What’s in a name? When it’s a place name, sometimes a lot. They’re like tiny little bits of marketing, and the really good ones up the nature of a place in just a few words.
Take “Grand Canyon,” for instance – not “Mediocre Ditch,” but “GRAND CANYON.” Even if you’ve never seen it, the name alone tells you that it’s not your run-of-the-mill erosion gulley. No sir. Not at all.
One of the best ever place names, at least to my ears, is one found closer to home – “Edge of the World.”
As place names go, “Edge of the World” has it all – mystery, suspense, tension, the lure of the unknown. Among place name fans, it’s a winner.
But among fans of rivers, especially whitewater enthusiasts, it is revered. Why? Because “Edge of the World” is the name of a spectacular rapid on Georgia’s Amicalola River just west of Dawsonville.
To paraphrase the TV commercial, “With a name like Edge of the World, it has to be good.” And it is, at least if you define “good” as meaning “tough” and “technical“ and maybe a bit “terrifying” too.
“Edge of the World” rapid is located at the point where the “Ami,” as it’s known, drops across the zone of tortured rock formed by the Brevard Fault. In fact, the drop is so great that the downstream part of the river can’t be seen as you approach from upriver. From a canoe or kayak seat, it really does look like the river simply flows off the edge of the world.
Whitewater enthusiasts like to rank rapids on a scale from 0 (pretty much flat water) to 5 or 6 or more (“abandon all hope, ye who enter here”). Depending on the water level, this one can be rated as high as a IV.
Have I ever taken my canoe down this rapid? No, and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that there’s not much chance I ever will. It can be a tough and technical rapid that (especially at higher water levels) can make even gonzo whitewater enthusiasts pause and reconsider. Besides, I’m over 40 and don’t have to do that kind of thing any more.
But I can certainly appreciate it from shore, which brings us to the Amicalola River Trail.
Amicalola River Trail is a blue-blazed loop with a length of less than three miles. The hike begins at a graveled parking area on the north side of Highway 53, just east of the bridge that carries the highway over the river. According to the sign at the parking area, you’ll need either a recreational lands pass or a hunting or fishing license to park there. You’ll want to get this in advance of your visit, too, since there’s no place to get either one once you arrive and since cell service (needed to get one online) may be spotty. Note that this is not a state park, so your park pass will not do.
From the parking area (which may be crowded on weekends) the trail follows the river downstream for about a half mile. Then, it turns left and climbs up and over a ridge, briefly following a forest road before returning to the woods and eventually bringing you back to Highway 53, not far from where you started. It’s a neat hike, and you’ll enjoy it.
From the parking area, there are two ways to reach the trail. One is to descend the metal-grate steps leading down to the trail. There are only about 50 steps here, and they’re easy to negotiate if your legs are up to even a little bit of climbing.
But what if your legs are not quite what they used to be? What if you use a cane or a walker or are in a wheelchair?
It’s an unavoidable fact that many natural areas are not accessible to those with mobility issues. Topography and trail conditions often make it tough for folks with even minor mobility challenges to access and enjoy the outdoors.
Part of the Amicalola River Trail, however, is an exception to that rule. In fact, the loop trail includes about a half mile of easy-to-get-to and ADA-compliant hiking along a particularly scenic section of the river.
Here’s how to get to the accessible section: From the end of the parking area, a paved drive leads downhill to a small handicapped parking area. The accessible portion of the trail starts there and continues downstream along the river for about a half mile – all the way, in fact, to an observation platform at the upper end of Edge of the World. There are several benches along the way which provide good rest spots should you or someone in your group need a break along the way. Note that the trail surface may be slippery if it’s wet, but otherwise it’s easy going on this section of the trail. It’s a great place for everyone, regardless of mobility, to enjoy Georgia’s outdoors.
Earlier, I mentioned that I’m over 40. That’s true. I did not say exactly how much over 40 I am, but I do know that there may come a day when my knees look at the mountain trails I love so much and say to me, “I don’t think so.” That’s the way the course of life goes – and when it eventually takes me there, I’ll be glad to know that there are trails like this one out there waiting for me.
I’ll be glad to know that I will still be able to walk to the Edge of the World.