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Waterfalls spring back to shape just in time for hiking season
Amicalola Falls, located in Dawson County, is the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

High gas prices may make a family trip to a state park seem more attractive than ever.

And despite the ongoing drought, recent rains have helped pump up the waterfalls at several North Georgia parks, which is even more of a reason to see the scenery.

North Georgia is home to many waterfalls, including Amicalola Falls, the largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

And then there's Hurricane Falls at Tallulah Gorge and Anna Ruby Falls at Unicoi State Park and Lodge. Although Smithgall Woods Conservation Area doesn't have a waterfall, it does have Dukes Creek, which is teeming with trout that makes for good catch-and-release fishing.

Add these attractions to the price of gas, and that translates into more visitors already coming up to local parks, according to Bill Tanner, park manager at Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge. He said the park has been host to more hikers and campers than usual this time of year.

"We see a reverse effect when gas prices go up," Tanner said. "We hear visitors say they prefer a closer mini-vacation than a long drive to Orlando."

Tanner said last fall the drought reduced some local waterfalls to more of a trickle than an explosion of white water, but rains in the past two months have re-energized local falls.

"In the fall, it was pretty low," he said. "You could tell we'd been through a long, hot dry summer. But the waterfalls are really pretty again now."

He said the early summer is a great time to hike Amicalola Falls' 12 miles of trails. The 729-foot tall waterfall was named by the Cherokees and means "tumbling waters."

For those ready for a rugged adventure, Amicalola Falls has 24 campsites. There's also the 20-room Len Foote Hike Inn, which can only be reached by a five-mile hike.

For a more luxurious stay, the park features a 56-room lodge and conference center as well as 14 cottages akin to a traditional hotel. Prices for a one-night stay at the lodges or cottages range from $69 to $189.

Not only is the price tag of a weekend at a state park more friendly than a trip to the Magic Kingdom, but it could be more educational, too, Tanner said.

Unicoi State Park boasts a wide range of bird species visitors might spot, including loons, storks, warblers, mockingbirds and woodpeckers.

"There's lots of spring wildlife blooming and lots of wildlife showing, like deer and turkey. And occasionally a black bear shows up," Tanner said.