GEORGIA: Hike in to the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls

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.

map

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.

map2
Amicalola Falls

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.

Stairs.jpg
Stairs to the base of Amicalola Falls

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.

map288
Hike Inn Overlook

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.

map28
Check out the native wildflower garden at Hike Inn

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.

map12098.jpg
The inn emerges from among a hemlock grove

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.

map190
Several buildings make up the compound

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!

map1090
Relax to a killer view

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.

BE WARNED

  1. Parking fills up fast in reasonable weather. Come early to get your pick of parking!
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

In sum: 

Lifetime Scavenger List item #24091 – Find the Piedmont Azalea in bloom completed.

Map92
Native Piedmont Azalea

GEORGIA: Saving the Hemlocks at Angel Falls

The old adage you can’t just take, you have to give holds true for use of park service lands just like it does for warlords exploiting local villages. A warlord has to keep the peasants alive, and an avid hiker has to keep the forest alive.

Which is how I ended up treating hemlocks dying of wooly adelgid at Rabun Recreation Area Campground with Save Georgia’s Hemlocks (http://www.savegeorgiashemlocks.org/). Where I also found out about a nice, short waterfall hike at the campground that is worth a quick visit if you are at the rec area to begin with.

Is it goat approved? No. The Cradle of Forestry guy in the golf cart would probably run you over with righteous zeal for disturbing his domain (more about him in the “Beware” section).

How you get there: The trail head lies within the second loop of the campground, near site 53 (gps: 34.760750, -83.472252). The campground has a $5 day use fee for the trail and the beach. 

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 1 mile out and back. Really only suitable as a side trip if you are there to hang out at the beach, see the ritzy lake houses, kayak or view some of the other sightseeing locations listed at the bottom of this review. Or if you are out treating hemlocks of course!

Best season to do this hike: Any time of the year.


Trails to Take

The trail starts off behind a kiosk at site 53 in campground loop 2 of Rabun Recreation Area Campground. It is pretty popular, and should be easy to spot. There is limited parking in the area, and more parking at the bathrooms in campground loop 1. You can use the access road at the back of the loop 1 area to take a 3 min walk into loop 2 to reach the trail head.

However you get there the trail follows the creek and crosses a small bridge. All the hemlocks in the campground and throughout this trail are treated and cared for by Save the Hemlocks – which is why most of them are still alive for us to enjoy!

map3
CCC camp spring box

The trail continues up, passing by a spring box built by the local CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps – a depression era “putting people back to work” program that built much of the park structures we use on the east coast). From there it continues to climb until at 0.5 miles you reach Panther Falls.

MAP99
Panther Falls

The trail switch backs, continues to climb, and begins to pass the hulks of hemlocks for whom help came to late. This area is hotter (no hemlocks for shade) and more erode (no hemlocks to hold the soil). At the very top is Angel Falls, a picturesque multi-cascade wedged among mountain laurel. The trail loops back on itself and then all you have to do is walk back down.

map08
Angel Falls
map
Trail Map

OTHER PLACES YOU MUST CHECK OUT

Nacooche.jpg
Nacoochee Dam

Nacoochee Dam Roadside Park (34.755796, -83.500819) – 1920s era dam with small power plant that impounds Lake Seed.

map208
Nacooche Indian Mound

Nacoochee Indian Mound (34.683690, -83.708985) – Indian mound that once held the Town House at the center of a large Cherokee town.

map80
Stovall Mill Covered Bridge

Stovall Mill Covered Bridge (34.711691, -83.657878) – covered bridge at a mostly eroded mill site. Has a great swimming hole popular with locals and picnic tables.

BE WARNED

  1. The parking is limited. You can park in loop 1 at the bath house if you need to, but be sure to display your day use permit.
  2. There is a $5 day use permit.
  3. In all honesty, the Cradle of Forestry guys who are in charge of this campground are a little…excessive. They will ticket your truck if you forget to display the permit. They will chase you in a golf cart. They will lay down the law with the all the bombastic force of someone who firmly believes they are cleaning up the riffraff. The only issue I have is they view “local people” and “riffraff” as synonyms. And by local, I mean all the people who lived here long before the Atlanta retirees came with their money, their lake houses, and their firm belief in their own superiority. Basically, if someone invites you to go to this campground and this hike, do it. But if you are a “local” or someone who lives like a “local” you may feel highly insulted dealing with these people and going to this place.
  4. Take time for the other places to visit! This area and the lake are beautiful and well worth spending a few days exploring. And the campground is well kept, if you can deal with the keepers.

In sum: 

If money moved mountains the whole world would be a mountain range.

Urban Goat on The Go: Columbia’s Canal Walk

Columbia, South Carolina is not the location most people would pick if you said to name a place rich in history. Which kind of makes it a secret! Only in the last fifteen years or so have the numerous ruins and historical structures been brought to wider appreciation.  One such gem that the people of Columbia have recently rediscovered is the 1891 canal that once brought cotton bales around the rapids on the Broad and Congaree Rivers. It is a great place to spend an afternoon bomb proofing a baby goat and rediscovering some history for yourself.

