To Approach or Not to Approach: starting NOBO at Amicalola Falls

”Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” -Yoda to Anakin Skywalker

Amicalola Falls.   The spiritual northbound start of the Appalachian Trail to some, the bane of the Trail’s existence to others.  The appetizer to a five star meal or the scourge of the Earth. There seems to be no middle ground when it comes to the opinions of Amicalola to the majority of thru hikers starting north on the AT every spring. Why is this?

For those who choose not to partake in this hellish right of passage,  it’s not the ‘official’ start of the Appalachian Trail.   The defined southern terminus of the AT really is at the top of Springer Mountain. There’s a sort of political correctness to this mindset, sticking to the defined start/end points of the Big Hike to Maine…even if the majority thinking this way really mean ”Heck no,  no way/no how am I hiking up 600+ steps on the side of a cliff steep enough that a Himalayan Ibex would want no part of!”.  For the sake of clarity: there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with passing on Amicalola Falls. Hike Your Own Hike, Groot and I will support you every step of the way!

Personally, I’m including myself in the group that will do the Stairmaster Challenge.  I can’t really speak for everyone taking a stab at Amicalola, but to myself and a few that I’ve spoken with, it’ll be an excellent gauge for the challenges of the first week or two on the AT.  It’ll also more than likely be a lesson in not getting too far ahead of myself and to just take it all in along the way: the sights (absolutely breathtaking waterfalls) , the sounds (the birds,  my lungs pleading for mercy), and the sanctity of LNT (not throwing my pack over the railing after 300 steps). No matter how grueling the Approach Trail is,  it’ll be worth it to myself and many others.

For those of you who haven’t made up your mind yet about doing the Approach, I say JUST DO IT (Hi Nike! ?).  Amicalola Falls will totally set you up to succeed on your thru hike if your mind lets it!  If it’s too harsh for you to do in one day,  don’t! Listen to your body!   There are camping areas by the Amicalola Visitor’s Center and on the way up to the summit of Springer Mountain.  A few hikers have even mentioned to me that it took them two, two and a half days to get up Springer from the Approach trail and they still lived to top Katahdin. Hike Your Own Hike! Don’t try to keep up with the dudes who run marathons every weekend, they’re like the Energizer Bunny.  Not. Worth. Chasing.

In wrapping this up,  choose the start that fits YOUR personal needs/goals on YOUR Appalachian Trail experience.  There really is no right or wrong to the Hike. Just don’t be the hiker who finishes on an autumn afternoon in Maine saying ”Geez, now I wish I had done the Approach at Amicalola!”.  Like Yoda explained to Anakin in Star Wars, ‘Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.’.

I am Groot.

Follow my AT adventure here on the Trek at: and also at Instagram: @grootonthetrail

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 13

  • CK : Dec 11th

    I wish they (AT conservancy?) would just make it the start of the trail.

    • Jon Goff : Dec 11th

      I’m fine with it being how it is, to be honest. The openness of interpretation adds to hiker lure (and bragging rights!). Nothing wrong with a healthy debate. Lol. Happy hiking!

  • Sandrs : Dec 11th

    Excellent post, Jon. Makes me think about the HYOH.
    I’m getting spool excited for you both. BTW, did you talk over the Approach with Groot to make sure he’s tied in tightly?

    • Jon Goff : Dec 11th

      Groot will be latched on tightly, maybe even bungied as well for those steps! Lol. Thanks for everything, Trail Angel! ?

  • Sandra : Dec 11th

    Hating autocorrect.

    • Jon Goff : Dec 11th

      Battled it myself in writing this…worse than the Falls will be! Lol

  • Stan Stasiewicz : Dec 12th

    So I agree. Technically we’ll officially be walking 2198 miles (give or take) if we complete the trail, so what’s another 8? And given that in the course of walking the trail, with all the towns etc., you’ll be doing more miles. Lastly, if you were starting (or ending, really) at Katahdin, it’s not like you actually start (or end) at the top of the mountain. You have to hike up to the start (or down once you reach the sign) so I’m not sure I see the difference. HYOH

    • Jon Goff : Dec 12th

      That’s an excellent point, Stan. It’d be a similar stance as ‘Well, I made it to Katahdin. Might as well stay up here.’. The Approach has so much to do with the mindset…if you don’t have the stomach to at least attempt it, I’d have to think the odds are against completing your thru hike. But even that has been proven wrong. We’ll stick with Hike Your Own Hike here.

  • Craig melger : Dec 12th

    Very nice article on the steps, well written Jon. I’ll start posting some video on the tube after Jan.1st. Got one with Goldilocks, The Hodag and special guest “Groot on the Trail” singing the Appalachian trail NOBO anthem, probably won’t post that one until we step off the first blaze, though maybe post it earlier so everyone can learn to sing it, we’ll see!

    • Jon Goff : Dec 12th

      Groot said he appreciates any shoutouts! Hopefully we get to meet you guys along the way, Hodag. 🙂

  • CSW : Dec 13th

    I never once considered being carried to Springer. At the time, in ‘16, hiking up the stairs seemed a great way to start my epic vacation.

    Now I know why. It’s about the journey.

    Having only seen a few waterfalls in my lifetime, bypassing a trek up alongside a massive waterfall would have started my hike with regret and disappointment.

    I didn’t care about how much faster, slower, fit or unfit anyone else was, on stairs or on trail. It was all I could do to haul myself up up up step by step, then across or down.

    Within a day, my trail family was forming and we had a rollicking group in a few days. Who did or didn’t start at the Falls was not a plus or minus. It just was.

    Those who are new to hiking the AT will find out quickly that this hike is taxing as hell. There’s just not emotional space to obsess over others.

    That’s a beautiful and freeing thing.

    • Jon Goff : Dec 13th

      Very beautifully put, CSW! I must add for those that do hike Amicalola: do it for yourself, not because others think you should. The whole trip should be about each individual, then forming bonds along the way like you mentioned. I’m doing the Approach strictly because waterfalls always leave me in awe and that I don’t want to finish with that lingering regret that you mentioned. I really enjoyed this response.

  • Gwen Buchanan : Dec 25th

    Great article and comment! I am finalizing my plans to begin my NOBO Thru-hike beginning March 27, and I have been questioning where I want to start. This article really helped me realize I want the falls to be my grand entrance! Thanks guys!


What Do You Think?