An hour and a half north of the big city hustle and bustle of Atlanta, you’ll discover a paradise of mountains, forests, rivers, waterfalls and lakes – inviting you to detour from the traffic jams and chart your own course in the land of the Appalachian Trail.
North Georgia is a mini-Eden, filled with state parks, scenic byways and charming towns literally out of a Hallmark Christmas movie.
This week on American Nomad, we’re exploring the beauty of Northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge. Grab your hiking boots and get ready to hit the trail.
Speaking of trails, we’re starting our adventure at Amicalola Falls State Park – the gateway to the world famous Appalachian Trail.
Considered one of the Seven Wonders of Georgia, Amicalola Falls is Georgia’s tallest waterfall pummeling 729 feet over seven interconnected cascades. It is the third tallest cascade east of the Mississippi. (Fun fact, we’ve visited the other two on American Nomad in the past year – Whitewater Falls near Highlands NC and Fall Creek Falls in TN)
The word ‘amicalola’ is derived from a Cherokee word meaning tumbling water…and Amicalola not only tumbles it roars with a waterfall symphony as the waters of Amicalola Creek crash gracefully against the rocks – providing dramatic vistas and thundering solitude.
Developed as a state park in the 1940s, Amicalola continues to be a top tourist destination for recreation lovers. While Amicalola Falls may be the star attraction – the 829 acre park provides endless adventure for families.
- Hike to southern terminus/beginning (depending how your route) of The Appalachian Trail. The AT starts in the park at Springer Mountain. A eight-mile connector trail from the falls connects to the beginning of the AT. Many hikers choose to start their journey on this ‘connector trail’
- Zipline adventures – zip through the trees with an aerial view of the beauty of the forest with the Amicalola Zipline Tour
- GPS Scavenger – tech and wilderness combine for a fun scavenger hunt.
- Meet and Greets with animals including owls and raptors
- Archery – play Robin Hood is a safe and fun archery course.
- Enjoy a sunset view of the surrounding mountains while enjoying good eats and spirits at the Amicalola Lodge dining room
Amicalola State Park is located between mountain communities of Ellijay and Dahlonega, roughly ninety minutes north of Atlanta.
Where to stay:
I highly recommend the luxurious rustic Amicalola Falls Lodge, which is perfectly situated at the top of the mountain – offering gorgeous panoramas of the surrounding Blue Ridge. The staff is friendly and atmosphere is ideal for a family vacation or romantic getaway – or a solitude traveler like me. The lodge is a popular spot who are embarking on the Appalachian Trail or as a reward for through hikers who finished their trek.
Or if you want to sleep under the stars (or glamp a bit) – Amicalola offers multiple camping options
If the lodge is a bit of a splurge – there are also cabins and campgrounds in the state park. You can also stay in nearby bed and breakfasts, hotels and online rentals (VRBO/Air BNB).
Len Foote Hike-Inn – located just outside of Amicalola Falls State Park, in the seclusion of the Chattahoochee National Forest – experience this unique hike-in only inn. Geared for thru-hikers of the AT or those looking for a unique off the beaten path experience, this rustic inn provides accommodations and a hot meal to hikers looking for a room at the inn after a hard day of climbing mountains. The hike-inn is one of a kind and books up to a year in advance...learn more here.
Seeing THE FALLS:
There are several access points to Amicalola Falls – each offering stunning vantage points of Amicalola Creek as it tumbles 729 feet through seven interconnected cascades (if feels like one long fall, but technically there are seven separate falls that flow together…)
I started with The Top of the Falls, where you can see the calm peaceful burbling brook of Amicalola Creek before it begins its ferocious descent. Stand at the top of the falls (or the brink of the falls) and look down as the water topples over the cliffs.
If you want a workout, hike the 425 steps down (and back up) to the Middle Falls lookout.
The reservation agent recommended I bypass the 425 steps and drive to the West Ridge Access Trail. This easy walking path is designed for easy access to the powerful ‘Middle Falls.’
From the Middle Falls you can choose to continue onto to the Lower Falls and join the Appalachian Trail Springer Mountain Trail.
The Appalachian Trail has become a part of the myth of the nomadic adventurer – the chance to explore unbridled wilderness from Georgia to Maine making memories with each footstep. 4,000 hikers start the AT each intent on hiking the entire 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain (Amicalola) GA to Katahdin ME – only 1 in 4 complete the AT…but that’s okay, because each mile of the AT is a memory – a communion with God and nature. I’ve hiked several areas of the AT, but I don’t think I’ll hike through all parts. I do hope to get through sections in this lifetime though.
Facts about The Appalachian Trail in Georgia:
- 78.1 miles of the AT run through GA
- AT runs 2190 miles through fourteen states!
- The AT scales high elevations from 2510 to 4461 feet, and is known for its rugged cliffs and dramatic views
- Learn more here.
Next we’ll explore small town charm in Dahlonega, and chase a few waterfalls…