Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge is a state park located in the northeast corner of the U.S. state of Georgia, near Hoboken and Winder. The park contains two waterfalls on the Okefenokee River, one of which is over 600 feet (180m) high. It also features Lake Burton, Lake Jackson, and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to hiking the 3/4 mile (1.2km) long waterfall trail, there are many other activities available at this park.
There is an entrance fee for this park. Visitors needing a parking pass for their vehicle can purchase one from the park office. No swimming or bathing is allowed at either falls due to dangerous conditions. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by WestCare, who found issues with accessibility at several locations. Amicalola Falls was named after the creek that feeds into it, which is known as Amicalola Falls Creek. “Amicalola” is derived from a Cherokee word meaning “tumbling waters”.
Built primarily of undressed granite, the fort measures 265 feet in length and 125 feet in width. Its strategic location atop a 200-foot (61m) bluff above the Okefenokee Swamp gave it defensive advantages against attacks by European enemies or hostile Indians. To the south lay Peas Creek, then a thirty-mile (50km) open road to Forsyth, the nearest major town. North of the fort was a swamp so impassable that no enemy force could have attacked it directly. Instead, settlers had to rely upon blockhouses to protect them from the weather. The main structure of the fort consists of four large blocks of granite, each weighing about 2 tons, which were carefully placed in position and bound together with iron rods to create a secure base camp. Two smaller structures of similar design were built next to provide additional coverage. Although little documentation exists today, plans drawn up by Colonel Robert L. Reid show that the fort originally consisted of twenty-five buildings, nine of which survived until 1956, when Carlton Greene, curator of the nearby Lake Burton Historical Museum, conducted extensive excavations.
Based on artifacts found, historians believe that the fort was initially occupied by members of the Carolinian culture, early pioneers who migrated west from the upper reaches of the Mississippi River. By the mid-1830s, the fort was owned by Richard H. Lewis, whose family arrived in the area in the late 1820s. They were part of the migration of farmers and craftsmen to the New World following the path blazed by Thomas Jefferson. For some unknown reason, the Lewises decided to call their farm “Fallen Rock”, a name that would stick despite the fact that they lived far from any natural waterfalls. In 1939, Mrs. Lewis donated the 1,000 acres surrounding the fort to the federal government, requesting that it become a national historic site. She specified that the fort remain unoccupied except for ceremonial purposes, and that all structural improvements be made without using materials stronger than those employed in original construction. Despite these restrictions, work crews gradually improved the appearance of the fort through the addition of decorative touches like windowpanes, door frames, and porch columns.
During World War II, the fort became the property of the Army Corps of Engineers, who fortified it further and named it the Amicalola Falls Recreation Area. With the end of the war, the corps handed the facility over to the Navy, who maintained it as a public recreation area until 1955, when Carlton Greene began his excavation. While the fort still possesses considerable military significance, it has been transformed into a recreational destination. Amenities include walking trails, boat ramps, picnic areas, campsites, playgrounds, cabins, lodges, and primitive, full-service, and equestrian camping facilities. Fishing, canoeing, kayaking, geocaching, and other outdoor sports are also welcome at the park. The park hosts numerous festivals, including Halloween Horror Nights, Fall Fest, Columbus Day Parade, and the annual Christmas Luminary Event. Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge is accredited by the American Association of Museums.
The museum holds periodic historical reenactments by costumed docents called History Journeys. The park receives frequent heavy rains, especially in October, November, and March, which cause Fallen Rock Run to rise rapidly. Water levels may reach record volumes, causing damage to roads, bridges, and vegetation. The park closes during these times, although visitors can access the grounds via the gate across the run. Recreational SCUBA diving is prohibited. An interpretive center outside the visitor’s complex includes exhibits on local ecology, Native Americans, geology, and natural and cultural history. Interpretive displays, signs, and lectures supplement the material presented in the center. The park offers year-round camping, lodging, and cabin rentals. Campsites range from modern with electric hookups, running water, and vault toilets to semi-modern with flush toilets and cold running water, to rustic tent sites. Backcountry camping is permitted in the forested portions of the park.
According to local tradition, Chief Logan once visited the area and saw the falls, but he refused to tell anyone where he had come from because he did not want to be followed. He said that if someone else discovered his secret, they could do anything they wanted with his body. His wish came true when one of his descendants, Chief Bradley, died around 1750, and his son, Shoal-water Joe, fell asleep under a tree beside the falls. When he awoke, he found that his father’s killer had made off with his beloved daughter, Mary, and his oldest brother, John, had been captured and enslaved. Shoal-water Joe vowed revenge, escaped from slavery, and eventually returned home to seek out his family.
After finding only new graves, he set off again, vowing to kill as many whites as possible along the way. On his third trip back home, he succeeded in killing fourteen; three more victims died later from wounds sustained in the attack. Upon returning to Georgia, he joined the army of General James E. Edmonds, fighting against Andrew Jackson during the Seminole Wars. At age eighty-four, he led some 300 warriors in another assault on Fort M’Rory, this time successfully capturing it. Following the death of his comrade, Major William Williams, in battle, however, Shoal-water Joe surrendered, having lost most of his men in combat. He soon regained his freedom, though, serving as a guide for future expeditions. In 1836, he participated in the Second Seminole War, again acting as a guide.
This time, his services were invaluable, as he knew every square foot of ground in the area. As reward, President Martin Van Buren issued a proclamation granting him land in present-day Walton County, near the fall line. Known today as Old Fort Walton, the fort served as a frontier post for ten years before being abandoned. Some of its buildings were used as a schoolhouse, others were built as homes for officers and soldiers. One building even housed the county courthouse for a short period. A fire in June 1936 destroyed much of what remained, leaving just enough standing walls and foundations to allow archeologists to begin documenting its history. Excavations revealed artifacts dating back to the Late Fort Period, between 550 and 650 CE. These included bits of pottery, arrowheads, stone axes, bone harpoons, and metal coins. Evidence indicated that the fort had been occupied for approximately fifty years, beginning around 750 CE.
- wildlife viewing
- bird watching
- cross country skiing
- nature photography