If you don’t learn anything else about Amicalola Falls near Dawsonville, Georgia in this post, know that a visit there will make you feel like you’re in another country entirely. We were so lucky to be able to visit when the trees on the mountains were changing to their autumnal colors, and the yellows, oranges, and reds were striking to view from the Amicalola Lodge. But that waterfall? That’s the third largest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River and tallest in Georgia, and it’s between 700 and 800 feet tall (depends on who’s measuring). Either way, it’s a beautiful sight to behold, and the entire park and lodge is absolutely full of beautiful views no matter where you look.
The name “Amicalola” comes from an old Cherokee word meaning “tumbling waters,” which accurately describes this giant waterfall. What they’ve done with the huge property is about as perfect as one could ask for; there’s a beautiful mountaintop lodge, a massive waterfall, and the most gorgeous views anyone could ask for. This trip was truly outstanding because the lodge itself could be a single trip, but when you add in the actual waterfall and tons of trails, you have a destination you could dive into for days.
Amicalola Lodge is a woodland structure on top of the mountain near the giant Amicalola Waterfall. It boasts multiple stories, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a bar that serves various local brews, a gift shop, zip-lining, and multiple trails from which you can wander around the park. There are simple loop hikes just for a quick afternoon walk, to strenuous hikes from the base of the falls to the very top. What’s very interesting, though, is Amicalola Falls serves as the unofficial start to the Appalachian Trail for folks looking to start the trek to Maine. The actual southern terminus of the trail is about an 8 mile hike towards Springer Mountain, and every year the lodge holds the “Appalachian Trail Kick-Off Weekend.” This is a three-day event in March where hundreds of vendors and hikers come together to share stories, information, products, and more as people prepare to start the thru-hike to Maine.
When you first step into the rustic lodge, you see a beautiful, cozy fireplace that reaches from floor to third-story ceiling, and beyond that is a huge, multi-floor window. Opposite the fireplace is the biggest map any of us had every seen; it stretches from the first floor in the lobby to the ceiling, and it shows in vast detail the route of the Appalachian Trail. As you step a bit closer to the other side, though, the full spread of the Blue Ridge Mountains are revealed through the window as you gaze out over miles of peaks and valleys. It’s truly a view that nothing really prepares you for, because the lodge is set in such a perfect place on top of the mountain that the breathtaking view from the window looks like a painting or the background set to a movie.
The main patio has two levels in which you can sit and relax, complete with Adirondack chairs and tables. But the patio isn’t just available during the day; at night it welcomes you to step outside, light up the firepit, and relax while enjoying the sun setting behind the far mountains. It’s a gorgeous place to grab a beer, wine, or mixed drink and just gaze out over what looks like a fantasy land.
Our stay in the lodge netted us a loft room. We had two beds on the first level and a third bed up in the loft that was accessible by ship-ladder. That loft overlooked the whole room, but at the edge of the room were two windows that offered a similar view as the main window in the lobby. I have to add here that the room was spotless, everything was clean, and the room was overall just very enjoyable. After getting settled into the room and hanging out on the patio, we opted to head to the “Maple Restaurant” on the main floor. The Maple Restaurant offers buffets for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and our meal that evening consisted of various types of soup and staples like rice, chorizo, and skirt steak (it was a Mexican-themed night). Yet again, we were able to enjoy our food right next to a bold window offering those same amazing views.
After a relaxing evening dinner, hike, and sit at the firepit, we awoke the next morning to go explore the namesake Amicalola Falls. And let me tell you, there isn’t much to prepare you for just how beautiful and colossal the “Tumbling Waters” are. We actually began our journey at the top of the falls near the lodge, where there is a catwalk that hovers just over the surprisingly small creek as it tumbles over the edge of the mountain. From this spot, the entire valley and distant mountains are in view, while the rumble of the falls echoes below. That small creek turns into a raging monster as the water pours down, and the catwalk offers some amazing views.
After taking in the scenes from the top of the falls, we worked our way down to the middle section. They have a hiking trail (read: set of stairs) that allows for one to hike from the base to the top, or vice-versa, but with me carrying Baby J and one other child with a broken arm, we figured we would drive to the parking lot and hike in through the shorter, flatter trail. That turned out to be an amazing idea, because the trail follows the edge of the mountain, with a view of the lodge up on top and the falls tumbling down. On the way, we spotted something in the trees just up the mountain from us. As we looked a bit closer, we realized it was an old truck that had come to rest against some stout trees after it had tumbled about 200 feet down the side of the mountain. We later found out that the truck was actually from the 1920’s, and was an old moonshiner truck used to transport spirits during prohibition before it came to its untimely end.
We continued down the trail, and we soon realized that if the top of the falls was the appetizer, the middle section is the main course. One would think the opposite; the views from the top are simply gorgeous, there’s no doubt about it, but the middle of the falls shows off the splendor of the water in all it’s glory. The middle section is where you truly feel the power of the waterfall, and it’s that moment that it just doesn’t feel like you’re in Georgia anymore. It honestly feels like this location should be in some faraway land; it’s simply that beautiful. We approached the catwalk that crosses directly in front of the falls and all kinds of people were there taking pictures, resting for the next leg of their hike, snacking, and just taking it all in. The water is loud and crushing just a few feet out of reach, and as you look up you can’t see the upper catwalk. The “cascading” part of the falls makes it difficult to see all the way to the top. Then, if you turn around and look down, you still can’t see the bottom. That moment was what truly put the entire Amicalola Falls into perspective; it was by far the biggest waterfall any of us had ever been to, and to think it comes from such a small creek at the top of the mountain is just mind-blowing.
We hung around the middle section of the falls for quite some time. It was just that awe-inspiring. But, time was wearing thin and we still wanted to see the bottom, so we began working our way to the base of the falls. It is there where the majority of the cabins sit, and also where there is a large reflecting pool that contains trout and allows for some laid-back fishing. They also have some of those massive binoculars that allow you to gaze all the way back up to the middle and top sections of the falls.
We couldn’t have asked for a better trip to Amicalola Falls. One day, you’ll probably read another post and see another video about this place, because there is so much we didn’t get to do. For example, there is a beautiful inn that is only accessible by hiking that is about a 2-4 hour walk into the Appalachian Trail. This lodge, called the Len Foote Hike Inn, is an eco-friendly, sustainably-designed building that is open year-round and is often the first stay or last stay for people hiking the Appalachian Trail. The main trail itself continues northward just past the inn, but the main way to get there is by hiking in from the area near Amicalola Lodge. Who knows, perhaps one day we’ll do a blog and video there? From all reviews it seems like a gorgeous place to truly get away from everything, as it is so remote it only has certain amenities (don’t worry, hot showers and tasty meals are always available). Regardless, we’ll be back to Amicalola Falls, it’s truly a hidden treasure and lives up to the title of being a Wonder of Georgia.