As long as I can remember, I have loved camping. At age ten I sewed the sides of an old quilt together for a sleeping bag and, after telling my parents I was going to spend the night with a friend, I hiked (with that friend) to Bear Creek Lake (near my home in Arkansas) and slept under the stars. I was hooked. Later, after marriage, I took my new daughter on a camping/canoeing trip when she was 6 weeks old. She became hooked also. But, although I grew up in a small country town, I did not marry a country girl. She can hike with the best of us, but when night comes, she prefers a roof, and the amenities.
Several years ago, my daughter mentioned a park in northern Georgia that involved a ‘hike-in’ to get to, but where there was an inn (with the amenities) at the end of the hike. She, her husband and her daughter (who is also hooked) have been there several times, with rave reviews. The inn (Len Foote Hike Inn – named after a local naturalist/ conservationist) can only be reached by foot – no pun intended (but interesting connection). It has solar panels, solar water heaters and composting toilets but it is also on the grid, though much less so than would be needed otherwise. The bedrooms are Spartan, with bunk beds and little room, which encourages guests to move to the spacious community and game rooms, with wonderful views and a pot bellied stove in the center for the cooler months. Meals are served family style in a large dining hall/kitchen with large wooden tables and benches. You get to know your fellow guests (after all, what’s not to like about someone who can hike in five miles for a little nature and solitude?).
The staff members are all naturalists to some degree, and entertainment consists of games or interesting lectures/discussions of local fauna and flora. One of the things not to miss is to watch the sunrise.
You are awakened by the distant (not obtrusive) sound of a drumbeat which occurs early enough to allow you to dress, get a hot cup of coffee or chocolate, and gather in the observation room to watch a glorious sunrise (if it’s not overcast – but what’s better than a hot cup on a cold, rainy morning?) The Inn is located in the Amicalola Falls State Park, about an hour and a half northeast of Atlanta. It is also the gateway to the approach trail to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trial. So if you really get hooked, this is where to start – and you could end up in Maine, many miles and many days later!
This particular weekend was more than just a family affair (daughter, sonin-law, & wife) but it was a Birmingham affair. Several years ago, members of the Vulcan Trail Association, a local group of like minded outdoors folks, reserved the entire Inn for the weekend for members and friends who accompany them on occasion, and it has since become an annual event. This was my first visit, but for many, it was like old home week. But we were readily welcomed into the group as if we were family. There were older retirees (including me) and younger folks, some with children – beginning at age two. One eleven year old shared with me that she had made the trip 11 times (after a pause and under her breath she said “The first time was in my mommy’s tummy”). There are no big screen televisions, but on that particular weekend, a few die-hard fans smuggled in radios and settled in the family room (two separate groups, of course) and you could hear an occasional “War Eagle” or Roll Tide” from the members.
On Saturday, you could take one of several short hikes around the area, or just curl up in the family room with a good book (they have a mini-library with numerous good books – some authoritative texts describing the area and some fiction, but all about nature.
Sunday morning there was a sumptuous breakfast and then checkout and a gentle hike out. By this point I didn’t want to leave. The hike out was a little more downhill than uphill and we finished the event by viewing the Amicalola Falls, the tallest falls east of the Mississippi, before the pleasant drive back to civilization.
The Vulcan Trail Association (known to the group as the “VTA” – see www.vulcantrailassociation.ws) meets monthly (except December) and has local hikes, frequent “cook-outs” and usually an annual long hike to various distant sites, most recently to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state and, of course, the annual hike to the Len Foote Hike Inn, which I plan to participate in next year (‘cause I’m hooked).
http://hike-inn.com/ For reservations call 800-581-8032 10am to 5pm Monday through Friday