Smithgall Woods: our favorite hiking trails at this scenic state park near Helen, GA Waterfalls in Georgia

Smithgall Woods State Park: our favorite hikes

Explore beautiful forest, tumbling waterfalls, gold mines, and the rocky, scenic creek bed of Dukes Creek at Smithgall Woods State Park near Helen. Follow our favorite hikes at the park: the Martin's Mine Trail, Cathy Ellis Waterfall Trail, Ash Creek Trail and the Smithgall Wetland Loop.

trail info

3.5 - 8.7 miles
(round trip)
moderate
Dog-
friendly

LOCATION:Smithgall Woods State Park, near Helen, Georgia (maps & directions)

GEAR: Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack w/ our favorite hiking gear list and Canon 6D Camera

WEAR: Our ultra-soft Atlanta Trails shirts and our favorite outdoor apparel

Set in the rolling forests near Helen, Smithgall Woods is a renowned North Georgia destination for fishing; it’s home to premier trout streams that carve and meander through the park’s sprawling, scenic acres. But this Georgia State Park is a fantastic destination for hiking, too. The park’s 23 miles of trails and roads explore more than 5600 acres of scenic woodlands, rolling terrain, wildflower-covered meadows, and tumbling creeks. And set deep in the forest, mine shafts tunnel deep into the earth, left over from Georgia’s gold rush along Dukes Creek.

Smithgall Woods State Park: our favorite hiking trails near Helen, GA

Gold was first discovered on Dukes Creek in Smithgall Woods, just downstream from the beautiful cascades of nearby Dukes Creek Falls and Raven Cliff Falls. Subsequent gold mining left these now-beautiful woods stripped nearly bare. Today, the forest has regrown, thanks to the conservation efforts of Charles Smithgall and a gift-purchase to the state of Georgia. Young hardwoods tower over a rich forest in the park, and nearly crystal-clear trout streams meander through the woods and tumble over rocky outcrops in small waterfalls.

The trails are beautiful year round, but especially so in spring when the park’s waterfalls tumble in abundance from springtime rains, and in autumn, when the hardwood trees color the forests of North Georgia in a stunning array of colors.

Top hikes near Helen, Georgia: follow the Smithgall Woods trails to a covered bridge, tumbling waterfalls and the site of an old gold mine

Since Smithgall Woods is a conservation park, vehicles are prohibited on the park’s roads. So while each of our favorite trails at this park are relatively short in length, they all require a walk along the paved Tsalaki Trail, the park’s main road, to access each trailhead. The paved road is scenic, following Dukes Creek downstream and crossing over a picturesque covered bridge. It’s entirely possible to hike just one (or two) of these trails – but since the bulk of the distance traveled is along the paved road, we usually hike them all in one visit for a great, moderate, higher-mileage adventure. (Bikes are allowed on the paved road – but not the dirt hiking trails. If you’re up for leaving your bike at the trailhead, the paved road makes for a great bike ride to each of the hiking trailheads.)

Smithgall Woods State Park: our favorite hiking trails

This five-trail adventure follows our four favorite hikes at the park on a nearly-nine-mile journey to tumbling waterfalls, a former gold mine, and a wet crossing through Dukes Creek. All hikes begin at the park’s visitor center trailhead (view maps and driving directions); sign-in is required inside the visitor center before you begin. Be sure to grab an official park map from the visitor center, too: since this hike follows multiple trails, navigation can be tricky.

Veering around the park’s gate, the hike follows the paved Tsalaki Trail eastbound and rolls elevation through the forest, following Dukes Creek downstream. Just after passing a cluster of beehives, the hike reaches the northern Ash Creek Trailhead at .7 mile. The route continues its eastbound journey on the paved road, reaching the Wetland Loop Trailhead at 1.2 miles.

  • Hike the Wetland Trail at Smithgall Woods State Park in North Georgia, exploring a grassy marshland and beaver dam near the park's covered bridge

    Wetland Loop Trail

    The Smithgall Woods Wetland Trail explores a wildlife-filled wetland, looping .4 mile from the Tsalaki Trail through a grassy marshland created by a beaver dam. The trail climbs through a hardwood forest where leafy vines climb skyward to the forest canopy and wildflowers dot the sides of the trail. The hike loops southbound along a trickling creek, ending at the paved Tsalaki Trail just before the covered bridge.

