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Falling for the gorge in North Georgia

Tallulah Falls has rich history

The suspension footbridge connects the sides of Tallulah Gorge and offers spectacular views. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

The suspension footbridge connects the sides of Tallulah Gorge and offers spectacular views. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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The children’s zoo at Dillard House in Clayton features goats. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Free horse-drawn carriage rides are offered Saturdays from noon until 4 p.m. at Dillard House in Clayton. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Dillard House has been family-owned since 1917 in Clayton and offers meals made with ingredients from local farms. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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A model village of 1800s-era Tallulah Falls is kept on display under plexiglass at the visitors center at Tallulah Gorge State Park. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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The suspension footbridge as seen from a scenic overlook inside Tallulah Gorge State Park. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Scenic overlooks inside Tallulah Gorge State Park offers views of the falls. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Mountains surround Tallulah Gorge State Park in Tallulah Falls in northeast Georgia. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Several scenic overlooks provide sweeping views of rock formations, trees and the falls below inside Tallulah Gorge State Park. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Horseback riding is offered at Dillard House in Clayton. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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Inside Dillard House in Clayton. Meals are served family-style with dishes from the entire menu brought to each table and refilled as requested. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

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The Dillard House menu features fresh ingredients from local farms. Items can include corn on the cob, green beans, mashed potatoes, cabbage casserole, coleslaw, fried chicken, barbecue ribs, country fried steak and gravy, cornbread and yeast rolls. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)

TALLULAH FALLS — Considered one of Georgia’s seven wonders, Tallulah Gorge offers spectacular views of a series of six waterfalls and rock outcroppings unlike most anything else in the state.

The ancient gorge is a 1,000-foot chasm formed by a 2-mile stretch of the Tallulah River. It is sometimes referred to as the Niagara of the South and is less than two hours from Jonesboro.

Once privately-owned, the property is operated as a Georgia State Park and features stunning vistas of lush greenery, sheer stone walls and cascading waters. Skilled rock climbers and rappellers can get free permits issued through the visitors center to descend to the floor of the gorge.

The gorge was discovered by outsiders in 1819 and by 1835, so many people wanted to experience the natural phenomenon that hoteliers began offering rooms and respite along the river.

The railroad reached the area in 1882, bringing even more visitors to Tallulah Falls. At the height of the gorge’s popularity, there were 17 hotels and boarding houses in and around the town, according to historians.

Of course, the urge to cross the gorge was too tempting to resist. In 1886, an aerialist using the stage name Professor Leon was paid $250 to make what was billed as the highest and longest high-wire walk ever attempted.

More than 6,000 people gathered to watch Professor Leon make his way 1,000 feet on a hemp rope.

Some spectators took bets he wouldn’t make it and he nearly didn’t. Someone cut one of the guy wires, which snapped partway through the walk. Professor Leon recovered and finished but refused to make a return trip across the gorge, according to historians.

However, the legendary Karl Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas duplicated the walk almost exactly 84 years later in 1970. Wallenda, 65, was paid $10,000 for the 18-minute walk. The towers erected to assist him remain near the gorge.

Fans of “Deliverance” will also recognize the breathtaking scenery as part of the movie starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox was filmed in the western end of the gorge.

In fact, the park holds a treasure trove of photo opportunities at overlooks built into the rim of the canyon along trails fortified with recycled rubber tires to accommodate strollers, scooters, wheelchairs or bicycles.

Hardcore hikers can venture down closer to the falls but posted signs warn that the trail is strenuous and comprised of hundreds of steps. A suspension footbridge allows visitors to cross over the falls safer and faster than Professor Leon or Karl Wallenda and affords incredible views of the rushing waters below.

For families with children, the two-story visitors center offers educational exhibits and artifacts that detail the history of Tallulah Falls, and information on the flora, fauna and animals that inhabit the area.

A highlight of the center is a model village of what the town looked like during the latter half of the 1800s, enclosed in a plexiglass case. There is also a gift shop where visitors can buy books written about the area or just a souvenir.

Up the road from Tallulah Falls about a dozen miles on U.S. 441 is Clayton, home to the Dillard House, a family-style restaurant that is open every day of the year, including holidays, and serves all three meals. The menus feature fresh ingredients from area farms.

The restaurant has been family-owned since 1917 and the offerings on the property have expanded to include lodging, horseback riding, fishing, a small petting zoo featuring goats, chickens, donkeys and llamas, free horse-drawn carriage rides Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. and a conference center.

Access www.dillardhouse.com for complete information.

There are also other locally-owned and operated businesses along the highways that connects Toccoa, Tallulah Falls and Clayton, near the far northeast corner of the state. Barbecue places and Southern-style diners can be found every few blocks in Clayton. Shoppers can walk miles of antique malls, flea and farmers markets, all of which are easily accessible and provide free parking.

The cost to enter Tallulah Gorge State Park is $5 or a $50 annual Georgia ParkPass, which gives visitors access to all state parks. Call Tallulah Gorge State Park at 706-754-7979 for details on renting campsites, 706-782-4014 to reserve picnic shelters or the office at 706-754-7981 for other information.

The park’s website is www.gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge.

To get to Tallulah Falls from Jonesboro, head north on I-75 to I-85 to I-985, which becomes U.S. 23/Ga. 365 just north of Gainesville. The park is on the right just across the bridge over Tallulah River.