Top of Amicalola Falls shot from below.
Don’t Miss Amicalola Falls
By Tom Wilson
As a photographer, one of my favorite waterfalls is Amicalola Falls in North Georgia. Technically a cascade, Amicalola Falls tumbles a dramatic 729 feet, making it the highest in Georgia and the third highest east of the Mississippi River.
Located within Amicalola Falls State Park, an 829-acre gem between Ellijay and Dahlonega, this cascade offers remarkable accessibility. There is trail access to the base of the falls, the top of the falls and to the mid-point of the falls, with a level path that is ADA-accessible (see the park website for a trail map). All of the accesses have parking areas. These multiple access points make it possible to photograph the falls from different perspectives, and all of the access points are connected so you can utilize one or all of them.
This ease of access also has a downside, however, which is the fact that the park attracts lots of visitors. I would recommend getting there early in the morning, or during weekdays, for the best photographic opportunities. Many of your photos can be made from the boardwalks and the stairs that climb up the falls, but bear in mind that lots of foot traffic can mean lots of vibration on those boardwalks, which can result in blurry photographs.
Because the cascade is inside a state park, there are plenty of amenities available, including a visitor center, restrooms, camping, lodging and even a restaurant at the lodge. The visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and there is a $5 fee to park in any of the lots all day. You can instead use your Georgia State Parks Pass if you have one.
Waterfalls can be difficult subjects to photograph due to their high-contrast environments. One solution for this problem is to plan your trip for cloudy days. Another option is to visit the falls early in the morning, before the sun is shining directly on the water (as mentioned, this also helps you avoid the foot traffic you’ll experience at busier times of the day). The park is open during daylight hours so you should be able to enter even before the visitor center opens. I have photographed the falls in all kinds of light, and each trip has yielded good, if different, images.
Be sure to visit the Georgia State Park website before you go. Check the weather and do some research about water levels in North Georgia; when levels are really high, the water can be brown and unattractive for photographs. Take all of your hiking essentials with you, including water, sunscreen, rain gear, seasonally appropriate clothing, first aid kit, etc.
The photographic equipment I take with me is my camera body/bodies, sturdy tripod, remote release, lenses with hoods (from very wide angle to telephoto), polarizer, neutral density filter, a small towel for drying the camera due to spray from the falls, and a microfiber cloth for the lens.
My favorite aspect of this waterfall is the variety of images that you can make. I have included some of them with this article. For instance, you can get images from the top of the falls that show the surrounding countryside. Because of the boardwalk, you can position yourself close to the main cascades for some really imposing shots of the falls or finer details. Further down the trail you can access shots that include more of the creek tumbling on down the mountain after it has gone over the main falls. The photos I have included range in seasons from early fall before the leaves have started to turn, to the peak of the fall color and into winter. No matter when you choose to go, you’ll find some great opportunities for photography!
Tom Wilson is a nature photographer working primarily in Georgia and the Southeast. He is Vice President of GNPA, is past chair of the Conservation Committee and is current chair of the Communications Committee.