Scouting for a parcel of land to claim as his own in the relatively unexplored (at the time) mountains of northern Georgia, William Williamson wrote then governor of the state, Wilson Lumpkin, about a discovery he had made.
“In the course of my route in the mountains, I discovered a waterfall, perhaps the greatest in the world, the most majestic scene I have ever seen.”
The year was 1832 and the waterfall he had discovered was called Um-Ma-Ca-Lo-La, a Cherokee word that, roughly translated, means “tumbling waters.” Williamson wasn’t exaggerating. That waterfall, whose name was later anglicized to “Amicalola,” is a spectacular 729-foot cascading waterfall that churns white as it tumbles down its rocky base making it the third-tallest waterfall east of the Mississippi.
Eventually, the land and waterfall became part of the Chattahoochee National Forest and nestled within the lush green north Georgia forest. Amicalola State Park and Lodge was opened to allow easy public access to this incredible outdoor wonderland.
Since its opening, Amicalola State Park, northeast of Dawsonville, has become the basecamp for exciting outdoor adventure in the southern Appalachian Mountains for millions of people. No matter what time of year you visit, Amicalola’s world-class lodge, restaurant, hiking trails, and amenities make the park a genuinely great escape for a weekend getaway. Here are five tips to make it a memorable visit.
1. Experience The Waterfall
The main draw to the park is its centerpiece waterfall. Measuring at 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is a spectacular sight no matter where you view it from. There are three vantage points, each with different degrees of difficulty, to visit the cascade.
The first view is from the top of the falls where you can park your car and look out over the top of the cascade with a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valley.
The second view is at the base of the falls which can be accessed via the West Ridge Falls Access Trail, a 0.3-mile (one way) ADA-accessible trail made of recycled rubber.
The third is the most difficult — climbing up (or down) the 604 steps that parallel the falls with an observation deck halfway down. You can access the stairs from the West Ridge Trail or at the top of the falls.
Needless to say, the waterfall gets pretty crowded starting around mid-morning. Plan to arrive early in the morning to avoid the rush.
2. Hit The Trails
Besides the waterfall, Amicalola Falls State Park makes the perfect basecamp to explore the north Georgia mountains. The park itself has 10 miles of trails that wind through the forest and lead to spectacular views especially in the fall when the hardwoods blaze with fall color.
One of my personal favorites is the moderate to difficult 2.1-mile (total) Amicalola Falls Loop that begins at the visitor center on the East Ridge Trail where you will be treated to incredible views. The trail treks up the mountain to the top of the waterfall where you will climb down the stairs, eventually joining up with the Appalachian Approach Trail where you’ll pass the tranquil waters of a reflecting pond.
Another hike of note is the blue-blazed Appalachian Approach Trail. Each year, thousands of people hike this rugged trail to begin their months-long journey on the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail (A.T.) to Maine, but the trail also makes a great full day, a 15.5-mile out-and-back hike, or an overnight trek. The trail starts under the famous A.T. stone archway and leads you through stunning views — from mountaintop ridges with the turnaround at the bronze marker on top of Springer Mountain to the southern terminus of the A.T. Contact the Chattahoochee National Forest for more details and recommendations for preparing for the hike.
For novice hikers, or those who want to learn more about the plants, wildlife, and history of the area, sign up for one of the park’s guided hikes.
3. Know It’s More Than Just A Waterfall And Walk In The Woods
There is much more to Amicalola Falls State Park than hiking and visits to the waterfall. Amicalola is called an Adventure Lodge and is loaded with other activities and events that will pique the interest of both young and old.
On weekends, the park’s Animal Ambassadors are made available to meet and greet visitors. One day you may look into the steely eyes of an owl or hawk and learn about their stealth mode of flying or learn about snakes and other reptiles that call the north Georgia woods home. The meet and greet takes place at the visitor center and is free, although a donation is requested to help feed and care for the animals.
One of the fastest-growing sports in the country is geocaching where you use a GPS to find hidden treasures. Amicalola has its own scavenger hunt where you can track up to eight waypoints along a trail between the visitor center and the lodge. GPS units are provided.
Or how about some high-flying adventure on one of the Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure zipline tours? The rush of wind is exhilarating as you fly through the air among treetops while getting the best views in the house.
There are three levels of zipline tours. Level one is best for children eight and over with four zip lines and a suspension bridge. Level three is for the real adventurer, soaring you 250 feet above the ground through the treetops and over serene mountain lakes, the longest being 2,000 feet.
You can even learn how to use compound bows with guides who lead you along a trail on the park’s 3-D archery course.
There is a fee for the adventure courses. Make your reservations for the ziplines on the Screaming Eagle website. Reservations are mandatory for the archery course and can be made by emailing the park.
4. Grab A Bite To Eat
So you’ve had a busy day. It’s time to wind down and relax. How about having dinner with a show — a magnificent flaming sunset over the southern Appalachians?
Make your reservations early for a seat at the Maple Restaurant where it serves up American and southern cuisine including mouthwatering charbroiled sirloin steak, grilled rainbow trout, and the local favorite, backyard baby back ribs.
The Maple Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffet style. Make your reservations well in advance if you plan to visit on holidays, especially Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. With that romantic view overlooking the sprawling mountains, you can see why it gets pretty crowded.
5. Spend The Night In The Georgia Mountains
The mountaintop lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park is cozy, inviting, and centrally located to all of the outdoor activities that can be found in the park.
It’s not hyperbole when I say that virtually every well-appointed room in the lodge has an amazing view of the surrounding mountains.
Besides standard king and queen rooms, the lodge offers mountain view lofts that sleep up to six with standard queen size beds and elevated loft beds. And for something with a little more room, there are suites with full bathrooms and kitchenettes.
For something a little cozier, opt for one of the park’s fully renovated cabins that combine rustic charm with modern amenities. The cabins have large porches, Adirondack chairs around outdoor fire pits, stone fireplaces, and full kitchens.
Cabins are located near the top of the waterfall and creekside at the base of the falls, providing quiet solitude with the soothing sounds of the creek nearby.
And, of course, there are camping options. Amicalola has 24 sites that accommodate tent or RV camping. Each site has a fire ring, barbecue grill, and picnic tables with clean bathhouses nearby that are easily accessible on ADA-paved paths.
Reservations for the lodge, cabins, or campsites can be made online. It is best to make lodge and cabin reservations at least 6 months in advance.
Things To Know Before You Go
The park is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The visitor center is open Sunday–Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is a $5 per vehicle day-use fee.
Visit the Amicalola State Park website frequently. The park always runs specials on overnight accommodations and romantic dinner packages complete with wine and sunsets.
The staff at Amicalola State Park will be the first to tell you that the weather can make drastic changes in a few hours. It’s a good idea to take a look at the weather history for the area to plan your trip then check the 10-day forecast before you visit to know how to properly prepare.
Dogs are allowed in the park but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet. There are two pet-friendly cabins available but the lodge does not allow pets. The stairs leading down the falls are not appropriate for dogs.