Those who know this Hiker at Heart, know that I wouldn’t pass up a visit to any new place without checking out what hiking adventures it may have in store for me. One thing I did know before visiting is that Georgia is the starting (or ending point) of the Appalachian trail; the beginning and/or finale for many wide-eyed hikers and dreamers. True to form, my carefully executed planning found me of on top of some epic mountain tops, at the bottom of the deepest gorges and flying through miles on the AT.
I found some real gems in a short but sweet visit to Georgia, all within a quick drive from Atlanta. Though the mountains here aren’t huge, the dreams and expectations that they hold for AT hikers make it an extra special place and I feel happy to have experienced it. If you are short on time, or are looking for a great day hike to get out of the city (all you locals or visitors) here are 3 GREAT GEORGIA TRAILS that will get you away from the bright lights and fast pace, and into the lush forest and rolling foothills that Georgia has to offer.
First and foremost, I have to give a shout out to a great website, Atlanta Trails. This resource helped me tremendously in planning my short jaunts out of the city. This site has detailed trail outlines, descriptions and suggestions. It also has top hike recommendations for waterfall lovers, fall colors, and view seekers. This is such an amazing resource for visitors and locals, I only wish other cities would follow suit (I’ve included their links I used below).
So here they are: HIKER AT HEART’S TOP 3 EPIC DAY HIKES near Atlanta, Georgia
1. Springer Mountain – This was an obvious choice for me. This hiker at heart dreams of the opportunity to someday hike the AT in its entirety. So I felt it fitting to stand at the starting point of a place I hope to stand in the future, with completely different hopes and dreams. I started this hike where most AT hikers start their journey; at Amicalola Falls State Park on the AT approach trail. I have to give props to this park; it has a great network of trails (I didn’t have time to explore) but I did get to check out the infamous Amicalola falls, which are tremendous in size and absolutely stunning. Excited about the adventure, I flew through the trail. Though rated as difficult, I felt that the trail had a fairly easy grade with only slight elevation changes and was totally doable in a day as a return trip for those fit hikers out there, despite what the signs may indicate.
The “summit” of springer mountain has some partially obstructed views, but is definitely worthwhile. While having a quick picnic lunch at the top, I picked up the AT trail register and drifted off into the land of thru-hiking paradise while reading the comments from eager hikers starting out on their epic adventure, day hikers enjoying the views, and victorious AT hikers taking the final steps on their 2000 + mile journey.
For an added bonus and a possible overnight suggestion, may I recommend a stay at the Len Foote Hike Inn, part of the loop trail system between Springer and Amicalola Falls. Serving up dinner, a hearty breakfast, hot showers, a cozy bed, great hospitality and some impressive views; I would say it’s definitely worth making this a loop.
2. Blood Mountain – My next adventure took me to another special place, the tallest peak in the Georgia section of the AT. There are a couple of different approaches to reach this summit, but guaranteed all of them will get your heart pumping. The ascent has some significant elevation gain. The reward is given back ten fold; as you climb, the views through the trees and all the way to the summit are frequent and get increasingly better. The mountain is teasing you along the way for what awaits you at the top. For such a popular trail, I was surprised that I had the summit to enjoy all by myself for my entire picnic lunch. This trail has a lot of diversity in vegetation. The trail begins in a moist, dark and earthy-smelling environment, where the canopy is topped with lush, almost tropical vegetation. The trail tops out on a rocky bald where the surrounding vegetation is wind-worn, and a variety of short shrubs and grasses dot the landscape. A very unique looking AT shelter at the top has my mind drifting again to my dreams of spending more than just a couple short hours on the AT. If you ARE short on time, try the 4.3 mile out and back from the Byron Reese Trailhead (see link). This trail has a ton of view-to-mileage payout, making it a winner in my books.
3. Tallulah Gorge – I felt like I was getting an 2-for-1 treat on this trip when I stumbled on the Tallulah Gorge. Mountains and gorges in the same day? This gorge is in an unsuspecting location but don’t underestimate it…it is utterly massive. With great trail options for all fitness levels, it’s a place where everyone can enjoy something. There are easy trails that skirt along the rim of the gorge, and trails (for those who need more challenge) that take you down to the gorge floor, which is an entirely different perspective and provides up-close views of some thundering waterfalls.
For a cardio-challenger packed into about 2 short miles, you can take in the top rim and bottom floor of the gorge by doing the Hurricane Falls Loop Trail. Just brace yourself for the climb back out. I stopped counting stairs after a few hundred. My legs and lungs were screaming but this trail is worth it. Since I was cramming as much as possible into one day, I reached Tallulah Gorge in the evening, when the late afternoon sun was casting its light into the deepest parts of the gorge. Stunning.
In talking with some fellow hikers I met on the trails (mostly locals), they all agreed I was hitting some of Georgia’s best that day, but they managed to fill my brain with several more hikes and trails that I should explore on my next visit. It was remarkable how accessible these places were, and not too far from the big city. These three trails just scratch the surface of a mass of trail systems outside of Atlanta. Hiker at Heart left a piece of history in the AT trail book atop Springer Mountain; I hope that someday I’m back there writing a whole different story.