Friday, February 14, 2014

Tallulah Gorge State Park: Inspiration Loop (Blog Hike #457)

Trail: Inspiration Loop Trail
Hike Location: Tallulah Gorge State Park
Geographic Location: north of Tallulah Falls, GA
Length: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: 5/10 (Moderate)
Last Hiked: February 2014
Overview: A rolling loop hike on the north rim of Tallulah Gorge.

Directions to the trailhead: In northeast Georgia, the state park entrance is located on US 441 just north of Tallulah Falls.  A large sign and traffic light at Jane Hurt Yarn Road mark the entrance.  If you are heading northbound, turn right (east) to enter the park.  Pay the nominal entrance fee and park in the large blacktop parking lot in front of the Interpretive Center at the end of the road.

The hike: For my general comments on Tallulah Gorge, see the Hurricane Falls Loop blog entry.  The Inspiration Loop Trail described here takes you to the park’s newest gorge overlook, an overlook located away from the developed park area.  Although US 441 remains within earshot for most of the loop, the first half of this loop is officially located in the park’s backcountry area.  Therefore, by the letter of the law you need to obtain a free permit from the Interpretive Center to hike this trail.  Obtaining the permit was a quick and easy process I completed in less than 2 minutes.
Trailhead area
            With the legalities out of the way, start by walking uphill across the parking lot and back out the park entrance road.  Look for the mulched trailhead area with carsonite post and information kiosk, which is located to the right of the road just before you reach the gatehouse.  The first leg of this loop follows the Stoneplace Trail, a 5 mile one-way out-and-back that goes down to the shore of Tallulah Lake on the Georgia-South Carolina state line.
            The Stoneplace Trail appears to follow an old road as it maintains a nearly constant elevation on the hillside, which rises to the left and falls to the right.  The forest is mostly young, scrubby broadleaf forest with a few pines and a few patches of mountain laurel.  After crossing one small creek, the trail makes a slightly rocky descent to cross a larger one.  The park map indicates the existence of an old cemetery near here, but I could not see it from the trail.
Descending on the Stoneplace Trail
            After climbing away from the creek, an old road exits left to leave the park.  At 0.6 miles, you reach a trail junction with the High Bluff Trail.  Angle softly right to leave the Stoneplace Trail and begin the High Bluff Trail.  A sign for Inspiration Point Overlook also marks this turn.
            The trail descends slightly as you pass two backcountry campsites, each with a fire ring and small shelter, on the right.  Where the High Bluff Trail turns left, continue straight to remain on the Inspiration Loop.  You are now on the newest trail at Tallulah Gorge State Park: I could still see impressions in the dirt made by the small bulldozer that built this trail.
            At 0.8 miles, you arrive at this trail’s main attraction, Inspiration Point, an overlook with two benches and a metal railing.  The view is inspiring indeed.  In the belly of the gorge directly below you lies Oceana Falls, one of the gorge’s main waterfalls.  You can also see the suspension bridge and some of the steps on the Hurricane Falls Trail, but Hurricane Falls itself is shielded by a cliff.  US 441 can be seen heading southbound, and the Interpretive Center can be seen below you and along the rim.  This overlook is the highlight of the hike, so take some time to see what you can see.
View from Inspiration Point

Oceana Falls, as seen from Inspiration Point
            Past the overlook, the trail descends steeply at first and then more moderately as it loses over 200 feet of elevation in 0.4 miles to reach Overlook #1.  Obviously the overlook numbering system pre-dates the construction of the Inspiration Point overlook.  Overlook #1 provides a view similar to the one at Inspiration Point, but its lower elevation on the rim ensures that you cannot see quite as much.  Your arrival at Overlook #1 also marks your return to the developed part of the park, so you likely will not be alone here.
North Wallenda Tower ruins
            Right beside Overlook #1 lie the ruins of the North Wallenda Tower, an edifice used by the famed tight-rope walker Karl Wallenda when he crossed the gorge via high wire in 1970.  The last segment of the hike takes on a developed feel as wooden steps and then a mulched path form the treadway.  You can ascend the steps to the right that lead to the Interpretive Center at 1.4 miles, or you can stay on the mulch to meet a rubber-surfaced trail that accomplishes the same end but via a more gradual climb at 1.5 miles.  Your return to the Interpretive Center marks the end of the hike.

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