To our northeast in South Carolina, punishing rains (15 to 20 inches) spawned by Hurricane Joaquin are swamping the Palmetto State (by the way, palmetto means “little palm”). In intermittent mist and showers here in northern Georgia, we have come to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) this first week of October.
On Sundays when we travel, we look for a Unity Church to make a connection with locals and add some practical positiveness to our day. This morning, Unity of North Atlanta (UNA) delivers. The talk this morning focuses on successful relationships having two key components – acceptance and forgiveness. UNA gives each newbie a rose.
Our hiking destination today is in Amicalola State Park some 60 miles to the northwest of Atlanta. Not trusting our WAZE GPS alone, we pull out our Georgia road map as we drive north on I-575 to two-lane country roads towards the North Carolina border.
Paying $5 admission, we head to the Visitor Center for some hiking suggestions. Amicalola State Park is known far and wide by AT thru-hikers as the jumping off point for hiking the Appalachian Trail from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine, 2180 miles away. Though, it must be pointed out that AT hikers leaving Amicalola still have an 8.5 mile Approach Trail to hike before they actually start the AT at Springer Mountain. Though Hannah and I won’t officially hike on the AT today, we are knocking on the door of completing our 14th of 14 AT states.
Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word for “tumbling waters.” The Cherokee tribe controlled this area until 1832, when the Treaty of New Echota forced the Cherokee to leave and go further west into the Ozarks. This mass removal would later be known as the Trail of Tears.
Learning from the young ranger that Amicalola has a 729 foot waterfall, the largest east of the Rockies, we are all in to hike the one mile trail to the top of the falls. Appreciative of her guidance, I give the young ranger my Unity rose; what had been all business turns into a country smile moment for both of us.
Winding through the forest paralleling the Amicalola Lodge Road past picnic areas and families playing touch football, the trail is level and easy going on this cloudy 65F afternoon. Crossing over the road that takes drivers to the top of the falls, we pass the roaring creek engorged by the recent rains.
After hiking just a few hundred yards, Hannah needs relief from the scraping of her ankles due to her new hiking boots. At this point a young trail angel steps up to offer Hannah some surgical tape to secure her Band-Aids. We learn that she is day hiking on her own while her husband fly fishes in the nearby creek. She tells us later that they will have dinner together. And this is where it gets so cute. Dinner for them is a picnic here at the park.
After one half mile of skirting the creek, we soon come to the first of two sets of wooden stairways that will take us to the top of the falls. On this Sunday afternoon we are among many enjoying nature’s hydro-wonderland. The video below captures our first look at this stunning falls.
The stairway climb of first 175 steps and then 450 more has us mingling with families and couples. In the presence of waterfalls I am mesmerized as I would travel hundreds of miles to be in their hydro-glory. Along the staircases there are benches for the weary, but we step intently on these grated metal treads to the top, overlooking the valley here in north Georgia.
Once at the top, we take the Approach Trail to Mt. Springer just like AT thru-hikers would do. The edges of the South Carolina storms sprinkle us with light rain, though the forest canopy keeps us mostly dry. With the refreshing feel to the Georgia rain this fall day, we turn back after a mile to get a second chance at waterfall splendor.
Approaching five o’clock, families and couples continue to climb the wooden stair cases as we descend. All is not rainbows and roses on the trail. We do pass a mother with weary eyes holding the hand of her most unhappy preschool son who is sobbing that he doesn’t want to climb anymore; meanwhile his two year old sister is being carried by dad. Lesson learned by Dan and Hannah. We’ll wait til our grandsons Owen and Max are both school kids before we bring them here.
Rather than returning tomorrow to Amicalola State Park to hike the 8.5 miles to Springer Mountain and the AT, we have learned of a back road off route 52 that will take us within a mile of Springer Mountain. With confirming directions from the Visitor Center, we will attack the mountain from the backside manana.
Tonight we have what AT hikers do not have: a warm bed, a shared bottle of Cabernet, and a hot tub at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay, Georgia. We will sleep well tonight.