A trail of waterfalls leads into the mountains of North Georgia.

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha Falls

Those who seek the pleasant sound of splashing cataracts and the cool scent of positive ions know that many of these attractions are easy to find, easy to walk to.

Tallulah Falls

Some of them, however, are quite popular.

The parking lot at the Tallulah Gorge State Park, for example, is jammed.

It is a hot Sunday in August. Well-dressed women in heels; crusty hikers with CamelBak hydration packs; tattooed youngsters from the city; all jockey for parking spots and make their way to the interpretive center, to gaze at the stuffed bears and owls.

Concentric ramps descend through the building’s large atrium, taking visitors past dioramas representing the ecosystems of North Georgia. At the bottom is the doorway to the 1,000-foot-deep gorge, the deepest in Georgia.

Despite the crowd in the parking lot, there is plenty of room on the trails surrounding the gorge, and leading down to the swinging bridge that crosses Hurricane Falls. (The great Karl Wallenda once crossed the gorge by tightrope, and signs tell of his feat.)

Getting to the floor of the gorge is another matter. Each morning, only 100 people are given free permits to ground level. “They’re lining up at 7:30 in the morning,” said one ranger. “At 8 a.m., we open the doors. By 8:10, the permits are all gone.”

Those permits allow you to walk along the Tallulah River and see close up the Bridal Veil Falls, Hurricane Falls and other features that make up the chain of falling water in the gorge. They also allow a trip down the Sliding Rock, which we had to skip this day.

(The rock is a wide, inclined plane of smooth stone, covered in rushing water, leading to a cool plunge in a pool in the river. Be careful. Injuries occasionally happen.)

When I visit the swinging bridge, there are people at various levels of aerobic fitness making their way up and down the 300-plus metal stairs that lead from the rim of the gorge to the bridge. The steps are flanked with signs bearing dire warnings, and the trail is listed as strenuous by Wander North Georgia.

But, if you work on the sixth floor of your building and you take the stairs every day, you won’t have a problem.

The bridge is excellently constructed, but those of a nervous disposition might not like the way it quivers with each footstep. This bridge swings.

Atlanta Trails offers an excellent step-by-step guide to a hike in the gorge. Parking is $5.

338 Jane Hurt Yarn Drive, Tallulah Falls. 706-754-7981,

Amicalola Falls

In the old days, 20 years before there was an Amicalola Lodge, my cousins and I would don bathing suits and climb directly up the rocks of Amicalola, with plumes of spray pouring onto our heads. We were young. We were dumb.

Somehow we survived. Since then, controls are much stricter, but despite added precautions enforced by state parks, there are still accidents in the region’s waterfalls. A Macon television newswoman fell 160 feet to her death last year when she was swept over Rainbow Falls, near Lake Toxaway in North Carolina, and earlier this summer, a father and son drowned while swimming near Dicks Creek Falls in North Georgia.

The good news is that there are many safe ways to enjoy Amicalola Falls, and the state’s other waterfalls, without risk to life or limb.

The 729-foot cascade at Amicalola is the tallest in the Southeast, and the park near Dawsonville is one of the most visited spots in the state. These days, visitors to Amicalola (or to the 56-room lodge) can observe the falls from the base, or drive to the top and climb down to a platform that offers scenic views. Those who hike from the lower parking area will find themselves walking up 600 stairs. The Amicalola parking (and park pass) is $5.

Leaving Amicalola, an 8.5-mile approach trail takes you from the lodge to Springer Mountain and the beginning of the Appalachian Trail. An alternate 5-mile path leads to the Len Foote Hike Inn, a wonderful, rustic lodge hidden in the Chattahoochee National Forest, accessible only by foot.

In September, visitors to the falls can also stop by Burt’s Farm, just down the road on Ga. 52, for apples and pumpkins.

280 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville. 1-800-573-9656,

The falls at the Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge in Dawsonville in 2008. AJC file

Toccoa Falls

This 186-foot waterfall is on the grounds of Toccoa College in the city of Toccoa Falls, and is accessible through a gift shop for a nominal fee ($2; $1 for seniors; children 6 and under: free). The river at the bottom of the falls flows through the college’s 1,000-acre campus.

107 Kincaid Drive, Toccoa Falls.

The Smith Creek Trailhead, a 10 mile round-trip for hikers, begins at the base of Anna Ruby Falls in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Photo: Sarah Schnee, 14, takes in the beauty of Minnehaha Falls during a family trip.

Minnehaha Falls
The waterfall tour, heading north from Tallulah Falls, brings us to Minnehaha Falls, at the western end of Lake Rabun. It is accessible from unpaved Bear Gap Road, where parking — essentially a wide place in the road — is minimal. The trail is marked with trail number 147.

The reward at the end of a very short hike is around a 100-foot-high series of cascades that are photogenic and kid-friendly. A poster of Minnehaha is prominently displayed on the wall in a scene from “A Walk in the Woods.”

North on Ga. 23 from Cornelia; to the Orchard Road, to unpaved Bear Gap Road to the western end of Lake Rabun.

Anna Ruby Falls

This twin waterfall at Unicoi State Park near Helen is reached by a paved walking trail that is stroller-friendly.

After about a half mile, the path brings you from the visitor’s center to two viewing platforms. They offer views of two cataracts, one on the left dropping 150 feet and the other a 50-foot cascade. Parking is $3.

Unicoi State Park, 3455 Anna Ruby Falls Road, Sautee. 706-878-1448,

Hikers follow the scenic half-mile interpretive trail beside Smith Creek to Anna Ruby Falls in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest.