November 2012: Amicalola Falls State Park

Dawsonville, Georgia

Although at 729 feet, the Amicalola Falls (the name is a derivation of the Cherokee word for “tumbling waters”) are the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River they were not developed as a tourist attraction until the State of Georgia bought the land and made it their 12th state park in 1940. The Crane family, starting with Bartley Crane, had owned the land around the falls since 1852. The family rented some cabins and hosted the occasional religious camp meeting but mostly they ran a corn and flour mill along the creek a half-mile from the base of the falls. The Appalachian Trail originally ran through the park but the southern terminus was switched to Springer Mountain in 1958. Today an 8.5-mile approach trail links the base of the falls to the Appalachian Trail terminal and many thru-hikers begin their epic journeys here, at the closest paved road access to Springer Mountain.  

The falls are not just the centerpiece of one of Georgia’s most popular parks - they are the only thing for most canine hikers. And the park service has given you a cornucopia of ways to experience the cascading water. The easiest, assuming you are not going to drive up to top of the falls, is to start at the Reflection Pool and climb up the paved approach trail to the Lower Observation Platform. A sportier chase would be to start in the parking lot across from the Visitor Center and hike the Creek Trail a half-mile to the access. Once at the Lower Observation Platform your way up is via 175 open-grate steps. If your dog doesn’t do open-grate steps, your exploration is over. Otherwise you will make it half-way up the falls. From here you can close your loop by hiking down the West Ridge Falls Access, the Spring Trail and the Mt. Laurel Loop back to the Creek Trail. If your athletic dog has not seen enough of Amicalola Falls you can climb to the top on 425 more steps and cross the creek to return along the one-mile East Ridge Trail, which was once the approach route to the Appalachian Trail. The steps are the wild card for your dog here - if they are going to be a problem approach the falls from the ridge trails on either side and go down the steps or go out-and-back.  

The Georgia State Parks have created a Geo-Challenge by hiding 46 caches is 43 state parks. When you find a Geo-Challenge cache, take a trinket from the cache and leave something of greater or equal value (an old dog tag or bone charm would be appropriate). The cache at Amicalola Falls is one of the easiest, about twenty yards off the paved Lodge Loop. Even so, you will probably need more than your dog’s nose to sniff out the caches so bring a GPS device to the treasure hunt. 

Follow I-575 north to the end and pick up Route 53 south.Turn left and go north on Route 183 to the junction of Route 52. Turn right and go east to the park entrance.