Hoolahoops atop Springer Mountain

The nearest and most beautiful mountains of Georgia are just a day’s drive for this Florida girl. This past October, flatness was just getting old for me. Staring into the reddish pink Florida sunrise while sitting in traffic in my hometown in Central Florida, I began to imagine the clouds as nearby mountains. Mountains are magical and healing- the spires of the Earth that evoke longing. Feel free insert any John Muir quote at this time.

After a conversation with the nice folks at my local travel store (Travel Country), I realized that Amicalola Falls State Park was the destination of many Floridians looking for an escape for a weekend hike. Secondary to its accessibility to us flatlanders, about 8.5 miles from the falls is Springer Mountain, the official start of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

With that, I packed up my car and took off. Mid-afternoon I noticed my car began climbing, and the roads began narrowing. There were fewer and fewer cars on the road with every turn. After a blind turn, the mountains appeared. They seemed to spring up from the Earth and presto-change-o, I was among them.

Amicalola Falls State Park is a well-developed park which includes a visitor center, and 425 steps from the bottom of the falls to the top. The falls are beautiful to see from here, but looking out and beyond that is even better.I didn’t take the stairs but instead drove to the top of the falls, where my campsite was for the night. After fiddling with my tent (the first time I set it up since that one time in my bedroom), I set out to explore the grounds, take a glimpse at the falls, locate the start of the trail for the next day.

Top O’ the Falls

Amicalola has 24 wooded campsites at the top of the hill with showers and bathrooms. Each site accommodates a vehicle and includes power, water, picnic table, grill and fire ring.

 

For someone with limited hiking experience, and no solo hiking experience, it was a guessing game as to how much I could get done the following day, which caused some anxiety for me. On top of that, I felt anxious being out there by myself, although I met some very nice people at my campsite. But still. I asked myself repeatedly, what have I done? Why am I here? I was scared. I kept going back and forth about hiking for the entire day tomorrow (to Springer and back but risking sundown), or camping up there somewhere. Looking at the map, I noticed there was a loop. From the park going straight up was Springer Mountain. A trail off to the east was the Hike Inn Trail (about 5 miles). And there was an inn up there, called The Hike Inn, which a park ranger told me was an option if they weren’t booked up.

South to North, the black trail goes from the top of the falls to Springer Mountain. The red trail goes to the Len Foote Hike Inn.

When I woke up the morning of my hike, my only choice was to wing it. Starting the trail I began by passing another hiker, claiming to be “coming from the couch” but had hiked this trail in the past. When I asked if I could go up to Springer and back in one day, he said I’d have to have “super lungs” to do so.

To my surprise, I was hiking pretty fast. With every passing minute, I became happier and more confident. The blue blazes on the trees were reassurance that I was still on track.

 

 

The AT has open shelters for camping along the entire trail, and I passed one of these on my way to Springer Mountain. Breathing heavily as the trail grade sloped up narrowly, I finally reached my destination. The first thing I saw was a hoolahooping girl among the rocks. There were other ladies sitting around, enjoying lunch. I joined them and learned that the hoolahooper carries her hoop around with her everywhere.

 

 

These ladies were staying at the Len Foote Hike Inn, about 4-5 miles back south. After a nice conversation, I was willingly swayed to inquire about openings at the Inn for the night. This was an experience to be had, so I heard. Since I finished my ascent by noon, I realized I was not going to be camping atop Springer Mountain. I could either head back down to the falls or over to this inn.

Springer Mountain looking to the south.

The Hike Inn has 20 rooms, and it’s recommended reservations are made a year in advance. It is only accessible for guests by the trail. Many times, the inn has cancellations, which was to my benefit that afternoon. The room was not cheap and my bunk bedroom was tiny but provided a nice bed, warm blankets, and a heater. I was glamping with the best of them.

 

 

The grounds included a bathhouse, dining hall with unlimited coffee, and a common area with large windows looking east to the town of Dahlonega. If you stay here, take the tour!

Sunrise at the Hike Inn

Breakfast and dinner are served family style and intended to encourage interaction and build camaraderie. I met some really lovely people, one young woman being from my county in Florida!

The hike back to the falls was a pretty easy one- the Hike Inn trail is at an easier grade but provided a nice change of scenery from the hike up, including a few shallow stream crossings.

Returning to the park, I felt a sense of peacefulness and accomplishment. This was not just some on-a-whim trip I decided to take. This was a huge step for me as an aspiring traveler and adventurer. I was under the impression all my life that I needed someone with me for just about everything. Transitioning into my late 20s, I began to realize that there wouldn’t always be someone there. And with that, maybe I didn’t need anybody after all.

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