Tallulah Gorge State Park is one of the best parks I’ve visited in a long time—and I visit a lot of parks. Too many public spaces seem to cower in fear of liability (Pearson’s Falls & Glen is a great example). They feature waterfalls, but you can’t swim. There are large boulders, but you can’t climb them. Tallulah takes the opposite approach. They hand out 100 permits per day allowing visitors to explore the gorge floor. Get there early, because they run out pretty quickly. Once you’ve signed away your right to sue, you have access to all of the gorge.
It’s hard to properly describe why and how much I enjoyed this hike. To begin with, you can choose your own adventure. That means that everyone can enjoy the park in different ways. Most people don’t get a permit because you don’t need one to walk around the gorge and down/up the hundreds of stairs to/from the suspension bridge that spans the valley. That view alone is worth a trip to the park. But to get the most out of it, you need to get the permit.
Here’s the view from the suspension bridge.
The rangers give you a map. You need the map. They say that the gorge hike usually takes around 4 hours. I did it in 90 minutes with frequent breaks to take in the scenery. They also advise that you will get wet. I didn’t.
Once you enter the gorge floor, there is no trail. You simply rock hop and scramble along the left bank of the river past several waterfalls until you get to Bridal Veil Falls. Around there, you cross the river and pick up the trail out of the gorge. And when I say trail I mean a steep, craggy slope of boulders that you climb up. I actually crossed earlier and scrambled along the cliff face to the trail so I wouldn’t get wet.
I ran into a family at the base of the climb. The mother asked me, “this can’t be the way up, can it?” I pointed to a sign and told her that it must be. I watched the look of horror overwhelm her face. The whole family started climbing together. When I was most of the way up, I turned around and realized I couldn’t see them anymore. I never saw them again. I’m pretty sure they gave up and went back the way they came. I don’t blame them. This is exhausting.
Walking around the gorge floor is a lot of fun. Climbing out is really tough, but it’s worthwhile. Once you’re at the top, you simply walk around the rim of the gorge and cross at the dam. There are several overlooks along the way that offer spectacular views.
The ranger station features interactive learning displays about the local flora and fauna. There are bathrooms and concessions. I saw lots of people walking the stairs and suspension bridge with little kids. I saw no little kids on the gorge floor. I’m sure there are lots of kids down there to swim in the summer, but it would be a headache trying to negotiate the whole floor and the climb back out with anyone under 10 years old.