Our last-minute trip to experience the fall season couldn’t have landed in a better place than Amicalola Falls. Located in the mountains of Dawsonville, Georgia, this park houses the famed approach trail to the AT - Appalachian National Scenic Trail – which spans fourteen states and measures over 2,100 miles.
My family’s goal on this beautiful October day was to climb to the top of the falls, then hike part of the approach trail. We’d read on forums from north-bound AT thru-hikers that the approach trail alone almost convinced them to quit. To prepare for the thru-hike we hope to do in a few years, we wanted to see what the approach trail was all about.
In hindsight, we probably shouldn’t have attacked both hikes in one day. Though our trip up the falls and subsequent hike were worth every step, they were much more strenuous than we’d expected.
About the Falls
Amicalola Falls is a 729-foot-high waterfall. We weren’t able to see the top of the falls from the bottom, but got to experience the smaller cascades on our hike to the top. The Cherokee originally occupied the land around Amicalola Falls, giving it a name that, loosely translated, means “tumbling waters.”
Settlers claimed the land in the mid-1800s and used to it to mill flour and corn. In subsequent years it was a campground for religious purposes, a base camp for Union and Confederate forces, and eventually sold to the state of Georgia in 1940 before being turned into state park.
From the lower parking areas near the entrance to the park, we hiked a short, but very steep paved trail toward the bottom of the staircase. From there, we had the 604-step stair climb to the top.
Don’t be fooled by the short distance. This hike is all uphill, making it very difficult. There are benches on the landings for people to stop and rest, along with a boardwalk about halfway up – which provides a great opportunity to take pictures, or just stand close to the falls and enjoy the view.
Seeing the Falls Without the Hike
Fortunately, the falls are accessible to those who don’t want to, or can’t climb, the 604 steps. There’s a paved parking lot near the top of the falls with an overlook that allows access for those with wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.
The AT Approach Trail
Though we did not plan to hike the entire 8.5-mile approach trail (approximately 17 miles out and back), we committed to an hour out and back. The trail steadily climbed for about an hour, and that’s when we decided to turn back. The start of the approach trail near the lodge is also the starting point for anyone hiking the 5-mile trail to the Hike Inn – a rustic hotel that’s only accessible by foot.
There are several parking areas at Amicalola you can choose from (click here to open their map). We found the parking furthest from the falls was far less crowded than the parking at the top. It was a scenic area with a steady-flowing creek and a covered pavilion with picnic tables. All the parking areas we saw had porta potties or other restrooms available for guests.
Amicalola Falls State Park is a popular attraction. We visited on a Friday morning and encountered a lot of other people. By the time the afternoon rolled around, the staircase to the falls was twice as busy. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, I recommend going on a weekday and arriving early.
After taking in the stunning views from the top of the falls, we thought we were done climbing. We were wrong. In order to see the lodge, and find the start of the approach trail, we had to traverse several short flights of stairs.
The Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park offers room for rent, a small gift shop, and a balcony that overlooks the mountains. During our visit, the restaurant was only open to lodge guests because of staffing issues. So, we took our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches onto the balcony and enjoyed lunch with a view of the mountains before starting the approach trail.
Check out the Amicalola Falls State Park website for more activities and events such as zip lining, guided tours, a Birds of Prey show, archery, and scavenger hunts.
Amicalola Falls State Parks allows leashed dogs on the trails.
Address: 418 Amicalola Falls Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Visitor Center Hours: Daily 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Fees: $5/vehicle; or FREE admittance with a Georgia State Parks Pass
Looking for more outdoor adventures in the Georgia Mountains? Check out this Amazing Hike in Blairsville!
What’s your favorite hiking trail? Drop a comment below and let us know!