Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mountain Pilgrimage – Raven Cliff Falls

Each year the Georgia Botanical Society holds a 3-day Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. The location of the event varies from year to year. Last year it was in the southern part of the state, in and around the Okefenokee Swamp. This year it was held in Dahlonega and waterfall trails were a popular field trip option. This post is about my trip to Raven Cliff Falls in White County.

Raven Cliff Falls
The trail to Raven Cliff Falls is long but well-traveled (and quite crowded on a weekend). This trail follows Dodd Creek through the Raven Cliffs Wilderness Area to 80 foot cliff formation about 2.5 miles from the parking area. The area is large and full of a wide variety of native vegetation as well as abundant birds so there is opportunity for birding as well.

Cordyceps-infected bug, frozen in time

Our first find was spotted by our trip leader –it was the corpse of a Cordyceps-infected bug. Cordyceps is a fungi whose spores invade insects and take over their brain, directing them to crawl to and then die in a spot where the fungus can have the best spread, in this case at the end of a branch.

As we proceeded along the trail we spotted fat magnolia petals on the ground. Looking up we spied a tall mountain magnolia (Magnolia fraseri), blooming far above (we used binoculars to see the blooms). 

Medeola virginiana

Alongside the trail we found a large colony of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana). Small but elegant blooms were abundant among the colony; the plants are showier in the fall when plump purple berries are present.

Nearby, the creek alternately roared and gurgled while the path meandered through small feeder streams that we had to hop over.

Hexastylis shuttleworthii

Further down the path we found the large and showy flowers of Shuttleworth ginger (Hexastylis shuttleworthii) close enough to examine and photograph.

Rhododendrons grew nearby but it was too early to see their blooms. Moss-covered birch trunks (Betula lenta) and rocks, as well as abundant fern colonies, contributed a deeply lush feel to the forest.

Trillium vaseyi

Determined to reach the falls, we increased our pace, walking quickly past Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbaei), Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides), large Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and so much more.

We stopped briefly to admire Vasey’s trillium (Trillium vaseyi) but moved on with the expectation of seeing the species again at the falls.

With fewer people than we started with, we finally reached the falls. In order to see them, you must scramble over some large boulders so that you can peer into a split between two 80 foot cliffs. Next to the path, the rich red blooms of Vasey’s trillium and dainty foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) were nestled among poison ivy and blackberries.

After a brief rest and some pictures, we hit the trail for the 2.5 mile walk back to the parking area, anxious to make it back to Dahlonega in time for dinner and the evening program.


  1. Sounds like a great hike. Good pictures.

  2. Great writing and photos! I feel like I was on the hike with you!