Sadly, most of us spend more time interacting with the digital world than with the natural world. But spring is a great time to transition from screen to serene with a hike to the Len Foote Hike Inn near Dawsonville. Aptly named for Leonard Foote, a Georgia conservationist, biologist, and nature photographer, the inn has no parking lot. It is accessible only by foot via a moderate five-mile trail.
Visiting The Hike Inn is as much about the journey as the destination. It begins with checking in at the visitor center within Amicalola Falls State Park by 2 p.m. and allowing at least three hours for the hike. Pack light. “The heavier your pack gets the more difficult every step is,” Eric Graves, executive director of The Hike Inn said. “You really don’t need more than 10 pounds worth of stuff and that may even be heavy for an overnight stay with us. We provide everything as far as bed linens, shampoo, soap, towels, washcloths, and your meals. You really just need a change of clothes and personal toiletry items—toothbrush, toothpaste— a couple of snacks, and a water bottle for your hike up. You can always refill that for your hike back down, so you really don't need much.”
For the average tenderfoot, athletic shoes are fine, although experienced hikers will attest that hiking boots offer better support for feet and ankles over uneven terrain. It's also a good idea to pack a rain poncho and dress in light layers since the area is generally about 10 degrees cooler than South Metro Atlanta. Blazed with lime green markers, the trail snakes its way through the Chattahoochee National Forest. It traces ridges that offer stunning overlooks of the surrounding foothills forested with hickory, pine, and oak, before dipping into valleys veined with gurgling streams.
Graves agrees that the backcountry experience increases people’s awareness of the importance of undeveloped lands for recreation. “Without our national forests being intact, you don’t have those opportunities,” he said. Open year-round, Graves said the trail offers something for every season.
Don’t forget your camera. Not only will hikers enjoy seeing native plants, including mountain laurel and rhododendron, but they may also glimpse deer, wild turkey, and migratory birds such as sand-hill cranes. And if they’re lucky, they might even see the backside of a bear. “A bear is the one thing that hikers may see that you're not going to find in most developed areas,” Graves said. “Overall, they’re amazingly timid for their size, so most people that see them usually just see them running away.”
At trails end, The Hike Inn, perched at an altitude of 3,100 feet, offers a rustic welcome. Each of the 20 simple guest rooms features bunk beds and a place to hang your pack, but unlike most hotels, there is no bathroom inside the room. Showers, sinks and toilets are in the eco-friendly bathhouse.
Owned by The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the non-profit Inn models environmental sustainability. Odor-free composting toilets save more than 200,000 gallons of water each year, solar panels provide energy, and worm beds recycle organic waste such as food scraps. Home-cooked breakfasts and dinners are served family style giving guests an opportunity to visit with like-minded adventurers. The Sunrise Room offers another place where guests can visit, read, play board games, or make music with the supplied instruments. And for early risers, nothing compares to watching the sunrise from the wrap-around porch.
Although cell service is available along most of the trail and the Inn, visitors are encouraged to zip their phones in their backpacks and leave them there. And don’t even think about opening a laptop or flipping on the tube. “It's nice to get away from all the modern distractions,” Graves said. “When you're trying to relax and get some time off, it’s nice to disconnect and enjoy nature.” For those craving even more adventure, the start of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail is a 4.4-mile hike away, and many begin their journey after a restful night at Hike Inn, which hosted about 9,000 visitors last year. It’s important to make reservations early when planning a visit. Weekend dates fill up especially fast. For more information, or to make reservations at The Len Foote Hike Inn visit www.hike-inn.com.
“It's nice to get away from all the modern distractions. When you're trying to relax and get some time off to disconnect and enjoy nature.” Eric Graves, Executive Director