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
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.
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
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.
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.
Georgia State Parks
The Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites Park Guide is a handy resource for planning a spring break, summer vacation or family reunion. The free booklet is filled with tips on the best hiking trails, fishing spots, cabins, wedding venues and campsites. Visit Website
Historic Banning Mills
Historic Banning Mills is an adventure resort with two Guinness World Records located just 45 minutes West of Atlanta. At this secluded nature escape you’ll find the world’s largest zip line course and climbing wall, as well as kayaking, horseback riding, summer camps, overnight lodging, team building, wildlife shows, and so much more!