Hike the two mile Desoto Falls Trail near Helen to a pair of waterfalls where, legend holds, a piece of armor was found from DeSoto’s expedition in the mid-1500s.
LOCATION:south of Hiawassee, Georgia
OFFICIAL MAP: Nat Geo 777 Trails Illustrated Map (find it at Trailful Outdoor Co.)
Two gorgeous waterfalls. A beautiful forest filled with tumbling creeks and gnarly, leathery-leafed rhododendron. And, legend holds, the site where a piece of armor was found, thought to be from the epic expedition of explorer Hernando de Soto in the mid 1500s. DeSoto Falls is well worth the visit.
The two-mile out-and-back DeSoto Falls Trail packs a lot of punch in a short distance, crossing a beautiful rhododendron and mossy boulder-filled creek before hiking to two rushing waterfalls through a shady young forest. This hike’s relatively short, kid-friendly distance and moderate elevation change make it one of North Georgia’s most popular waterfall hikes.
DeSoto Falls Trail: the hike
The DeSoto Falls Trail departs a paid parking area at the trailhead (view maps and driving directions), hiking through a shaded picnic area equipped with tables and grills, and then turns left for a short hike on a paved road.
Reaching a wooden bridge spanning the boulder-filled Frogtown Creek, the hike turns left, crossing the creek and catching upstream views of its rhododendron-lined banks.
Reaching the creek’s opposite bank, the hike meets a signed intersection. The hike turns left, veering southbound to first visit the lower falls. The trail rolls elevation through a shady forest and meanders through wide switchbacks, veering westbound to follow a small tributary upstream. The trail reaches a wooden viewing platform at just under .25 mile. Just ahead, Lower DeSoto Falls cascades over a nearly sheer rock outcrop, tumbling into a pool of water framed by large, lichen-covered boulders.
The hike departs the lower falls, retracing the trail to return to the Frogtown Creek bridge. The green-blazed DeSoto Falls Trail follows the creek upstream to the larger of the two waterfalls, hiking through vibrant green vegetation on the stream’s banks. The trail hikes through several large exposed rock outcrops and treks under the shade of several enormous old-growth pine trees, their wide trunks reaching high into the forest canopy above.
The trail begins a rolling climb through a mixed deciduous, pine, and rhododendron-filled forest as it hikes to the upper falls. The hike crosses a wooden bridge spanning a small, waterfall-filled creek before reaching the main attraction at just over a mile: the enormous, multi-tiered cascades of Upper DeSoto Falls.
The waterfall’s viewing platform makes a great spot for a mid-hike rest or picnic, and a great place to soak up the waterfall’s beauty. Departing the falls, the hike retraces its outbound route to return the Frogtown Creek bridge. Reaching the bridge, the hike turns east, crossing the bridge to return to the parking area and completing the hike at just over 2 miles.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
Nearby hiking adventures
Finished the hike with daylight and energy to spare? Chase some more North Georgia waterfalls, and hike the just-over-half-mile to the nearby Helton Creek Falls. Follow the Bear Hair Gap Trail at Vogel State Park, climbing to a stunning overlook view and exploring a lush forest filled with tumbling creeks. Follow the Trahlyta Lake Trail at Vogel State Park to beautiful lakeside views of a tumbling waterfall. Or grab some seriously beautiful vistas from the Blood Mountain summit on the Appalachian Trail, located just north of DeSoto Falls on Highway 19.
Always leave no trace, pack out everything you pack in, and if you see trash, pick it up and pack it out.
Stay on the marked trail, tell someone where you're going, pack safety and wayfinding essentials, and don't rely on a mobile phone to find your way. Please always practice good trail etiquette. And before you go, always check the trailhead kiosk, official maps, and the park or ranger office for notices of changed routes, trail closures, safety information, and restrictions.
Love the trail?
This trail is maintained thanks to the hard work of countless volunteers and donations from supporters of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Please support them by making a donation or joining a volunteer day. Let's work together to keep these fantastic trails maintained and open for use!
$5 per vehicle at the DeSoto Falls Recreation Area.
34.706596, -83.915254 // N34 42.396 W83 54.915