Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia: Where to Go and What to Bring

Appalachian Trail Marker on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Appalachian Trail Marker on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses 14 states on its journey up the East Coast, but it begins (or ends, depending on your direction) in Georgia. Springer Mountain has served as the starting point for countless adventures and as a celebratory finale for those completing the 2,200-mile hike from Mount Katahdin in Maine.

In Georgia alone, the AT crosses seven counties over 76 miles. That’s enough to fill several weekend trips or a solid week of hiking. I’ve hiked significant sections of the AT in North Carolina, Virginia and Maine, and the 30-mile section I’ve walked in Georgia is among the most beautiful. It certainly helps that many of the people you meet are either cheerfully completing their trek or optimistically setting out on an adventure.

Every good hike should include a summit. Although the trail in Georgia crests 26 named mountains and knobs, three stand out as the most significant: Springer Mountain, Blood Mountain and Tray Mountain. Each can serve as a long day hike or a perfect weekend overnight.

Springer Mountain

Trail on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Trail on Springer Mountain via Shutterstock

Apart from nearby Brasstown Bald (the highest point in Georgia), Springer may be the state’s most famous mountain, due to its position as the southern terminus of the AT since 1958.

Day hikers have two options to summit Springer. Just under a mile into the AT, the trail crosses Forest Service Road 42, making for an easy 2-mile up-and-back to the summit. Most hikers, however, begin at Amicalola Falls State Park, where an 8.5-mile approach trail to Springer provides a first test to long-distance hikers setting out on their journey. Many pounds of gear are shed along this trail — before hikers even reach the actual AT.

For a relatively easy overnight trip, hike out and back from Amicalola and camp at the Black Gap shelter, located 6.2 miles into the approach trail. Or, arrange a pickup or drop a car, and hike out to Road 42 for a comfortable one-way 9.4-mile day hike.

Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain sign via Shutterstock

Blood Mountain sign via Shutterstock

At 4,458 feet, Blood Mountain is the highest point along the AT in Georgia. Don’t let the name scare you — it’s likely derived from a Native American battle or a red lichen that grows at the top.

A perfect 4.3-mile round trip day hike (short, but steep) is to head up the Byron Reece Trail (directions here) to the AT and then continue to the summit. You’re guaranteed to break a sweat, and for nature photographers, the views are among the best in Georgia.

Overnight and shuttle options include hiking the 10.5 miles between Woody Gap (at State Route 60) and the Byron Reece Trail parking area, or a 17-mile trip from Woody Gap to Hog Pen Gap (trail crossing along State Route 348 — also known as the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway).

Tray Mountain

From Tray Mountain’s 4,430-foot summit, hikers willing to put in the effort enjoy arguably the best views on the trail of the Georgia and southern North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains. From the Indian Grave Gap parking area on Tray Mountain Road (off of the Unicoi Turnpike — directions here), it’s a 5-mile up-and-back trek to the summit. With a 1,250-foot elevation gain, it’s a doable hike and offers a great photo op for families.

Weekend overnighters can expand the trip by tackling the entire 16 miles between the Unicoi Gap (at Unicoi Turnpike) and Dicks Creek Gap on State Road 76. There are two shelters along the route, so it’s possible to hike without even bringing a tent.

Trip Essentials

Speaking of which, when heading out on the Appalachian Trail, what should you bring?

If You’re Headed Out On a Day Hike, Bring This: 

  1. A paper map, ideally waterproof, of your section of the trail.
  2. A manual compass. Even on the well-marked, white-blazed AT, it’s possible to get lost if you wander off trail.
  3. A GPS unit or cell phone with an external backup battery and charging cable. If you sprain an ankle or get turned around or caught in the dark without overnight gear, finding the closest road and the ability to call for help are critical.
  4. A warm layer (it can be chilly at the summit of Georgia’s mountains, even on summer days).
  5. A lightweight rain jacket.
  6. Sunscreen and insect repellent.
  7. A first-aid kit that includes an ACE bandage.
  8. A headlamp.
  9. A pocket knife.
  10. A lighter.
  11. Two liters of water, per person.
  12. Snacks.
  13. A lightweight digital camera with an extra battery and memory card. Shockproof, waterproof point-and-shoot cameras are ideal for hiking trips.

 If You’re Headed Out On an Overnight Hike, Bring This: 

  1. Everything in the Day Hike list.
  2. A sleeping bag with a temperature rating at least to the forecasted low (remember that at higher elevations, it can be much, much colder than the forecast for nearby towns).
  3. A foam or inflatable sleeping pad (provides warmth as well as cushion).
  4. A tent or hammock with a rainfly and waterproof ground cloth.
  5. Two sets of extra clothing appropriate for the weather and season, including socks and underwear. Don’t pack cotton for backpacking — it will hold water and add weight to your pack if it rains.
  6. A water filter or purification tablets.
  7. A lightweight stove, fuel and cook set.
  8. Parachute cord for stringing up a bear bag, drying clothes, etc.
  9. For backpacking, look for dehydrated food like “just add hot water” soups, ramen and dried bean, hummus and falafel mixes. Instant oatmeal is perfect for breakfasts. Don’t carry heavy cans and packaged food that already contains water on the trail.
  10. A lightweight backpack to carry everything in.

