This is the second in our series on lodges that are only reachable on foot or horseback. No cars allowed! Check out Chet’s description of Charit Creek Lodge for our first installment. This time around, we’re looking at the Len Foote Hike Inn.
Hike Inn is perched at 3,100 feet on Frosty Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Avid hikers will be familiar with the area because it also is an approach trail to Springer Mountain, which is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. The AT, as it’s known, is a 2,160 mile trail that goes from Georgia to Maine. People hike all of it at once (the thru-hikers), or complete it in multiple trips (the section hikers), or just walk a bit on it occasionally with no thought of hiking the whole thing. Count me in this last group! You don’t need to be a hardened AT thru-hiker to make it up to Hike Inn though. We made the 5 mile hike easily and saw folks of all ages on the trail – one family had a kindergarten-aged child hiking with his parents and grandparents.
The hike starts in Amicalola Falls State Park in the North Georgia mountains. This is one of Georgia’s most popular state parks, and boasts a spectacular 729 foot waterfall – the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeastern United States. There are several ways to view the falls – you can drive a short ways up from the visitor’s center to the base of the falls, or walk a trail along Little Amicalola Creek and past picnic shelters and cottages to get to the same area. You can also take a trail from the base of the falls up to the top. This trail follows the creek and cascades up a steep slope and lots of stairs. Since we had a 5 mile hike ahead of us, we opted to take the other way to the top of the falls – we drove up the winding road. The trail to Hike Inn actually starts from a parking lot at the top of the falls.
From the trailhead, the trail rises gently through the trees until it reaches the split to Springer Mountain. You can actually get to Springer Mountain from Hike Inn itself via a spur trail, but for those hikers who aren’t staying at the Inn before they set off on the AT, the approach trail is a more direct route.The trail up to the Inn is a nice one – soft underfoot, not too rocky, mostly not terribly steep. We were taking this hike in the early spring so we were able to see a good number of wildflowers and ferns: birdfoot violet, star chickweed, halberd-leaved violet, bellwort, lady fern, Christmas fern, running cedar fern, common blue violet, trailing arbutus, rattlesnake weed, Canadian dwarf cinquefoil, dwarf iris ( my favorite! ), and shining clubmoss. That’s 13 – so for those of you who remember the rules – that means ice cream with sprinkles, chocolate sauce, and a cherry. Sadly, no pie for this trip.
The trail climbs up and down through the forest then crosses over a small creek a little over 2 miles in. At 3.1 miles, after one of the steeper climbs on the trail, there is a lovely overlook with a thoughtfully placed bench. From the overview the trail heads down to Cochran Creek, where it passes through a rhododendron tunnel before crossing over a sturdy bridge. I just love rhododendron tunnels. They are cool, shady and just a little bit mysterious. I always feel like I’m going through a secret entrance to private world.
After the bridge it is up up up for quite a ways, though again, there is a beautiful view near the top. This one is at around 4 miles.
Finally, the Inn appears on a ridge ahead through the trees.
Len Foote Hike Inn is different from other hike-in lodges that I’ve stayed in. It is rustic, so don’t be expecting a 5 star hotel, but it is much more luxurious than the others. It has 20 guest rooms, with linens, pillows, blankets and towels provided so you don’t have to lug up your own. The guest rooms are small – with room enough for bunk beds, hooks to hang your things on and that’s about it. However, there is electricity for lights and a fan, as well as a heater for the winter. We were quite comfortable in our little room.
The lodge is made up of 4 main buildings. As you walk in at the front, there is a large covered stone porch with porch swings and then stairs that lead up to lobby where you check in. Guest rooms are also in this building, to either side of the lobby. Just behind the first building is the bath house. Here you’ll find men’s and women’s hot showers (!!!) and a number of composting toilets. The next building is the kitchen and dining hall, where they serve family-style dinner and breakfast and where you can find coffee, hot chocolate, water, or tea and sometimes cookies between meals. Finally, the last building has the Sunrise Room – a game room with windows all around looking out onto decks with rocking chairs where you can sit and enjoy the view.
We had arrived at the park fairly late, so we made it up to the lodge in the late afternoon – just in time to settle in and then meet in the lobby for the tour. Hike Inn is committed to conservation and environmental stewardship and the tour gives you a behind the scenes view at how that commitment plays out in the day-to-day running of the lodge. Solar panels on the roof of the Sunrise Room provide about 10% of the electricity for the lodge. The hot water for showers and housekeeping are provided courtesy of a solar-thermal water heating system, and the toilets are odor-free composting toilets that use a high-tech ventilation system to save more than 250,000 gallons of valuable drinking water every year. Recycled barrels collect rainwater used to irrigate the staff vegetable garden as well as the native plants that line the trails that wind around the lodge buildings. Finally, guests are encouraged to clean their plates to reach 0% food waste, but what doesn’t get eaten, as well as office paper trash and other organic waste, is fed to beds of red wriggler worms that turn it all into valuable organic fertilizer. It’s really an impressive setup! They also showed us the “Star Base.” This is a massive granite block formation designed by Atlanta’s Fernbank Science Center to channel the light from the rising sun at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes so that it shines into a small cave.
After the tour, we had a bit of time to sit in the rocking chairs outside the sunrise room while we waited on dinner. Dinner was served family-style at long tables, which made it easy to get to know some of the other guests. We were served roast beef, mashed potatoes, rolls, and a dessert called “ooey-gooey” which I have no hope of describing. But it was delicious! After dinner, Chet and I went out and took on some of our fellow-hikers in a game of corn hole. As it got dark, we went back into the Sunrise Room and picked out a jigsaw puzzle to put together, but a full stomach and tired body meant an early bedtime for me. Besides I was hoping to get up early enough to see the sunrise! The staff will sound a drum if the sunrise is a good one, so I went to bed hoping for drumming in the morning.
I didn’t get it – I guess they thought it wasn’t a good one, but we got up just in time to see a bit of it anyway and Chet got this fabulous picture – not bad, huh? After the sunrise, it was breakfast – pancakes, syrup, coffee – mmmm – perfect fuel for the hike down. Some folks left from the Inn to hike up to Springer Mountain, but we simply retraced our route of the day before to get back to our car and start the drive home.
Speaking of the drive, it’s only about 3.5 hours from Huntsville so though we actually tagged this onto a longer 4 day mini-holiday, it would be doable as a weekend getaway as well. Reservations are required at the lodge, and they do fill up fast so make sure to call far in advance if you decide to try it out.