Every one who’s ever had a tree house understands the allure of living outside and up a tree. Len Foote Hike Inn is probably the closest you can get to a practical application of that. The structure stands about 12 ft off the ground on giant stilts, has hot water, HVAC, and food. Oh, and a pretty freaking spectacular view. Definitely worth a visit! This is also one of the few locations with protected, healthy Eastern Hemlocks on the property.
Is it goat approved? Nah. Too busy. Go and relax without a goat on this one.
How you get there: Park here: 34.567485, -84.244418 at the upper observation platform.
Time for hike: The distance for this hike is a little under 10 miles round trip out and back. And yes, despite the confusion online, I have actually walked it, all the way, with a gps enabled mileage counter counting the distance. It’s 4.9 in and 4.9 out. Suck it forum pundits!
Best season to do this hike: Most seasons, but the Piedmont azaleas bloom in late April, the leaves start in late September, and the rhodendron are blooming at the start of May. Oh, and the road is closed in snowy/icy weather.
Trails to Take
Start off at the upper overlook parking lot. This is accessed by entering the park, driving up to the visitor’s center and the huge parking lot adjacent to it, then turning left and going up a very steep road.
At the top of the road make a sharp right into a small parking area. This is the upper falls overlook parking area. The top of the falls is directly ahead, just follow the creek.
The walk to the bottom of the falls, while long and strenuous, is well worth the look before you head out for the lodge. Keep an eye out for trilliums, foam flowers, and other blooming plant life as you climb down and back up the gazillion stairs.
The actual trail to the inn is on the other side of the creek that feeds Amicalola Falls. Cross over the falls on the wooden bridge, walk up shallow concrete stairs, and cross the next parking lot. The trail is across the parking lot left of where you enter the parking area.
The trail is blue and green blaze. Blue is the Appalachian Trail and green is the trail to the lodge. If you want to go to the official gateway/start of the Appalachian Trail you can take either blue or green blazes – it is about 8 miles both ways, and the blue and green blaze meet back up at the start.
The trail climbs out of the parking lot, crosses the road to the large drive up lodge for the park, and then re-enters the woods. Shortly thereafter the blue (Appalachian) and green (Hike Inn trail) blaze separate, with the green heading off to the right.
The trail from here is easy to moderate, with occasional benches in good cellphone or viewing spots. It starts out flat going through the woods, then winds over dry ridge lines, climbing steadily upwards. The first noticeable down hill sends you down into a small saddle with a creek. There are several creek crossings, and as you enter this area the views will become better.
The creeks become more numerous, culminating in a boggy section with a wooden walk way over it, at which point you are about 3/4 of the way to the lodge. There are wooden posts with numbers on them counting down along the trail…but they didn’t make much sense to me, so use at your own risk.
The trail approaches the lodge from a distance, passing a degraded wooden sign indicating some other small side trails in the vicinity. The lodge itself is surrounded by Eastern Hemlocks, making it an obvious blob of dark foliage in the predominately hardwood forest. The trail passes right by the great porch, whose adirondack chairs, swings, and informal pack storage make it the place to stop and wait out a downpour or cool off in the burning heat of summer. Guests and non-guests appear welcome both at the porch and at the overlook behind the lodge. Stop to check out the native plant garden, which has a variety of wildflowers on display on your way to the overlook!
The lodge itself has twenty odd rooms which are separated into a variety of buildings raised off the ground on stilts. They do hiker lunch boxes with a heads up, and of course, you can stay at the lodge with advanced notice and avoid that prolonged hike back out.
Once you’re done with the photo ops, go the 3 miles further to Springer Mountain and the start of the Appalachain Trail or turn around and trek the 4.9 mi back to the parking lot.
- Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
- You MUST have advanced reservations for the Hike Inn if you want to stay (http://hike-inn.com) and the rooms are not cheap! Don’t plan on camping in the vicinity – any activities are by “permit only”.
- It is about 3 miles past the inn to the official start of the Appalachian Trail. So if you do that to you’re looking at 16 miles round trip in one day, and while the trail isn’t hard…that’s a hell of a lot of walking.
- There does not appear to be a front gate enforcing park hours, but be advised that regardless of what time you roll in, you need to pay an attendant or fill an envelope with $5 per car.
- The signs that say “Hike Inn” mean “Len Foote Hike Inn” even if they sound like “hike in” as in, to hike in to a campsite.
Lifetime Scavenger List item #24091 – Find the Piedmont Azalea in bloom completed.