Hiking Amicalola Falls with Kids
This post contains affiliate links.
Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in Georgia at 729 feet. It’s lovely and easy to reach, at just over an hour outside of Atlanta. I took the three littles in late April to check out Amicalola Falls State Park and stretch our hiking legs just a bit. This was part of our PCS (permanent change of station) road trip from Florida to Colorado.
Sometime in 2021 a storm damaged the bridges and stairs at Amicalola Falls, making what was once an easy hike up or down the falls a bit more difficult. The damage was well publicized, so I arrived at the park knowing we couldn’t do the route Jeff and I had taken years ago when we visited pre-kids. It was not entirely clear on any webpage how to hike to the falls and what that would look like. So I arrived to Amicalola Falls State Park with a half-plan and a picnic, hoping to fill in the gaps at the ranger station.
All Georgia State Parks require a $5 entry fee. The pass is good for the day in all state parks. You can easily spend a full day at Amicalola Falls, particularly if you are hiking with kids. We arrived early on a weekday and encountered only a few other people on our hikes. While in the ranger station we picked up the Jr. Ranger packet, paid our fee and got a briefing on the trails that were open and how to string them together into a 2-mile roundtrip hike. Make sure you pick up a map with the trail blaze colors written on it, otherwise you can easily get turned around. (There are a variety of attractions and a lodge at the state park, but we stuck to the trails and had plenty to do.)
We started our hike on the 0.6 mile Creek Trail. This trail crosses the creek on a wooden bridge just across the street from the visitors center. There is a huge parking lot, which is where we left our car. The Big and Middle each wore their Camelback Mini M.U.L.E – they put some snacks and their sandwiches in there as well. I carried my KAVU rope sling bag, which was just perfect for a light hike like this. We all wore hats and layers as the temperature was in the 60’s and we went from hot to cold consistently as we hiked in and out of the shade.
The Creek Trail is steep! You are gaining elevation nearly the whole time.
The Creek Trail dead ends into the 1 mile Mt. Laurel Loop. We took a left when the two trails met up, but we should have taken a right. It’s a loop so we reached Spring Trail eventually, but added some mileage to our walk. The Mt. Laurel Loop is relatively flat.
The Mt Laurel Loop intersects the 0.4 mile Spring Trail which gains some serious elevation and ends in the West Ridge Falls parking lot. (Yes. You can drive up there too!)
We walked across the parking lot and picked up the West Ridge Falls Access Trail. This path is ADA compliant and made of chipped-up tires. It is almost completely flat. (Confusingly, they have put a sign at the entrance to the trail saying that there is no falls access. The bridge is out but you can still see the falls from the end of the trail.)
We walked all the way to the closed bridge for a lovely view of the falls.
Then we headed up the West Ridge Staircase.
The 425 stairs are no joke.
However, you have stunning views of the falls as you gain elevation right next to them.
At the top of the falls you are dumped out onto the Top of the Falls Trail. This boardwalk goes over the top of the falls, giving you a stunning view of the water tumbling off the edge of the ledge and the sweeping vistas of the Georgia Mountains.
At the end of the boardwalk are some stairs into a parking lot. There are bathrooms to your right and a trailhead directly across the parking lot. We picked up this trailhead and went right up to the lodge. There is a shopette, restaurant and bathrooms in the lodge. We picked up some chips and cold drinks and had a picnic with the food we brought out on the patio. Then we refilled the Camelbacks and started our dissent.
We went back to the parking lot at the Top of the Falls and past the bathrooms to pick up the East Ridge Trail. This trail is also known as the first part of the Appalachian Approach Trail. (When heading back to the visitors center look for the East Ridge Trail signs, as the Appalachian Approach Trail signs continue to lead you to the Appalachian Trail. In other words, the same trail is labeled two different things – Appalachian Approach if you are going up and East Ridge if you are going down.)
The East Ridge Trail is significantly washed out just beyond the parking lot bathrooms. It is slow going with lots of loose rock. This lasts less than half a mile. You can see where the water that washed it out turned and plunged over the cliff. The path is dirt again as it enters the forest and is easier to walk. It is still quite steep though and it’s super important to follow the trail markers and not take shortcuts. There are plenty of signs reminding you to stay on the trail.
This portion of the East Ridge Trail is so scenic. We heard and saw tons of birds. There were wildflowers and so many cool looking trees.
You can’t miss the bent tree, likely done by the Cherokee, who bent trees as saplings to mark different things like water, food and sacred areas.
When you finally wind your way down all the way to the bottom you will see the Stone Arch which marks the start of the 8.5 mile approach trail. Stopping and taking a photo here is obligatory.
This arch is actually the backside of the visitors center. My kids headed straight for the playground from here. (How did they still have any energy?) The Creek Trail is just across the street, so as soon as they got tired of playing it was easy to load up and head out. Just don’t forget to pop back into the Visitors Center and pick up your Jr. Ranger Badge.
We had such a great visit to Amicalola Falls. We ended up hiking 4 miles of pretty rugged terrain. I never had to carry anyone, which was amazing. We had a few tears when kids got overwhelmed, but stopping and having some snacks did wonders. Our rest break at the lodge also put everyone in a great mood to head back down the trail.
The great thing about Amicalola Falls State Park is that if you don’t have great hikers, you can easily drive to the attractions and fit in some short hikes and still see the waterfalls. My kids were inspired though by the few through hikers we ran into either finishing or preparing for a few days on the Appalachian Trail. These hikers were happy to answer my kids’ questions and had them dreaming about doing some longer hikes into deeper wilderness when they get a bit older.
This post contains affiliate links. Making a purchase using one of our links means we get paid by the retailer at no additional cost to you. We recommend products we use and love. All opinions are my own.