If you are interested in more less well known Columbia history check out Underground Columbia, the mill ruins at Riverbanks Zoo, and the network of underground tunnels beneath downtown Columbia that are currently used for storm drainage. Note these are not goat friendly…

Is it goat approved? Yes, at least for kids. The park ranger seemed amused

How you get there: Google Columbia Riverfront Park. That is the parking location. Yes, it is a ritzy looking spot for being right next to the water and sewage treatment plant.

Time for hike: The distance for this hike is 5.2 miles out and back to canal locks for the historical Columbia Canal.

Best season to do this hike: Any time but dead heat summer. Its easy, it’s flat, and it is going to be coated in people regardless of when you go, so you might as well please yourself in terms of the weather.


Trails to Take

There is really only 1 trail – it goes along the original tow path for the canal. To reach it there is a paved trail from the parking lot which starts near the red school house building, (this is an original school house built in the area).

IMGP0068.jpg
Training on the canal walk

 

The paved section descends down between the water treatment plant and the original retaining wall for what was once Columbia’s oldest, largest, and certainly creepiest jail. The Central Correctional Institute (or as my parents referred to it, the Columbia Penitentiary) was a massive granite block structure that was in use for 150 years until finally being decommissioned in 1994 after decades of complaints about how outdated the facility was. For a while you could take tours of the place, and my parents were fond of retelling stories about the walkways without rails, some of which were many stories off the ground…and how unpopular inmates were pushed to their deaths from these. The obviously very ominous and atmospheric jail, with its wonderful rusting razor wire fences, intact guard towers, looming stone walls, and even an inmate baseball diamond, was demolished several years ago to make way for some hideous cookie cutter condos. But the retaining wall is still impressive, if less creepy.

Inside of jail
Inside the jail before it was demolished. Note the very long drop from the upper floors…

The trail crosses over the canal itself a metal I beam bridge, to join the canal walk. Directly across from the bridge are the original Columbia Water Plant pump houses, which supplied water from the river to the city of Columbia until the modern water treatment plant was built. The modern water treatment plant lies on the opposite side of the canal and draws its water from the canal instead of the river.

To the left of the pump house buildings is the dam that powered the historical water plant and also contains the waste weir for the canal. Waste weirs are used to drain canals for repairs and to adjust water level. Unfortunately, this system was insufficient to keep the canal intact during the devastating 2015 floods, and damage to the canal, including a wall breach, is still being repaired. Interestingly, the canal we walk on today is the 1891 canal, but the first canal in this spot (built in 1820) was also destroyed by a flood. Given the nature of the Broad River to stay “broad” by flooding several times a year I suppose canal damage is inevitable.

Canal breach
2015 flooding punched a hole through the canal wall and drained it

In the distance you may be able to spot the Columbia Cotton Mill, which is today the State Museum, and Gervais Street Bridge, hands down the prettiest route into Columbia. There are further canal and industrial ruins between here and these landmarks, but for whatever reason they had this section of the walk locked off today.

20170311_125445
Diversion dam that feeds water into the canal

Following the paved canal walk away from the water treatment plant and down the original tow path you pass under a rail line and highway bridge and by several overlooks. The canal today looks very different from when I first walked it 20 years ago. Back then it was, in the words of my hiking elder and grandmother “kind of dumpy” and significantly less busy. Today the thorny undergrowth is gone and you can see the river and the canal for almost the entire route. There is a small paved trail that comes off that you can take to get closer to the river, which is popular with fishermen and highly recommended because it sees less traffic and lets you get up close and personal with the water and the rocks of Broad River. In the spring, watch for the protected shoals spider lily, which blooms out among the rocks.

locks
The canal lock

The walk is easy, flat, and unless you are into swimming you can’t get lost. The tow path terminates at the restored canal locks. 20 years ago this area was fenced off, but now you can walk across the locks to an upper parking lot and there’s an actual plaza to overlook the diversion dam that feeds water into the canal. This spot is popular with fishermen and with bird watchers for the abundance of feathery mayhem that collects at the diversion dam.

Then turn around and head back.

map3

 

BE WARNED

  1. Traffic is heavy and parking is tight at Riverfront Park. Bring you something small and people friendly for this one, (and be prepared to pick up after it).
  2. Apparently they have problems with alligators in the canal now. Avoid feeding the goat to the wildlife.
  3. While this is such an urban walk the backpack and hiking gear will be unnecessary and totally out of place, bring a water bottle if you are going in summer – the asphalt bakes you to death.
  4. The area is patrolled by bored park rangers. If you need to avoid the rangers go to the new parking area at the canal locks instead of going to the one in Riverfront Park. However, the ranger I ran into did not seem bothered by the baby goat.

20170311_112615

In sum: 

Water manager during the 2015 flood: “Nobody panic okay, but I think we just poked a giant hole through the canal supplying all of our water…”