For anyone wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail in Georgia for the first time, there are a few basic facts to know before getting started. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, completed in 1937, is considered the longest footpath in the U.S., covering close to 2,200 miles. It is part of the national park system and maintained by volunteers and trail clubs. Hiking the trail from beginning to end takes hikers through eight national forests and fourteen states, and it takes an estimated 5 million footsteps.
The trail runs from Maine through New England, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut; the mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia; and across the southern Appalachian's highest peak at Clingman's Dome in Tennessee before reaching its southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia. The beginning of the Georgia Appalachian Trail is found near Amicalola Falls State Park.
Located in the North Georgia Mountains in Dawsonville, Amicalola Falls State Park provides easy access to hikers heading to Springer Mountain. The park has accommodations at the 57-room hotel at Amicalola Falls Lodge with panoramic views of the North Georgia Mountains. For backpackers beginning their hike of the Georgia Appalachian Trail at Amicalola Falls, cabins are available at Hike Inn, the only backcountry inn located in Georgia. From the top of the falls, hikers make the five-mile trek to the eco-friendly inn, where twenty rooms provide hikers with private accommodations on stilts along the mountainside that offer uninterrupted views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For comfort and convenience, breakfast and dinner are included along with a bathhouse utilizing composting toilets and hot showers to prepare you for your hike to Springer Mountain.
Along with Amicalola Falls State Park, two additional state parks are located in the North Georgia Mountains near the Georgia Appalachian Trail. Near Blairsville is Vogel State Park, and near the picturesque Alpine city of Helen, you will find Unicoi State Park. The trail also takes hikers through national forests, including the Oconee National Forest and the Chattahoochee National Forest. The trail crosses the highest point in Tennessee at Clingman's Dome, located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Weather is a factor for hikers during the winter due to snow and ice and spring, and hikers who head for the Appalachian Trail in Georgia during the summer months can expect to encounter insects, birds, and small species of wildlife. When traversing the trail, hikers should be on the lookout for large predator animals, including bears and bobcats, that make the wild and remote wilderness and trails their home.
The Appalachian Trail has several difficulty ratings for hikers. The trail consists of miles of footpaths, forest roads, and paved roads with varying degrees of difficulty from easy strenuous. A rating system for the trail uses a one rating for flat surfaces; a five rating indicates some flat areas but mostly strenuous hiking up and down footpaths. A ten rating refers to the most difficult hiking terrain, where footing may be unsteady and hikers will need to use their hands to navigate portions of the trail. Portions of the trail with a ten rating are recommended only for experienced hikers in excellent physical condition and with no fear of heights. The ratings are posted in each state so hikers are aware of the condition of the trail as they travel through the beautiful Appalachian scenery.