A 2-hour drive north of the bustling and buzzing city of Atlanta seemingly takes you hundreds of miles away from civilization as you enter the 867,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest. Within its boundaries, high atop the Southern Appalachian Mountains, there are thousands of miles of swift flowing clear streams and rivers, a wide variety of birds and wildlife, and over 850 miles of recreational trails.
One of the most diverse and popular trails in the Chattahoochee forest is a beautiful meandering 5-mile trek that leads hikers from the top of the third highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, Amicalola Falls, through a stately oak, hickory, and pine forest. The rocky trail cuts through colorful tunnels of mountain laurel and crosses shimmering swift streams before popping out on rock outcroppings for expansive views of the sprawling forest below.
At trails end, hikers are rewarded with an incredible night on the trail — not in a tent, not in a trail shelter, but in a unique hotel — the Len Foote Hike Inn.
The Hike Inn is only accessible by this 5-mile trail but the destination is amazing and so worth the journey: 20 private guestrooms, hot showers, delicious fresh meals, and warm cozy beds welcome visitors. Hikers can relax in the tranquility of the forest without leaving all of the creature comforts of home behind.
Located only a few miles south of the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the rustic yet modern design and feel makes this secluded backcountry lodge one of the most unique state park destinations in Georgia that not only provides an incredible night’s stay but is also an environmentally responsible facility. In fact, the Hike Inn is a platinum level LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) certified facility meaning it has met the highest level of energy and water efficiency.
Here are a few reasons why you should add a night at this gateway to the Appalachians to your vacation plans.
Getting There Is Half The Fun
Doesn’t spending the night at the Len Foote Hike Inn sound like an inviting weekend getaway? It definitely is, but there is only one way to get there — by hiking.
The hike to the inn is an easy-to-moderate 5-mile trek from the top of Amicalola Falls to the inn. Once you set foot on the lime green blazed dirt and rock footpath, you will quickly understand why it was named one of Backpacker Magazine’s 36 Best American Hikes.
The trail winds its way through the beautiful hardwood forests of North Georgia over rolling ridges with breathtaking scenic vistas. Along the way, you will cross several shimmering, swift flowing streams and pass through tunnels of rhododendron and mountain laurel. In season, wildflowers line the path adding bold colors to the already magnificent scene.
The hike begins in the parking area at the top of Amicalola Falls in its namesake’s state park. The walk takes between 2 and 4 hours depending on your speed and the many stops you will want to make to bask in the beauty of the Southern Appalachians.
Cozy, Warm, And Unpretentious Accommodations
Upon arriving at the Len Foote Hike Inn, you are immediately struck with the impression that it is part of the landscape, and that is by design. The inn, with its four main buildings, was intentionally built to be unobtrusive and blend in with the scenery.
As you walk inside the main lobby, large windows allow sunlight to drench the room giving the inn a warm and cheerful atmosphere. The inn has 20 private guestrooms, each with comfortable bunk beds, fresh linen, blankets, pillows, and towels. Don’t expect air conditioning. You won’t need it. The rooms are airy with fans provided in the warmer months and screen doors that lead to open porches with rocking chairs where you can sit and soak in the view.
The Hike Inn has separate men’s and women’s bathhouses that are exceptionally clean with multiple sinks, mirrors, blow dryers, and a passive thermal water heating system, so the showers provide ample hot water, a wonderful respite after a busy day.
As we’ll see in a minute, the Len Foote Hike Inn is fully sustainable right down to the toilets. The inn is equipped with odorless composting toilets. That means no bugs, no odor, and no wasting water.
Life “Above The Grid”
As mentioned earlier, the Len Foote Hike Inn is fully sustainable. The thermal water system lowers fuel costs while banks of solar panels covering the roof provide 69 percent of the inn’s energy needs.
But the mission of the inn to “help protect [nature] through education and recreation” goes far beyond solar panels. Rainwater collection helps water gardens and native plants. The composting toilets save over 200,000 gallons of water every year. And organic waste such as food scraps from the dining hall and office paper material is composted and returned to the earth via the red wiggler worm bed.
The Hike Inn’s mission also includes educating visitors. Prior to dinner, guests are invited to tour the facility with staff members to learn about its conservation efforts and how they can be applied to life back home.
Dining At The Inn
Your reservation includes a hot and delicious home-cooked dinner and a hearty breakfast, all served up family style. When the dinner bell rings, guests take a seat at one of the large dining tables where they get to interact with and meet an eclectic array of other guests as they pass the biscuits (and other delicious food). It makes for a fascinating evening hearing hiking stories and the life experiences of people from around the country, and the world.
If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or have special food requirements, contact the inn in advance and it will be more than happy to accommodate your needs.
The following morning after checking out, many guests like to complete a loop hike back to Amicalola Falls via the Appalachian Approach Trail. Be sure to ask the staff at Len Foote the night before for a packed lunch and they will be glad to provide it.
Back To Basics
The best part about spending a night at the Hike Inn is the simple pleasures that you can’t find at a standard hotel and that only nature can provide. Step out onto an overlook after sunset and gaze up into the brilliance of a star-filled sky. Spend time in the Sunrise Room and challenge your family and newfound friends in a game of checkers or a variety of other board games. Take part in an after-dinner nature program to learn about birds and butterflies or improve your nature photography skills. And the next morning, catch the first rays of a magnificent sunrise from the wraparound porch.
The Len Foote Hike Inn is open year-round so you can catch the beauty of the mountains in all of its moods — spring and summer’s brilliant wildflowers, fiery autumn colors, and winter’s stillness in a blanket of snow.
But keep in mind, you may have a wait. As executive director Eric Graves tells us, reservations need to be made well in advance.
“We take reservations 11 months in advance,” says Graves. “I recommend planning ahead and for weekends and the peak spring and fall seasons. Many weekends in spring 2022 are already booked.”
And yes, you will be hiking to the inn, but don’t tote a heavy pack. Many guests pack way too many items. Eric tells us that you will receive a confirmation email once you make your reservation but don’t go by the info provided on what to bring on its website. All you need to bring are the basics — a change of clothes, toothbrush, and toiletries.
For the hike, be sure to wear comfortable hiking boots and not a brand new pair that hasn’t been broken in or a pair that is falling apart. As Eric says, “If your boots are older than your grandkids and have not seen trails in 10 plus years, look for the nearest trash can and find another option of footwear.”
Other places in Georgia to hike and explore: