Len Foote Hike Inn a Natural Oasis in North Georgia Mountains
The five-mile hike at Amicalola Falls State Park leads to sustainable accommodations.
You must hike five miles to get a meal and a good night’s rest but the Len Foote Hike Inn in the north Georgia mountains offers all that and a sustainability lesson as well.
The Hike Inn is part of Georgia’s Amicalola State Park & Lodge, itself a delightful destination for those who wish to get close to nature. The park offers a spectacular 729-foot waterfall, hiking trails and the Appalachian Trail approach, ideal for those hardy individuals ready to tackle the massive trail up the East Coast but prefer a comfy night beforehand in the state park lodge (you don’t have to hike to that one).
You do have to hike to Len Foote. And it’s worth every step.
My husband and I decided to rest the night before and booked a guest room at the state park lodge, enjoying a nice meal in the dining room with its breathtaking view of the north Georgia mountains. Once rested and bolstered by a hearty breakfast, we headed out along the trail that leads to both the inn and the approach to Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian National Scenic Trail begins.
The trail has its ups and downs — literally — but moderate hikers will have no problem scaling the inclines and beginners may want to rest here and there. Overall, it’s a relatively easy and delightful walk in the woods, crossing streams, viewing diverse ecosystems and listening to birds. We didn’t see wildlife on our hike in or out but were assured that bears do live in these woods.
The Hike Inn welcomes visitors with an engaging porch (we spent time on its swings) and the check-in occurs in the lobby, a room decorated with past Appalachian Trail hikers’ memorabilia. We received a cloth bag of linens and were assigned to our room which contained a bunkbed and a small area to hang clothes. You must make your own bed and unmake it upon departure. Towels are available for the bathhouse and they’re returned to housekeeping as well. All items brought in — clothes, toiletries, water bottles, etc. — must be taken out when you leave.
The collection of Hike Inn’s buildings includes the lobby and guest rooms, the bathhouse which is surprisingly lovely (more on that later), the dining hall where meals are served family style and drinks are always available and the sunrise room with its puzzles, games, guitars and a porch with rocking chairs. I particularly enjoyed the cozy sunrise room at night where we conversed with other guests. In the morning I watched the sun rise from the porch with a hot cup of coffee.
The goal at Hike Inn is simple: unwind, unplug and relax. Put those cell phones and laptops away! And hopefully, in the process, you'll come away with conservation ideas.
The Hike Inn opened in 1998 when Georgia Department of Natural Resources Director Burt Weerts initiated a backcountry lodge to help educate visitors on conservation and outdoor recreation, said Eric Graves, executive director. The Inn is owned by the DNR but has been operating by the non-profit Len Foote Hike Inn, Inc., since its inception.
From the beginning, plans required the buildings designed by Georgian Garland Reynolds to be sustainable. Hike Inn joined National Geographic in Washington, D.C. in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) pilot certification, a green building certification program that’s now used worldwide. Hike Inn and National Geographic were the first to receive that honor, Graves said.
“We are 100 percent sustainable and we’re proud of that,” he said, adding that Hike Inn later achieved a onPlatinum LEED level, the highest available in the LEED system.
What makes it sustainable?
The Hike Inn buildings were constructed with little waste, utilize passive solar, natural lighting and ventilation and are mostly powered by solar thermal panels. The grounds contain a Monarch Mountain Stop Pollinator Education Garden and incorporate native species that require no fertilization or watering.
Guests are required to only place food on their plates that they will consume. Seconds and thirds are welcomed but leftovers are strongly discouraged. Cups, mugs and plates are all cleaned and reused. Vermicomposting bins in a separate building break down kitchen waste for compost.
“People think of fuel and water when they think of waste,” Graves said. “But food waste is a big issue.” [The U.S. throws away 30-40 percent of the food that’s grown and that waste includes the transporting and storing of that food.]
Back to that bathhouse…Hike Inn uses composting toilets but get this, they don’t smell! Seriously. They use a breezy system that ventilates and dehydrates waste and the added wood chips control odor. In the middle of the night, I had to climb from my top bunk and walk to the bathhouse but other than it being chilly and a bit of fresh air up my bum (thanks to the breezy system), the midnight visit tops my list of camping bathroom experiences. In other words, if you’re imagining a bathhouse similar to Girl Scouts, think again. Showers are spacious and comfortable, hot water is plentiful and there are numerous sinks.
Hike Inn incorporated a clean, fresh design in its construction but still nothing fancy, so that visitors may take away ideas that anyone can afford, Graves said.
“We try to be a showpiece of conservation but we try to be practical too.”
What to Expect
You are on top of a mountain so dress accordingly. Footwear may range from sports shoes to hiking shoes but bring raingear and warm clothes if necessary.
“We’re 10 degrees cooler than Atlanta,” Graves said.
Spaces for spring and fall fill up fast — north Georgia mountains turn autumnal colors in October and November and burst with rhododendrons and mountain laurel in spring. Summers can be cool but also sweltering; this is Georgia, after all. Winter may bring snow. And a clear day may turn stormy so prepare for inclement weather.
Graves suggests reserving rooms in the high seasons and weekends well in advance. If you’re thinking of a weekday visit or reserving during an off-season, you might want to wait to see what the weather is doing, then call. Many times there will be open rooms on short notice during weekdays, Graves said.
Who is Len Foote?
Biologist Len Foote was one of the first to examine conservation management, an “ecologist” before the philosophy was popular. He pushed policy that considered protecting an entire ecosystem and all species in it instead of just one individual species or plant. He rerouted the Richard B. Russell scenic highway to protect the rare yellow lady slipper, a type of native orchid that cannot be transplanted due to its unique relationship with the roots and a fungus.
He died in 1989 and did not see the Inn created in his name. The Hike Inn’s lobby contains many of his books donated by Foote’s family members and the Inn’s coffee comes from King Bean in Charleston, S.C. which is owned by Katie Foote Wienberger and her husband. Katie is one of Len’s granddaughters.
Some awards Hike Inn Received
(2018) Southface Fulcrum Lifetime Achievement Award – Len Foote Hike Inn is recognized for its 19th year protecting Georgia’s natural resources, serving as a model for smart construction, innovative sustainability practices and environmental education outreach. The award honors the industry trailblazers who advance the Southface vision statement: a regenerative economy, responsible resources use, social equity and a healthy built environment for all - the ultimate roadmap to an equitable, resilient and vibrant future.
(2019) Georgia Water Coalition Clean Water Hero – the Georgia Water Coalition names the Len Foote Hike Inn as one of their 2019 Clean Water Heroes in its annual Clean 13 Report. The Hike Inn is recognized for being a model of smart construction and innovative sustainability practices, as well as environmental education outreach spreading the message of sustainability. The Clean 13 report highlights individuals, businesses, industries, non-profit organizations and governmental agencies whose extraordinary efforts have led to cleaner rivers, stronger communities and a more sustainable future for Georgians.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel writer and treehugger Cheré Coen. She and her husband Bruce hiked to Len Foote Hike Inn for their wedding anniversary. They found both the hike and the Inn delightful.