Amicalola. The Cherokee Indians had a name for it. High in the watershed of a ridge known as Amicalola Mountain a body of water forms, enthusiastically called a creek. Along the western slope the creek runs, until it makes a stunning entrance into the Etowah River valley, tumbling, swirling and dropping off the ledges at the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Amicalola. Tumbling water.
Amicalola Falls entered the Georgia State Park system in 1940 and played a key roll in the Appalachian Trail Club rerouting the start of the trail to Springer Mountain in 1957. With over 800 acres, the park is one of the larger parks in the Georgia system.
The Cherokee Nation controlled the area until they were forcibly removed from the state of Georgia in 1838 during the "Cherokee Trail of Tears]]." Describing the falls in 1832, Georgia surveyor William Williamson wrote:
In the course of my route in the Mountains I discovered a Water Fall perhaps the greatest in the World the most majestic Scene that I have ever witnessed or heard of the Creek passes over the mountain & the fall I think can't be less than Six hundred Yards. The Mountain is a least three fourths of a mile high. I made great exertions to get on the summit but the ascent was so great that I was completely exhausted by the time I reached half way. My position was such that I had a perfect view of the entire Fall The Steam is Called Um-ma-eolola from the Fall (Sliding Water)
When the Appalachian Trail was rerouted to end at Springer Mountain the park began to serve as the access point for hikers. From the park, Springer is just over 8 miles using the Southern Terminus Trail
The land that comprised the falls was so remote that a Cherokee woman living near Amicalola Creek was missed by the Georgia Guard in 1838 as they searched for Cherokee stragglers to force west on the Trail of Tears. She continued living in the area until the late 1840's.
In 1852 a settler named Bartley Crane built a grist mill near the site of the present-day visitors center. As settlers arrived, a Methodist-Episcopal campground was established near the falls for revivals on December 19, 1860 and was originally designated Ammicalola Camp Ground (note the extra "M"). During The Civil War the area remained in near anarchy until Union troops arrived in 1865.
John Crane, Bartley's son, continued to run the mill after his father's death, adding a general store to serve his customers. Eventually, about the turn of the century, he ended the mill but continued the store. In 1940 John Crane sold his property to the state. When Amicalola Falls State Park entered the Georgia park system later that year it had 407 acres and the falls became the centerpiece and namesake of the park.
The Appalachian Trail began on Oglethorpe Mountain near Jasper in 1937. By the early 1950's the trail had been intersected by roads and commercial development, specifically high-volume chicken houses, were destroying the last few miles of the hike. In 1956 the Appalachian Trail Club in Harper's Ferry decided to reroute the trail to Springer Mountain, and the state of Georgia agreed to build a long-term parking area for hikers at Amicalola Falls State Park.
In 1977 a visitor fell off a rocky ledge near the falls, inspiring rangers to create a Mountain Search and Rescue team. The same year the park drained Lake Amicalola because of problems with earthen dams like the one built to create the lake.
Beginning with the addition of Amicalola Lodge in 1991 the state added new hiking trails, upgraded existing trails and redid the visitors center. In 1995 Hurricane Opal did extensive damage to the park, damaging the original overlook at the top of the falls.
After a quick stop at Burt's Pumpkin Farm, it's across Georgia State Road 52 to the well marked entrance to Amicalola Falls State Park. An entrance fee is required, but the park is well worth the small amount. The road splits just before the visitor center. Journey to the left to get to the top of the falls and the lodge, or continue straight ahead for the visitor center and the Base of the Falls Trail. We turn left on the Amicalola Falls Lodge Road which begins climbing immediately and a steep mile later the upper falls parking is to the right. The road follows the ridge line past this parking to the 57-room Amicalola Lodge. When the lodge was built quite a furor erupted over what critics called "the intrusive nature of the building". We stopped and walked the interpretive path along the ridge top south of the lodge. An easy hike, the trail is signed and lit at night, and it affords great views of the cove below and the Amicalola Watershed beneath the falls.
Between the lodge and the falls, stone steps rise from the road. This is the start of the Southern Terminus Approach Trail. Parking on the west side of the falls is limited, however, an expansive overflow parking area is available on the east side. The area here has been repeatedly raked by weather over the last five years including an unnamed rainstorm, a blizzard commonly called the Storm of the Century and Hurricane Opal. Much of the upper observation deck and path have been rebuilt because of the storms. The deck crosses the creek, jutting out over the dramatic drop in the falls.
Returning down the mountain, turn left at the end of the road to continue to the Base of the Falls Trail. Limited parking is available at the trailhead (at the visitors center), but parking along the road to the base augments it. The path continues to the reflection pool and winds up the cove to the observation deck at the top of the falls, although the path requires a good deal of step climbing. The path is paved in the area of the falls and is moderate.
The Visitors Center was remodeled and expanded in the 1990's. Scales are provided so backpackers can check the weight of packs before they begin the trek to the top of Springer. Additional trails are available, including the Base of the Falls Trail previously mentioned and the East and West Ridge Trails. These wind their way up the ridges, the East trail climbing to the top of the falls, the West Ridge Trail climbing to a spring near Amicalola Lodge Road and the parking lot halfway up the mountain.
From the deck at the top of the waterfalls, the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains (technically, The Dahlonega Uplands) spread across much of the view, which is exceptional in the fall. About halfway down the mountain a new lot allows visitors to see the falls cascading down the mountain.
Hardwoods dominate the local forest. The river forms the Amicalola Watershed, which drains into the Etowah River further south. The mountain is the southern limit for the eastern milk snake. Occasionally rare animals such as the pileated woodpecker (like Woody) and plants like the pink lady slipper are found.
Um-ma-eolola - William Williamson's interpretation of the Cherokee word.
Amakalola - Common settler misspelling
Armicalola - Common settler misspelling
Ummahcaloloke - settler misspelling
Ammacalola - Original name of Methodist Camp Ground
Amicalola Falls State Park
418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road
Dawsonville, Georgia, 30534
Amicalola Falls State Park
Take Ga. 400 to Ga. 53 towards Dawsonville. Turn right on Elliott Family Parkway (Hwy 183), and continue on Hwy 183 until it ends at GA-52. Turn right on GA-52, the entrance to the park is on the left about 1 mile past Burt's Pumpkin Farm on the left.