I grew up in North Carolina and even though the Appalachian Trail runs through my state, I had never heard of it until college when a friend of mine hiked the whole thing with her dad. The entire trail runs from Georgia to Maine and is 2,181 miles long. When I moved to Georgia, I started to hear a lot more about it because the southern terminus of the trail is about 2 hours from my house, at Springer Mountain. Since moving here, I’ve become slightly obsessed and have plans to hike the whole thing one day, even if I have to do it in pieces. Since it’s close, the kids and I do small sections, mostly the sections that feature waterfalls. I wanted to see where it all begins, so we drove up to Ellijay, Georgia to check it out.
There are two ways to get to the summit of Springer Mountain, which is 3,782 feet in elevation- the easy way and the hard way. If you want a real challenge, you hike what is called the Approach Trail. Leaving from Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia, you hike 8 miles uphill to the top of Springer. The Appalachian Trail doesn’t begin until you get to the top, and it’s marked with an iconic sign. Even though you just hiked 8 hard miles, you haven’t even started the actual trail yet. There are people who begin their thru hike on the Approach Trail and quit before ever setting foot on the actual Appalachian Trail.
I chose to do the easy way because I have two children who believe that hiking is suspiciously like work, and they have about a 3 mile maximum before the complaining begins. We drove to Ellijay, Georgia and hit a forest service road that took us to a parking area pretty far up the mountain. From there it’s an easy mile hike to the summit. It is very rocky, but not terribly strenuous, nothing like hiking the Approach Trail. My chihuahua did it with no problem, so you should be fine.
Once you get to the top, there’s an overlook but we didn’t see much because it was cloudy and the leaves are still on the trees. If you do this hike in the winter, you can see more because the trees are bare.
There is a side trail that leads to several campsites, metal bear-proof food containers, a composting toilet and the very first shelter on the Appalachian Trail. These shelters dot the trail every so often to provide a place for hikers to sleep under a real roof instead of in a tent.
I wanted to hike Springer because the AT has become legendary in my mind. I’ve read a ton of books and blogs and I stalk the Facebook forums about thru-hiking (going all the way from Georgia to Maine). I wanted to see the very first white blaze on the trail. This was an easy hike to an iconic spot, and maybe it will spark dreams of thru-hiking for you too!
Probably my favorite part of hiking is seeing wildlife. The more time you spend in the woods, the more likely you are to see something unusual. I definitely saw something unusual on this hike. We were walking toward the shelter and I noticed a chipmunk on the trail. As we approached, I expected him to scurry off, but he stayed absolutely still, so still I thought he was dead. I knelt down and saw that he was very much alive, just not particularly concerned about us. I decided to push my luck. I reached out my hand and he let me touch him! He didn’t move until my chihuahua came up beside me. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. I’m not a Disney princess, so usually the wildlife doesn’t let me pet it! He didn’t seem to be hurt because he scurried off with no problem when he was ready. Maybe he’s so used to hikers that he was hoping we’d feed him something!
Since we were in Ellijay and it’s apple picking season, we stopped at BJ Reese Apple House to pick up some treats- apple cider and apple doughnuts. Fall is the perfect season to support your local farmers! This time of year makes me thankful that I live close to mountains. Is there anything better than a nice hike followed by a delicious doughnut?!?
Happy trails, y’all!