Although not critical, you may also want to carry:

  • A paperback book
  • A journal and pen
  • A packable towel
  • Playing cards

And don’t forget your toothbrush!

All together, try to keep your pack at or near 30 pounds. That may seem difficult, but audit yourself and remove non-essential items. You’ll be grateful for a lighter load as you head up your first steep ascent.

Georgia Appalachian Trail overlook via Shutterstock

Georgia Appalachian Trail overlook via Shutterstock

Finally, remember that even in Georgia (and even in the spring and fall), temperatures can be below freezing at night near the tops of mountains like Blood, Springer and Tray. Don’t be caught unprepared! Bring warm clothes and a warm sleeping bag.

Hiking and backpacking are among the most rewarding outdoor pursuits, and Georgia offers incredible opportunities to set foot into the wilderness and discover its stunning natural beauty. Next weekend, head to the Appalachian Trail and discover the natural wonders of this incredible state.

Stratton Lawrence HeadshotBased in Charleston, S.C., Stratton Lawrence is an avid hiker, biker, runner and outdoorsman. With his favorite four-legged friend by his side, Stratton can often be found chronicling his latest travels as an adventure writer for eBay and typically captures some spectacular scenic photography along the way. When he escapes the low country, it’s almost always to head to the mountains for a long walk in the woods.

Tips for Planning a Father’s Day Fishing Trip

Nothing beats spending time with family on Father’s Day. This year, gather the kids around and offer to take them fishing in Georgia. Everyone likes to go fishing, especially when all are involved in the planning.

Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Ga., has a 260-acre lake, perfect for fishing with the family.

Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Ga., has a 260-acre lake, perfect for fishing with the family.

Suggestions:

  1. Pick a Georgia State Park. They are easy to access, inexpensive, and they have other things to do in addition to fishing, such as nature trails, panoramic views, deep canyons and waterfalls. There will be few distractions to take your attention away from your family, so you can enjoy spending time outdoors together.
  2. Take a camera to record the day. Nothing puts a smile on a child’s face better than holding up a catch before the camera.
  3. Fishing equipment is inexpensive and can be owned by the child. The rod and reel can be his or hers for a lifetime and be used hundreds of times over the years. If it’s already purchased and has already been used, make sure it works properly.
  4. Here’s a surprising tip: let the children have their phones and pads while you travel, get their fill, and then put them away. You don’t have to be in a boat. Fish from the bank or dock.
  5. Remember, you’re not after Blue Marlin or Giant Largemouth Bass. A simple little outfit to catch a little punkin’ seed Bluegill or pretty Rainbow Trout will do nicely.
  6. Take live bait. If the fishing is slow, the children can play with the crickets or worms.
  7. Don’t make it a full day. This is not a marathon. Stay as long as your family likes, but stage the ending with a closing adventure that will truly make it special.
  8. OK, here’s the close: Lake Burton Trout Hatchery right next to Moccasin Creek State Park in Clarkesville, Georgia. The kids can fish in the well-stocked little stream at the park and then walk over to the hatchery 50 yards away and see thousands of trout. That’s right, thousands. It’s a treat!
  9. Hold on, I’m not finished. Is that too far north? Then, as the day closes, visit the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, Georgia, right in the middle of the state. It’s a one-of-a-kind fishing overload of sights, sounds, photos, underwater views, and dozens of interactive displays. Don’t miss this. Initially, it’ll look like something that will take 30 minutes. I guarantee you’ll have to drag the children away.

Follow those tips, and you’ll have one great day full of memories with your family. There is no gift more precious than that.

oneill-headshotO’Neill Williams is host, creator and producer for the weekly O’Neill Outside television and radio shows. Born in Atlanta and a graduate of Emory University, Williams has been a television fishing personality for 35 years with shows titled “Fishing in Georgia,” “Southern Fishing” and “Reel Adventures.” He and his wife live in North Georgia, where they often broadcast the Saturday morning radio show.

Ways to Save on Indoor Fun in Georgia

Georgia has had a pretty cool spring, but we all know the hot weather is coming. If it gets too warm to play outside, there are plenty of places around the state to beat the heat by heading indoors. However, admission fees can add up. Here are some strategies to save money on indoor fun.

Tellus Science Museum's Fossil Gallery in Cartersville

Discover how life on Earth began in the Tellus Science Museum’s Fossil Gallery in Cartersville.

Get a Bank of America Card: The Bank of America Museums on Us program is your free ticket to museums, science centers, botanical gardens and more. There are four participants in Georgia, and more than 150 nationwide. In Georgia, you can visit the Atlanta History Center, Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, and SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah. How does it work? Show your Bank of American credit or debit card at the entrance to any participating institution on the first weekend of every month for free admission for the cardholder.

