Amicalola Falls, Georgia
Amicalola Falls State Park is located on Georgia Rte. 52, about a 90 minute drive north of Atlanta. From Atlanta, take I-75 north to I-575. When the freeway ends, continue north on Rte. 5. At Talking Rock, turn right on Rte. 136. When you reach Rte. 183, turn left, then right on Rte. 52. There will be signs all along the way, so it's not as complicated as it sounds.
Amicalola Falls is the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. From the top, a tiny stream tumbles 729 feet over the mountainside.
The word "Amicalola" is derived from the Native American (Cherokee) word meaning "tumbling waters".
Amicalola Falls is easily accessible, in the sense that there's a nice, two lane paved road that leads to a large parking lot, not far from the bottom of the falls. But to really appreciate the most beautiful portion of the cascade, you're going to have to climb some stairs.
Starting from the parking lot, you'll climb a mildly-steep, handicapped-accessible slant to the lowest viewpoint. Here, you'll have an up-close view of some smaller cascades (like the one above), and a partial view of the best part of the falls, high on the mountainside.
If you're capable of climbing the 175 stairs that lead to this next viewpoint, I strongly suggest you do it. The staircase may leave you out of breath, but the view from the bridge, just below the cascade, is equally breathtaking.
There aren't many different ways to take a picture of this portion of the falls, since you're forbidden from leaving the path, but the right end of the bridge will provide a nice place for a shot.
If 175 steps weren't enough of a challenge, how about 425 more? I decided to tackle this strenuous string of staircases, not knowing at the time that there was a road that led to the top. Of course, the fact that there is a lodge at the top should have been my first clue that there was an alternative to the stairs.
425 steps later (or a couple of miles of driving), and this is where you end up. Stand for a moment at the very top of the falls and watch as the tiny creek takes its plunge over the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains.
Since I climbed my way to the top, instead of taking the road, I had to go back the same way I came. Going down stairs should be easier than going up, but it isn't.
If you enjoy hiking, but don't like camping, consider a stay at Amicalola Park's new Hike-Inn. The only way to reach the 20-room hotel is by walking up a 5 mile trail. You'll need to check in by 2 p.m. at the Visitor's Center, and remember to leave your cell phone behind--it's not welcome at the Hike-Inn.
Amicalola Falls Park serves as a gateway to the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, which begins 8.5 miles away, atop nearby Springer Mountain. From there, it's only 2,174 miles to Mount Katahdin in Maine!
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