    This hike turns left on the Tsalaki Trail, crossing Dukes Creek over the covered bridge. The paved road turns to gravel on the opposite bank, rolling elevation through the forest and passing a small set of rocky waterfall shoals on Dukes Creek at 2 miles. The hike reaches the Martin’s Mine Trailhead at 2.4 miles, turning left to cross Dukes Creek over a wooden bridge.

  • Martin’s Mine Trail

    Top hikes at Smithgall Woods State Park: follow the Martin's Mine Trail to the entrance to an old gold mine on Dukes Creek in North Georgia
    This .9 mile figure-eight loop explores the area of a former gold mine on the banks of Dukes Creek. This large gold mine tunneled a distance of 900 feet with three vertical shafts to the surface, the deepest at 100 feet. This hike follows the lower loop trail counterclockwise, visiting the mine entrance and vertical shafts. On the upper loop, the Martin’s Mine Trail visits a small tumbling waterfall and crosses small bridges and wooden stairs before rejoining the lower loop. Just before completing the figure eight loop, the Martin’s Mine Trail visits a small wooden platform with views of a marshy ephemeral pool, home to scores of frogs, tadpoles, and newts.

    Reaching the bridge over Dukes Creek, the hike turns left, crossing the creek over the wooden bridge. And reaching the Tsalaki Trail, this adventure turns another left, continuing to follow the gravel trail southeast. The Tsalaki Trail begins a steady climb to the Cathy Ellis trailhead, reaching the trailhead at just under 4 miles.

  • Hike the Cathy Ellis Trail to Chunanee Falls, a tumlbing waterfall at Georgia's Smithgall Woods State Park

    Cathy Ellis Trail

    This one-mile roundtrip drops through a lush, green forest filled with rhododendron to visit Chunanee Falls, a tumbling waterfall on a tributary of Dukes Creek. It was here that gold was discovered in 1828, and was home to Lucy Bryant, a Cherokee widow. After passing a wooden shelter, the hike drops through a dense thicket of gnarly-branched mountain laurel and rhododendron to the banks of Dukes Creek. The trail reaches Chunanee Falls at just under 4.5 miles, taking in the beauty of the waterfall before doubling back on the Cathy Ellis Trail.

    Reaching the Tsalaki Trail at 5 miles, the route turns northbound, following the Tsalaki Trail to retrace its outbound steps to the covered bridge.

  • Hike the Ash Creek Trail at Smithgall Woods State Park in North Georgia, crossing Dukes Creek to a grassy meadow

    Ash Creek Trail

    Just before reaching the covered bridge, this hike turns left at the southern Ash Creek Trailhead at 6.2 miles, hiking past the Smithgall Woods group camp. The route veers southeast, passing through a wide firebreak clearing filled with golden grasses. Departing the firebreak, the hike tunnels through a canopy of dense rhododendron at 7 miles before crossing the pebble-lined Ash Creek. The hike rolls elevation northbound over a small knob before dropping to cross Dukes Creek at 7.8 miles. (There’s no bridge over the broad creek, so cross carefully. If you’re traveling with a four-footed hiking buddy, this is a perfect place for a mid-hike swim.)

    The Ash Creek Trail reaches the Tsalaki Trail at 8 miles, turning left to follow the paved road back to the Smithgall Woods trailhead. The hike reaches the visitor’s center and parking area at just under 8.75 miles, completing the adventure.

Smithgall Woods: more tips for adventure

Just across the highway from the visitor’s center, Smithgall Woods offers a small collection of nicely appointed cabins along Dukes Creek, perfect for a stay in the Helen Area. A trail from the cabins, accessible only by cottage guests, connects to the Dukes Creek Trail for quick access to the tumbling cascades at Dukes Creek Falls.

Before you go, be sure to check for trail closures, especially during hunting season.

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Smithgall Woods Hiking Trails Map, Directions & Details

Smithgall Woods Hiking Trails Map
Smithgall Woods Hiking Trails Map
This map is not a substitute for official trail maps or topographic maps.

Driving Directions


Parking

$5, or included with a Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites membership.

GPS Coordinates

34.69176, -83.76831     //     N34 41.505 W83 46.134

Elevation Profile

Smithgall Woods Hiking Trails: Martins Mine, Tsalaki, Cathy Ellis, Ash Creek and Wetland Loop Elevation Profile
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Eric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, backpack, kayak and cycle the southeast. He’s the editor and founder of Atlanta Trails, Asheville Trails, and Trailful, digital magazines that highlight the South’s best outdoor adventures and top Southern-worthy outdoor gear. His mission? To inspire others to get fit outdoors and explore the South’s incredible scenic beauty.
 
 
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