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta

Visit the Website: Go to the attraction’s website and look for a tab on specials or online deals. If there isn’t a specific tab, look under the pricing information. Sky Zone is a trampoline park with locations throughout Georgia. A quick search on their website returned a buy 10 visits for the price of eight, as well as several buy one, get one free deals. Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta has a Wild Wednesday special for adults 18 and up with half off activities and free arcade games.

Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Sign up for Free Programs: There are several industries that court kids during their summer break. Bowling lanes such as Stars and Strikes in Sandy Springs and Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin offer two free games of bowling each day during the summer months for school-aged children. Parents can purchase a family pass for the adults that let them bowl with the kids, making it a family affair.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Attending Georgia’s Music Festivals with Kids

Attending 420 Fest in Atlanta with kids

Attending 420 Fest in Atlanta with kids. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

There are a few music festivals that hubby and I attend every year; we just love listening to music under the sun, experiencing the city, and chowing at the food trucks. This year, we did something different: We brought our kiddos!

Our 7-year-old and 3-year-old went with us to Sweetwater 420 Festival at Centennial Olympic Park. I’ll admit, we were nervous. This was our first large music festival with them, but we ended up having a wonderful time! There were a great number of other children there, too!

Thinking of bringing your own kids to one of the summer’s music festivals? Here are a few things we learned that made it an easy adventure.

  1. Bring ear protection. Even when you aren’t in the crowd near the stage, the music can be very loud. It’s important to protect little ears. We found that over-the-ear protection was easier to manage with little ones, and we found affordable solutions at the big chain home improvement stores.
  1. Plan an abbreviated visit. When hubby and I attend a concert, we usually arrive early and stay until the last song of the encore. That doesn’t work work with kiddos, especially young ones. This time, we studied the itinerary and picked the ONE concert we wanted to see each day. If we heard more than one band then that would be a special treat, but our expectations were set for no more than that.
  1. Shade and games are your friends. Pack a Frisbee or a Hacky-sack, and a blanket. Work to secure a spot under the trees so the kids can escape to a shady area when necessary. When they seem restless, offer an ice cream or King of Pops treat – and be sure to get one for yourself!
  1. Expect the best, plan for the worst. Chances are, your kids will be by your side the entire time, but just in case you are separated, make a plan. For older kids, plan a meet-up place, or point out the police and staff uniforms so they know where to go for help. With younger kids, pin your business card or phone number to the back of their shirt.

Trying to decide which Georgia Music Festival to share with your kids? Follow Glen Sarvady, Georgia’s Music Explorer, for more ideas.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

What’s New and How to Save at Georgia Theme Parks

Looking for a thrilling weekend adventure? How about a visit to one of Georgia’s theme parks? This year, there are even more reasons to visit, too. Here’s a taste of what’s new at your favorite Georgia theme parks, and how to save on a visit.

Photo courtesy of Six Flags Over Georgia

Photo courtesy of Six Flags Over Georgia

Six Flags Over Georgia
What’s New:
Revolution at Dare Devil Dive. The existing Dare Devil Dive roller coaster has added a thrilling new element: virtual reality. Now while you are dropping, twisting and going upside down, you can fight aliens using special virtual reality goggles. For the younger set, Bugs Bunny Boomtown has seven new attractions, and DC Super Friends is a new themed area that opens this summer.

Money-saving Tip: If you plan to visit Six Flags Over Georgia twice this year, purchase a season pass. It will pay for itself in two visits, and you’ll also get admission to White Water, a water park in Marietta.

Wild Adventures

Photo courtesy Wild Adventures theme park, Valdosta, Ga.

Wild Adventures
What’s New:
Dinosaurs are invading Wild Adventures! Guests can interact with 20 life-sized moving, roaring dinosaurs. Wild Adventures has also added nine play spots throughout the park with games like giant checkers and drum sets for families to play. In the Animal Kingdom, they’ve also added a South American exhibit.

Money-saving Tip: Bring a picnic lunch and save on food in the park. Wild Adventures has picnic tables outside the gate and allows guests to leave and return provided they get a hand stamp.

Geyser Tower at Stone Mountain

Geyser Towers at Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain Park
What’s New:
The Jump is the latest attraction added to the Crossroads at Stone Mountain near Sky Hike. Guests free fall 10, 15 or 20 feet from a tower.

Money-saving Tip: Stone Mountain often partners with Kroger. Look for discount coupons to the park at local Kroger stores. You can also visit after 4 p.m. and purchase a Sunset Pass for less.

Photo courtesy Lake Winnie and SoakYa Water Park

Photo courtesy Lake Winnie and SoakYa Water Park

Lake Winnepesaukah
What’s New: The Twister! Can you stomach it?

Money-saving Tip: When planning your trip, visit the Lake Winnie website and click the “specials” tab where you’ll find money saving coupons. Be sure to plan ahead though; coupons are for specific days.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

Click here to order Sue’s book, 100+ Things to Do in Atlanta.

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