At the Foot of the AT
An alternative to the Approach Trail that is more scenic and provides an even more unforgettable supplement to your AT experience is the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail. It begins in the Upper Falls parking lot and climbs upward into the mountains for five miles. After crossing sparkling mountain streams, meandering through blossoming mountain laurel thickets, and tunneling under towering rhododendron, the trail eventually joins the AT approach trail about three and a half miles from Springer Mountain.
Clinging to the side of the mountain, the trail periodically breaks out of the surrounding green shield to reveal startlingly expansive vistas of the Georgia countryside. The best surprise comes at the end of the trail: the welcoming gray outline of Len Foote Hike Inn. This backcountry lodge opened in November of 1998 and is one of the newest additions to Georgia's state park system.
The five-mile trail is the only way to reach the inn, but that hasn't deterred a steady stream of hikers from trekking up the mountain to experience its unique mixture of simplicity and comfort. The lodge, a complex of twenty rooms surrounding an airy, two-story central lobby, with an attached dining room, bathhouse (with hot showers), and common room, is a modern, rustic structure with plenty of windows. The inn sits amidst a lush forest of mountain laurel, rhododendron, and majestic oak and hickory trees. Continue another mile past the Inn and the trail runs into the Approach Trail and continues on to Springer Mountain.
The Inn offers a comfortable decompression before setting out on the AT or a welcome and warm ending after finishing up. Sitting 3,100 feet up near the peak of Frosty Mountain, it overlooks a scenic panorama of the surrounding area. At night you can see the twinkling lights of the city of Dahlonega off to the southeast. But to the east and north all is dark, the thick forests undeveloped and pitch black. (In case you are wondering who Len Foote is, he was a Georgia outdoorsman who was the model for the"Mark Trail" comic strip). If a night of R & R at the Inn isn't enough to convince you to set out for Mt. Katahdin on the other end of the AT, you can still do some hiking within the park to whet your appetite.
Day hikers use the park's Falls Trail and the East and West Ridge Trails. The Falls Trail is actually a steep but easy path that winds from the foot of the falls, following the cascade up the mountain to the top of the falls. The East Ridge Trail is also an easy two and a half mile loop that begins and ends at the park's visitor's center. This trail leads to an overlook at the top of the falls that doesn't really give a great view of the falls since you're basically standing at the top over and behind the waterfall. But it does offer a nice look at the north Georgia forests in the valley below. From here the hike is a piece of cake-payback for the uphill stretch you just covered. This part of the loop is downhill all the way back to the visitor's center. Follow the West Ridge Spring Road to the West Ridge Trail to Upper West Ridge Trail. You'll come to another overlook, this one with a better view of Amicalola Falls. After a rest with the mist of the falls cooling your face, continue down the mountain back to your starting spot.
If you're an AT thru-hiker experiencing the park as a an appetizer or dessert to your journey, or a day hiker spending a day or two there, add Amicalola Falls State Park to your itinerary to experience this bit of northern Georgia wilderness.
Amicalola Falls State Park is located near Dawsonville, GA, about sixty-five miles from Atlanta. The park has 17 campsites, 14 cottages, and a lodge with restaurant. The park's information number is 706-265-8888. Reservations for the Len Foote Hike Inn can be made at 800-864-7275.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication