Anna Ruby Falls and the Road Less Traveled
Anna Ruby Falls is probably one of the best known waterfalls in Georgia, behind Amicalola, and for that reason, I’ve only been there once and it was right after I moved to Georgia ten years ago. It tends to be very crowded and it also doesn’t require much hiking to see the falls, since the main access point follows a paved walking path. This is great for accessibility and people who may not be able to hike a long or challenging trail. But on the flip side, the ease of access leads it to be very popular and crowded.
BUT, did you know…there is another way to access Anna Ruby that actually does involve hiking and does not typically involve crowds of people? Well, no crowds until you reach the falls and then the end result is the same. I didn’t know about this behind the scenes route until I was deliberating on where I should go hiking for Labor Day. I had spent literally all weekend watching football, so I felt I really needed to get outside and do a long hike. And since it was the ceremonial end of summer, I though a waterfall would be a good idea. So I went on Atlanta Trails to look for some ideas and that is how I found the scenic route to Anna Ruby.
This trail actually begins at Unicoi State Park, which is a completely separate property from Anna Ruby, so you’ll need a state park pass. The trailhead is near the “Activities and Programming” building, which has about 8 parking spaces in front of it. Across the street, you’ll see a somewhat ominous sign for the Smith Creek Trail. It details the fact that the trail is about 10 miles roundtrip, there’s no shuttle back from Anna Ruby, and to allow 6 hours to complete. After reading the sign, most casual visitors would probably just drive up the road and park at Anna Ruby. But not me. I knew what I was getting myself into…sort of.
Armed (errr, footed?) with my new-ish Salomon boots (more on those later), plenty of water, snacks, and my camera, I set off down the trail. I started around 9:30 am and it was already really hot and humid. I immediately started encountering spiderwebs like no other. I usually run into a few spiderwebs here and there while hiking, but these actually had lots of spiders in them. I literally had spiders dangling from my hat like a witch. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate spiders?! Then came the fallen trees. Up until about mile 2.5, there were so many downed trees, I almost turned around. These were huge, old trees that were very hard to climb over. I don’t mind stepping over obstacles, but these had to be climbed over and the trail around the trunks was starting to wash out in spots. I am typically not a quitter, though, so I carried on.
Eventually the fallen trees lessened and the hike became quite enjoyable. The trail gains some elevation up the side of a smaller mountain and reaches a clearing. There are some limited mountain views, but nothing substantial with the amount of tree cover still present. The trail continues along the side of the mountain and eventually enters a rather impressive boulder field. This was probably the most scenic part of the trail and after passing the boulder field, the trail descends to a small, but beautiful creek. I stopped here for a few minutes and saw some salamanders! After crossing the creek, the sounds and sights of Anna Ruby come up rather quickly. The Smith Creek trail runs parallel to the paved walking path for a while, jolting you back into the world of other people (I saw no one on the Smith Creek Trail the entire time). I did get a few strange looks as I descended out of the woods, covered in mud from climbing over trees. The trail spits you out right next to the viewing platforms for the falls. Surprise!
Anna Ruby is a unique double-waterfall and the falls look very different from one another. One is sort of a double-tiered cascade down a rock face and the other is a more of a free fall. They are both very beautiful, though. If you choose to come down the Smith Creek Trail, I’d recommend walking up the paved path to the parking area regardless. The creek alongside the path is very pretty and full of small cascades over the rocks. There is also a bathroom and gift shop near the parking area, so it’s a good place to take a break after hiking. I took my time resting before heading back up the trail and then enjoyed my very solitary hike back to Unicoi.
This trail really challenged me. I know half the battle with hiking is mental and this trail really proved that. I was hating myself for about 3/4 of the hike; wondering why I spent my holiday this way when I could have been laying by Lake Lanier. But on the other hand, my goal is to take on longer, more challenging trails. At the end of it, I did feel a sense of accomplishment and that is really all that matters.