Georgia’s only backcountry inn, the Len Foote Hike Inn, is located at the end of a 4.9-mile trek that begins at Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Ga. – the infamous southern starting point of the Appalachian Trail.
So this family adventure has the spirit of hiking the AT – a little exhilarating taste of what it feels like to launch out into the woods. Except it’s not really the same thing at all. After three hours of hiking, the Hike Inn emerges like a mirage through the trees – with hot chocolate and dinner waiting. And bathrooms, bunk beds and a wood-burning stove to warm up to when it’s cold.
The Hike Inn Trail (lime green blazes) shares its first .35 mile with the Appalachian Trail Approach Trail (blue blazes), then splits off to zigzag uphill and down through the Chattahoochee National Forest to the Hike Inn.
Although the hike to the lodge is described as “easy to moderate,” when our family hiked it back in 2013 with four kids (ages 8-16 years), we found the up-and-down terrain to be more of a “moderate” rating. That is most likely because the trip began with our 8-year-old asking “Are we there yet?” at the parking lot. Then, about 15 minutes into the hike, she sat down on the trail exclaiming she could go no farther.
So we tried this magic trick: we paired the little squirt with her 16-year-old cousin, who was charging ahead on the trail that is a straight-shot to the lodge. This upgrade in company and independence rejuvenated the child. They took off ahead and left us silly signs along the trail that they were still alive – and much faster than us. We didn’t actually see them again in person until we arrived at the lodge and they were sitting on the front porch drinking hot chocolate.
While I would never advise letting children hike alone, we could always hear them off in the distance and we knew there were no branches to the trail. It was a survival tactic – and, thank heavens, it worked! I always recommend the addition cousin and friends to outdoor adventures whenever possible – the more the merrier, and sometimes they can really save the day.
Guests must check in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor’s Center by 2 p.m. in order to make the journey to the Hike Inn by dinner. Breakfast and lunch are served family style, with guests sitting together in the dining hall, passing dishes back and forth. Trail lunches are available for a small fee.
We arrived in the late afternoon and were told to help ourselves to mugs of hot chocolate and tea in the dining hall while we waited for a much-anticipated meal. It didn’t take long for the kids to abandon me and my husband at mealtime so they could sit with Hike Inn volunteer Jim Orlando, who enchanted them with conversation and stories about his outdoor adventures in Florida and beyond.
Hiking to the Len Foote Hike Inn is an adventure in endurance and reward. It’s a wonderful challenge to get kids to hike five miles – and the lodge makes it all worthwhile.
“We’ve had children as young as four who have walked the whole way,” says Len Foote Hike Inn Manager Corinne Peace. “The youngest child we’ve had visit the Hike Inn was 8 weeks old, and our oldest guest was 87. It’s a great experience for the entire family.”
The rustic accommodations at the lodge, which has been in operation for 17 years, are clean and green. A Georgia State Park facility, the Hike Inn is sustainably designed and LEED certified. The inn uses 24 photovoltaic solar panels to produce 10 percent of its total electricity. Water is heated through a solar-thermal water heating system that reduces fuel usage and costs. Rain barrels collect rainwater to irrigate plants and trees within the landscape, and worms are used for composting everything from kitchen scraps to office paper.
The inn features 20 guest rooms that can accommodate two adults and two children each. Each rustic room has an extra-long single bunk bed, shelves, a stool and a mirror. All the rooms have linens, blankets and pillows. Indoor facilities (men’s and women’s) offer hot showers, sinks, mirrors and fresh towels.
After meals, families and guests gravitate toward rocking chairs on the wrap-around porch and the large game room, which is outfitted with board games, puzzles, books and a guitar.
For many families, the Hike Inn offers downtime that is rare in today’s hurried world.
“We want people to get up here and enjoy themselves without the distraction of the modern world,” says Peace, who has worked at the facility since November 2014. “It’s great that we can be a place where families can connect and have fun away from the distraction of computers, cell phones and television.”
The cost of one night at the Hike Inn for two adults and one child ranges from $220 to $236 (including tax), depending on the day of the week. Reservations are encouraged and can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Visit Len Foote Hike Inn for additional information and to make a reservation.