LEN FOOTE HIKE INN
The tale is often told of a secret place nestled deep within the woods....a place so magical that it can only be reached on foot....miles away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. Let it be known that I have found such a place, accessible only via a 5 mile hiking trail that begins at the top of the breathtaking Amicalola Falls (just a short drive from Dahlonega, GA). This amazing journey begins with a quick stop at the Visitor's Center to register and get your parking hang tag. A call is made to let the Inn staff know you are on your way (you must begin your 5 mile hike no later than 2pm, keep in mind). Once you've registered, you make the steep ascent to the parking lot (and believe me, my Florida car didn't like this climb), you park, grab your pack and off you go....what awaits you is nothing short of magical!
As you begin your trek, you'll be following the same path taken by the Appalachian Trail Approach Trail. You'll only travel a short distance before coming to a sign that directs you to your right, following the lime green blazes for the rest of your hike. Let it be said that, while you can also continue on the Approach Trail...
.....unless you're up for quite the challenge, I recommend that you take my advice and follow the lime green blazes, not the blue ones. Trust me on this one...I've done this hike both ways: taking the green blazed trail to the Inn and then returning via the AT Approach Trail AND following the AT Approach Trail, to the above sign and heading in.....it bears paying attention to the sign you pass when you're crossing the road into the woods: AT Approach Trail is STRENUOUS! Now...if that's what you like, I say go for it! If you're not a hiker (or a hiker at heart), just follow the green blazes....you'll still get a good workout :)
My second visit to the Len Foote Hike Inn was this past July. My sister and I had hiked the AT Approach Trail (8.5 miles from the Falls to the summit of Springer Mountain) and camped there overnight. The next morning, we packed up and headed for the Hike Inn. We were dirty, sore and exhausted....I felt exhilarated....my sister, not so much. We checked in, dropped our bags in our room and headed straight for the kitchen where we downed glass after glass of ice tea and devoured a piece of cake the staff left out for the guests (best darn cake I've ever eaten). The kitchen staff joked with us, saying that they had an easy job...that they could probably open a can of dog food and serve it to us "hungry hikers" and we'd eat it without complaint. Not sure about that....but as hungry as we were, they just might have been right! Once we felt better with food in our bellies, we headed back to our room to unpack and hit the showers.
Yes...it doesn't look like much but I can honestly say I don't think I've ever slept better!
I've said that the only way to reach the Inn is via a 5 mile hiking trail...and yes, that does mean you have to carry any personal belongings with you on your back. What you don't need to worry about include the following items: linen (sheets and towels are provided), shampoo/bodywash (there are dispensers located in the shower stalls), and if your forget your toothbrush, you can buy one at the check-in counter, which also serves as the store. The Inn has a bathhouse, with both men's and women's facilities. There are two shower stalls in each, with multiple sinks. Because the Inn is deeply involved in conservation efforts, they use odorless composting toilets (but have no fear ....each one has it's own private room and are immaculate!) Another point that bears mentioning is that they go all out to achieve what they call "zero food waste" at the end of each meal. What this means is that they prepare only enough for the guests that are expected and basically, you have to share it. The food is served on platters and in bowls, just like at a family dinner, and you just have to make sure you don't gorge yourself, leaving nothing for the others (I found this hard to do after such a long hike, considering how hungry I was). The food they serve you is amazing! The meals are simple but delicious and if you have special dietary needs, you just let them know when you call to make your reservation (yes, you do have to call). The Inn does accept walk-ups, space allowing.
I was only lucky enough to spend one night at this lovely Inn, but I will say that National Geographic Traveler's got it right when the included this Inn of their "Stay List." What free time we had was spent in an almost vegetative state, sitting in a rocking chair on the porch, just taking in the views...and I don't think I've ever seen any as beautiful as those of the sunrise...
Oh....and I made a great new friend who was checking out the sunrise with me...
(No..there was nothing really between me and my new friend but he moved on....we also met up with a black bear on our return from the Inn to the Falls...while it did get the adrenaline flowing, there really wasn't anything to fear and now it's a memory I'll cherish. Just be aware of your surroundings because this is their place, not yours)
No matter what your reasons are for making the trek to the Len Foote Hike Inn, I can say with all certainty that you will be very glad you went and you'll leave feeling better than you have in a long time! Happy hiking everyone!