Appalachian Trail Season Kick-Off: A Rite of Spring

Appalachian Trail Season Kick-Off: A Rite of Spring

Of the many outdoor assets in the state of Georgia, few can claim to be more well-known than the Appalachian Trail. Each year, thousands of backpackers embark from Georgia on the nearly 2,200-mile journey that will take them across 14 states with the hopes of earning the title of thru-hiker.

Every March, the Peach State’s 76-mile stretch of the AT comes alive with hopeful thru-hikers starting the months-long backpacking trek to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Compared to the northern reaches of the trail in early spring, the temperate weather of Georgia makes traveling north along the AT from the trail’s southernmost state a no-brainer.

While there are several ways to get to the trail’s southern terminus of Springer Mountain and officially log AT mileage, the welcoming confines of Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge have made the park one of the most popular locations for hikers to start. Just 8.5 miles from Springer Mountain, Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge has become a bastion for committed thru-hikers and weekend warriors alike and begins the AT season with its acclaimed annual Appalachian Trail Kick-Off (ATKO) Weekend.

Held the first full weekend in March, the 3-day celebration has grown to include hundreds of vendors and hikers of all experience levels, not just those beginning their journey. Set for March 6-8, 2020, the free event only requires the $5 Georgia State Park entry pass for each vehicle or a Georgia State Annual Park Pass.

While each day will feature presentations on topics ranging from hiking without a trace to dehydrating food stores, from utilizing solar power to staying found on the AT, reputable industry vendors are also on hand throughout the weekend exhibiting the latest hiking tech and gear or representing organizations devoted to preserving the Appalachian Trail.

Besides the education and exposure to hiking products and initiatives, some of the most memorable times come in the form of unstructured fellowship between hiking enthusiasts and park naturalists. They trade trail tales and share advice. Even for those who aren’t tackling the full trail, the event is a great opportunity to dust off your gear, lace up your boots, and interact with other passionate hikers and outdoor professionals. There are accommodations on site including a lodge, state park cabins, a campground, and the legendary ‘Tent City,’ which is set up exclusively for the ATKO Weekend.

As the weekend ends, thru-hikers check-in at the park’s Visitors Center, weigh their packs, and bid farewell to friends and family seeing them off. The iconic archway at the foot of the park’s Approach Trail is a can’t-miss snapshot opportunity to commemorate each hiker’s journey.

If you attend, be sure to stop by the Discover Georgia Outdoors booth to receive exclusive giveaways and find out how to become a DGO Trailhead ambassador.

Explore the AT in Georgia

Thru-hiker or not, sauntering along any section of the Appalachian Trail is likely a bucket list activity for every outdoor adventurer worth their moisture-wicking t-shirt. Here are some of the best hikes that will get you familiar with sections of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.

Indian Grave Gap to Tray Mountain – Find excellent views in all directions from rock outcrops when you hike the Appalachian Trail to Tray Mountain’s summit at 4,430 feet.

Blood Mountain Loop Trail – This loop trail starts at Neals Gap, with the first 0.7 miles along the Byron Herbert Reece Trail, ending at Freeman Gap and the junction of the Appalachian Trail and Freeman Trail. The Freeman Trail follows the contour of Blood Mountain until reaching Bird Gap and the AT again. This trail is very rocky, with several large boulders along the way.

Appalachian Trail, Jarrard Trail, and Slaughter Creek Trail Loop – This wide in-and-out trail provides access to Blood Mountain via the Appalachian Trail from the Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area. One of the easiest access hikes to the AT, the trail is nearly all uphill, but unlike some of the AT access trails, it does not become steep near the top.

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