Nestled deep in the Chattahoochee National Forest is one of the many hidden gems of Dawson County, the Len Foote Hike Inn, a rustic lodge removed from the bustle of everyday life.
With only one way to get to the lodge via hiking trails, those interested in experiencing the Hike Inn must start out at the parking lot atop Amicalola Falls. From there, hikers will make the five-mile trek through lush woods, over little brooks and through beautiful foliage, until they reach the sprawling lodge at the top of a hill.
Just a mile away from the Appalachian Trail approach trail and Springer Mountain, through-hikers are celebrated in the main building of the inn with a display called “backpacks through the ages”, featuring backpacks from the 1900s to the present day.
Each of the backpacks on display has a story behind it and at one time belonged to a through-hiker who made the months-long trip up the Appalachian Trail, according to Len Foote staff.
The inn features a bunkhouse, bathhouse, dining hall and common room where guests can sit and read or talk. Smaller trails surround around the inn, winding through beautiful butterfly gardens and leading to a picturesque view of the landscape and views of Yonah Mountain in the distance and glints of gold from the steeple at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega.
Friendly faces and a hot shower are there to greet Hikers as they finish the five-mile trek, as well as a gourmet home-cooked meal in the dining house. After dinner, guests can get a tour of the grounds and learn about the history behind and values of the inn.
The Hike Inn is named after Len Foote, a conservationist, educator and naturalist who lived in Georgia from the 1950s to the 1980s. Foote was originally from the New England area but moved to Georgia in the early 1950s to conduct studies in ecology and wildlife disease.
Foote was best known for was his wildflower photography, and the inn aims to showcase his accomplishments through the displays and decorations, according to Hike Inn employee Anne Miller.
“Each room here in the bunkhouse features a photo of a wildflower that Len Foote took while he was alive,” Miller said. “And we have a display case in the main room that showcases some of his awards, his books and his photo.”
Foote passed away in 1989, at which time the idea for a backcountry inn was only a proposal on paper.
Department of Natural Resources employees proposed the idea in the 1970s, but the Georgia state park system didn’t have land suitable to build the inn on until the U.S. Forest Service and the Georgia state parks did a “land swap” in 1992.
“Because of this land swap, we’re an island of state park property surrounded by the national forest,” Miller said. “You start hiking at Amicalola Falls State Park, hike 5 miles to here and pass through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest on your way here.”
The inn was designed by an architect named Garland Reynolds, who was at the forefront of the “green building movement”, or the idea that from the construction through the life of a building it should have a low impact on the environment. With this in mind, he designed the inn, which opened in 1997, with several different sustainability and conservation elements built-in.
The inn makes use of solar energy, both with solar panels on the sides of the bathhouse to provide hot water to the showers and with an array of panels for power.
“We have a solar array up by our staff housing, and that accounts for about 70% of our energy needs here,” Miller said. “The other 30% does come from the power company and underground lines, but right now it’s a win-win for us because we sell back any extra energy we produce during the day to the power company, which helps make them greener and makes our monthly bills cheaper.”
Additionally, the inn uses composting toilets that create usable soil for the inn’s huge flower gardens, and all food waste is composted for the inn’s herb garden or other uses.
Beyond sustainability practices, the inn was designed and built to make use of the area’s natural resources. All of the common areas have extra high vaulted ceilings, which serve several purposes at once.
“The high ceilings allow for a second row of windows, so we can have natural light throughout the day,” Miller said. “And we can open the windows to create a cross-breeze which is nice in the summer because we don’t have heat or air conditioning in the common rooms.”
The inn itself rests on posts, which Reynolds designed specifically so the building wouldn’t flatten the land and erosion would be minimized.
“Reynolds wanted to build with the lay of the land, instead of coming in here and flattening everything out to put the building on,” Miller said. “And we’re on a slope, so the biggest issue is erosion because we get about 70 inches of rain a year. So being up on posts helps give more ground for that rain to soak into.”
Guests of the inn are also asked to observe a few different practices in order to help preserve the conservation values of the inn. Hikers are asked to observe “pack in pack out” principles, meaning anything that is carried into the inn on the hike must be carried back out upon leaving.
There are also conservation practices when it comes to the dining hall, including a zero-food-waste goal.
“We ask at mealtime that you only take what you’re going to eat,” Miller said. “This helps reduce our own food waste, and it also brings awareness to the issue of food waste in general.”
One of the many goals of the Hike Inn is to connect people with nature and give them a reprieve from how busy everyday life is.
Signs all around the inn encourage hikers to turn off their phones and other devices and instead enjoy the quiet and stillness of nature all around them.
And before hikers depart the lodge and begin their trek back down the mountain, the are invited to come back anytime.
“We know you have so many choices when it comes to remote backcountry lodges in North Georgia,” Miller said to a group of departing hikers in May. “But seriously thank you for choosing the Hike Inn and we hope to hear from you guys again.”
Learn more about the Hike Inn by visiting its website.