I have a confession to make – I want to do a lot of hiking on this trip, but I have been absolutely neglecting actually researching the hikes. Partly this was because I didn’t want to torture myself by imagining verdant vistas while sweltering under the mid-summer Florida sun. I knew we would have some downtime in John’s hometown of Blue Ridge, GA, in the southern reach of the Appalachian Mountains, and I figured I would start my hike research there. So I was not at all prepared when we were driving north from Atlanta and John explained that he wanted to stay in Amicalola Falls State Park that night, because Springer Mountain is near the falls. And hiking to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT), is definitely on our list of things to do on this road trip.
We drove into the state park and immediately found the parking lot for AT hikers. The park visitors’ center closes at 5 pm, so we filled out the after-hours registration paperwork and paid the $5 parking fee in the self-service envelope, fulfilling the requirements to park overnight in the AT lot. Camping is not allowed in the lot, but we weren’t camping, just parking ;). Since I hadn’t researched the hike, or prepared in anyway, we did not have a map. The park had maps displayed at various information points, so we learned that Springer Mountain is 8.8 miles from where we parked, and we could take a picture of the trail map covering the park portion of the hike (less than a fifth of the hike).
Once the van was parked and settled, I wandered around outside to enjoy the last remnants of light. While walking I realized that 1) this was our opportunity to visit the beginning of the AT and 2) not only did we not have any backpacking food, eliminating the possibility an overnight trip, but we didn’t even have portable lunch food. And while 8.8 miles is a pretty short hike, that is only one way. To make it to Springer, we would be in for a 17+ mile round-trip hike. As soon as that realization hit, I returned to the van to confer with John.
John was reluctant because he had never hiked that distance before, but he agreed to try it. I pulled out all the food we had that did not require cooking and was not in a glass container: tortilla chips, hummus (luckily I had made it the night before), cheese, canned fish, trail mix, and muffins. We pulled out our packs (overly large for a day hike, but we don’t have space to store a backpack for every occasion), and filled them with water, food, extra clothes, and the first aid kit. We set an alarm and laid down for a good night’s rest.
The approach to the AT starts out strong with an 800 foot ascent in the first mile, a majority of that straight up an impressive staircase built around the spectacular Amicalola Falls.
Shortly after the top of the falls, we encountered a sign that claimed the 7.3 mile trek to Springer takes an average of 6 hours. I didn’t believe it would take that long on a day hike, but to alleviate John’s anxiety I worked out the time we would need to turn around in order to return to the nearest parking lot 90 minutes before dark. We agreed that if we weren’t at Springer by that time, we would turn back. At that, we set out.
We had a lovely hike, encountering only one other person on the way in – a man who passed us about halfway (and I was happy he took the lead – I had done my fair share of clearing spider webs by walking through them!) Forty minutes before our agreed-upon turn-around time, we reached our destination. We hung out on the top enjoying the view and eating lunch for nearly an hour. We took a few steps down the white-blazed trail and contemplated the thousands of people who have started on the journey of a lifetime at that very spot.
On the way back, we took a few more breaks, encountered several backpackers hiking in for an extended stay, and took our time on the way down the waterfall to enjoy the sight one more time. We made it back to the van with daylight to spare, tired and a little sore, but feeling great about challenging ourselves.