible you might see a black bear out there and if you do here is good advice.

After all the warnings and a little history let's get started on the hike.

Frogtown Creek. Photo by me, May 2018.

The trail leaves the parking lot then passes through a picnic area, follows a paved road along the edge of the campground and then you come to your first water crossing via a bridge over Frogtown Creek.

The last bridge before reaching the upper falls. Photo by me, May 2018.

Once across the creek there is a directional sign pointing you to the trail on the left for the lower falls and to the right for the upper falls. The signage also notes that from that spot it is one quarter of a mile to the lower falls and three quarters of a mile to the upper falls.

The trail to the upper falls. Photo by me, May 2018.
The trail to the upper falls. Photo by me, May 2018.
On the way back to the trailhead. Frogtown Creek is on the left with campground adjacent to it. Photo by me, May 2018.

I decided to do the longer hike to the upper falls first because fewer people were going in that direction. This trail has a couple of additional water crossings via bridge but mostly it follows an old logging road on a gradual climb to the falls. Frogtown Creek will be on your right most of the way to the falls.

The serene and dense forest along the trail. Photos by me, May 2018.

The trail is wide on the old road and an easy hike even in hot and humid conditions on the day that I hiked it. If you are in decent shape you will have no issues on this hike. The trail passes through a dense forest that is relatively young with tall slender timber and thickets of rhododendron in the understory. I strongly advise staying on the trail because it would be very easy to get lost if you wandered too far from the trail into the steep terrain of the Blood Mountain Wilderness.

Photo by me, May 2018.

This is the upper falls and middle falls - a multi-tiered waterfall that plunges off the side of Rocky Mountain.

As with most all waterfalls in the Georgia the amount of water flowing is going to be less in the late spring into the early fall. For the best viewing experience in terms of higher amounts of white water the late fall, through winter and into early spring are the best times to view them.

Photo by me, May 2018.

There was a wooden viewing platform at the base of the waterfall but it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. All that remains now are the concrete base supports.

Photo by me, May 2018.

Now if you wish to go further up the side of the waterfall, the trail is open according to the U.S. Forest Service. There was no sign or barrier to prevent you from going further up this narrow trail to the very top of the waterfall. This trail had been closed for many, many years after damage from snowstorms and hurricanes but it is considered open now. I opted not to go to the very top.

Now to get to the lower falls which are on another creek and not Frogtown Creek you have to retrace your hike back to the first bridge where the directional sign is located. The trail to the lower falls is one quarter of a mile long.

This trail caught me off guard as to how steep it is even if it is a short trail. This trail rapidly climbs the side of the mountain through a series of switchbacks and stone stairs. This trail is nothing like the easy trail to the upper falls.

Photo by me, May 2018.

From a set of stone stairs looking down the side of the mountain. There were several large trees that were felled during Hurricane Irma that had to be cut and removed off the trail.

Hurricanes and snowstorms can do a lot of damage to the Georgia mountains. Related to to this, here you can see some landslides that I witnessed just north of Helen last year after Hurricane Irma on Georgia Highway 17.

The lower falls. Photo by me, May 2018.

The lower falls once you arrive are smaller than the other waterfall but it is still impressive in person. The wooden viewing deck is still intact here and there are benches to take in the view and rest.

Desoto Falls is a popular destination so despite the potential dangers it is very much worth visiting. The hikes here are relatively short and easy and you can see two waterfalls in one stop.