Tuesday, January 18, 2011

At the southern terminus of the Appalachian Mountains lies one of the most spectacular parks in the southeast. I am fortunate enough to live only a few miles away from Amicalola Falls State Park, and can usually be found there on most Sunday mornings running one of several of my favorite running routes.
As a matter of fact, the nickname that many of my friends refer to me by, was given to me by one of the park rangers who worked there. One early Sunday morning, several years ago, a friend and I were at the visitors center signing in for a early morning morning trail run when the elderly lady working there as a volunteer asked me if I was that "Falls Runner" guy that the Ranger mentioned, who was always running up and down the stairs like a crazy man. We laughed and said I guess that would be me. The name kinda stuck.

The aptly named Amicalola Falls State Park , is home to a 729 ft cascading waterfall, the tallest east of the Mississippi River. Aptly named as Amicalola is Cherokee for tumbling water. The falls are always incredible but I think they are most beautiful in the winter as the falls can be seen for miles around. The park offers weekly wilderness activities and workshops, has a small visitor with store and small historical and wildlife exhibit, and can support anything from small picnics to corporate conventions. There also is a kick ass restaurant at the top of the falls with breathtaking year round views.

In the North Georgia, Brasstown, and the six fabled Gaps get the majority of the attention of the cycling community. Now I will agree that if you are planning only one trip to ride in North Ga then you shouldn't pass up the opportunity to mash up Brasstown and/or Hogpen. I will say however that although not near as long those, Neels, or Wolfpen Gaps, the climb up the Top of the Falls Road at Amicalola although just slightly over a mile long, gets my legs and lungs burning more than most of the longer famed North Georgia gaps.

Walking or running up the falls is a different type of pain. After a steep approach trail about 1/4 mile long leads to the what some consider the base, the falls are flanked by a staircase of 471 stairs that lead to the top. Running these stairs is another staple training session that I enjoy even though I usually draw strange stares (no pun intended) from others as I huff my way up and down them. These are usually best run early in the morning so crowds can be avoided.
Once at the top you have multiple options as the park has numerous loop trails of various difficulty. My favorite trail within the park is the Len Foote Hike Inn trail. This is a 5 mile trail that leads from the top of the falls to the famed Len Foote Hike Inn. Its a great running trail as it's not too rocky, and the climbs and descents are not steep nor as technical as the surrounding trails. The trail is also well marked and has mileage markers along the way for those without GPS watches. Runners or hikers that make the 5 mile one way trip have the option of continuing on the AT approach trail, or even stopping for a visit to the inn, or perhaps a side trip on one of the loop trails before beginning their return trip back to the falls.

The Inn is a remote and beautifully rustic lodge 5 miles deep within the Chattahoochee National Forest. It's very unique as it allows one to take a hike deep into the Appalachian Mountains, which is the only way to get there, yet stay in a comfortable rustic lodge, complete with heated showers, hot meals, and comfortable warm beds. Its the perfect getaway for those wanting to experience the southern wilderness without actually roughing it. It’s also favorite starting point for AT through hikers making the annual March pilgrimage to Springer Mountain for the 2000 plus mile journey.
If you're like most athletes you spend your training sessions just like me, totally absorbed in the training paying no attention to anything else but your body and the plan. I have also learned that a diversion is healthy and keeps training interesting. My excursions to Amicalola Falls helps me through those long early morning base runs, and I actually embrace the remoteness and solitude of the mountains much more than beating the pavement alone . If you're ever in North Georgia you owe it to yourself to stop by.


  1. Beautiful. My brother did the whole Appalachian Trail is 4 months, and he loved Georgia. Diversion is good!

  2. Once I get all healed up, I would love to do that run!!! I love riding up there!!

  3. Thanks for the blog on your training grounds. Sounds like a blast to get out and enjoy! I love my parks and they still make for the best workouts because the views are incredible.

  4. Wow! its great having cool places to train right outside your front door. great pics.