It might have been a mistake… We were stuck in traffic outside the Georgia mountain town of Helen with three impatient boys in the backseat, only to finally make it to the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area to find the park was at capacity – one car in for every one out. It was Labor Day weekend, and we had just come from Brasstown Bald, otherwise we would have arrived much earlier than the afternoon hour.
Once we finally made it to the ticket booth and paid our $3/person (15 and under free), it was relative smooth sailing… only the littlest of the boys had fallen asleep. We found a parking spot, packed a backpack, and set out for the trailhead, Vilis still asleep in my arms.
Although you must pass through Unicoi State Park to reach it, the site is operated by the USDA Forest Service, part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (in the Chattooga River Ranger District). The Visitor Center has full facilities, and the 0.1-mile Lion's Eye Trail that is designed for people in wheelchairs and those with visual disabilities guides visitors right down to the bank of Smith Creek on one side. To the other is the trailhead for Anna Ruby Falls Trail, the 0.4 mile trail paved foot trail that takes you up along Smith Creek to two observation decks near the base of the falls.
Legend has it that a local Confederate soldier, Colonel John H. Nichols, found the waterfall while horseback rising in the area, and named them after his only daughter, Anna Ruby. The majestic Falls are formed by two separate creeks flowing over exposed granite, and then together to form Smith Creek: Curtis Creek falls 153 feet, York Creek falls 50. Together they continue south, forming the lake in Unicoi State Park and then emptying into the Chattahoochee in the town of Helen. The two observation platforms at the end of the trail give two different vantage points, but it was a weekend of crowds, and my boys (including Vilis who woke up once I sat down at the top of the trail) weren’t impressed. The snacks I had packed received more attention than the scenery, and so it happened that we were soon on our way down, searching for a quieter spot to enjoy the summer afternoon.
At the opposite end of the parking lot is the picnic area, located right along Smith Creek. We spread our shoes and socks out next to a picnic table and waded on in, spending the next hour searching for interesting rocks and water striders in the cool mountain stream. Compared to the crowds we had passed on the way to the falls, we only saw two other people in the picnic area; we had the river to ourselves. It was tempting to spend the rest of the afternoon in the shade of the giant poplars, but we still had one more stop to make on our way back to Greenville…
Final verdict; if you're out on a busy weekend, you're better off choosing another spot to visit as the crowds will diminish the power of the falls. If we hadn't experienced Brasstown Bald that morning I would have been terribly disappointed; is all of Georgia covered in kudzu? Luckily the afternoon was redeemed by the next spot we visited, another waterfall. Oh, one additional piece of information; the Smith Creek Foot Trail links the Anna Ruby Falls trail to Unicoi State Park. For those looking for a more challenging route to the waterfall, the 4.6-mile trail starts at the campground in Unicoi and emerges near the upper bridge across Smith Creek right next to the first observation deck.