Amicalola Falls Hiking

Joan and I took advantage of her day off and went to the Amicalola Falls State Park.

Amicalola is known in thru-hiking circles as the approach to the famous Appalachian Trail and its southern terminus at Springer Mountain.  What is less well-known is that is the trail leads to the start of the Benton MacKaye Trail. And that the Appalachian Trail existed on what is now the Approach Trail until the 1950s.

But for most people, Amicalola Falls is not this place steeped in trail mythos. It is not the start of a pilgrimage path.

It is a park to take in some impressive falls, enjoy a picnic, or a pleasant hike in the woods. Maybe a chance to enjoy a hut-trip like jaunt one hour from Atlanta.  Or perhaps enjoy a beer while overlooking the mountains.

When I hiked the AT twenty-years ago, I did not hike the Approach Trail.

Not because I felt it was too hard or intimidating. I skipped the trail as the person taking me to the start of the AT wanted to get to the Springer summit, too.

And though I did the Approach Trail when I hiked the BMT, I was at the tail end of winter. The wildflowers were not out.  The falls did not flow too strongly.   I never explored the park.

With a day to explore the park and plenty of daylight, I savored the park a bit more than previous times here.

We started from the visitor center, signed in, and weighed our daypacks as part of the religious ritual.

The sounds of Latin and the smell of incense may have been present.

We soon passed through the famous arch at the start of the approach.

We soon made our way from the visitors center and followed the semi-famous blue blazes.

We soon climbed the infamous steps that people seem to kvetch about so much. They did not bother me in 2009 with a full pack. They certainly did not bother me with a day pack! 🙂

Not long after we reached the falls.  In early Summer, the falls flowed strongly and cascaded down the cliffs.

I switched to my phone soon after I took this photo.

I found the trail to be rolling and not overly steep. Again, just as 2009. The difference? This time I took photos of lots of flowers.

And spotted wildlife.  I spotted a red-headed woodpecker, a black bear ran across the trail, and two particular creatures ambled on the trail itself.

We reached the summit. No views to be had on a foggy and rainy day. But we did find the weather to be cool and comforting. Perfect for hiking in a long green tunnel.

We sat at the start of the pilgrimage path and ate our lunch.

About half-way down the Approach Trail and then headed to the Hike Inn via a different path.

The Inn reminded me a bit of the AMC huts. Including inexpensive goodies!  The peach scoop pie and a bit of iced tea was the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

We made our way down and ended up at the  Amicalola Lodge at 5 PM or so.   We enjoyed a beer and pizza while overlooking the mountains. My first time at the lodge ended up being a perfect way to (almost) end the day hike.

It is now time to be iazy after a full day of #hiking in #georgia

A post shared by Paul Mags (@pmagsco) on

One more mile to go down to the car after our dinner. We took the lightly used East Ridge trail. The advantage of taking this trail, besides taking a different route, is that we had views for a fair amount while descending.

We reached the car, drove back to Joan’s home, and thoroughly enjoyed our day.

Thoughts on the “difficult” Approach Trail:

  • I think the Approach Trail is considered difficult for many reasons: People come to the trail just off the couch, packs may be heavy, people are full of nervous energy, tired from their journey to Georgia,  etc.   For a person in decent shape with a light pack, the Approach Trail is pleasant. The climbs are not steep or sustained when going to Springer. Oddly enough, the only steady climb of any note is climbing away from Springer and up away from Nimblewill Gap. And that climb only lasted about ten minutes!
  • Or, to put it another way, when I just wanted to bang out the Approach Trail in 2009, it took me 2.5 hrs from the Visitors Center to the Springer summit.  Taking photos, lollygagging, and futzing around, it took us about 3 hrs to hike the Approach Trail. At an even more casual but consistent pace, four hours would be a very reasonable expectation.
  • Essentially, the Approach Trail is a well-maintained and enjoyable trail. Even the stairs are manageable. And the falls are quite beautiful. As a bonus, getting to Amicalola Falls Visitor Center is a much easier travel than driving to FS42. Less time in the car and more hiking is good! 🙂
  • Just hike it!
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