Beginners' guide to hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia

When you hear about people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, it might conjure up the image of worn and weathered thru-hikers retiring after a long, arduous journey. Although it's always an honor to meet one of these fearless, determined and dedicated long-distance hikers, you don't necessarily have to take six months off work in order to enjoy hiking the AT. With some portions of the Appalachian Trail stretching only a couple of miles, even beginners could do it in an afternoon. After all, it's right in your own backyard.

Appalachian trail basics

The southernmost trailhead of the Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain in Fannin County and stretches 78.6 miles through North Georgia. You'll know that you're at the trailhead when you see the famous bronze plaque embedded in a stone at the entrance to the trail. Along the entire length the AT, you will also notice white rectangular markers, or blazes, across trees and rocks to lead you along the path. If you look carefully, you might discover the Springer Mountain trail log located in a special vault along the trail. Feel free to add your name to the list of other AT hikers.

In the spring and summer, you're likely to see stunning wildflowers, mountain laurel, thick rhododendron and vibrant greenery galore. In the autumn, prepare yourself for a rainbow of fall delight as the surrounding sugar maple, white oak, tulip poplar and yellow birch trees show off their true colors. No matter what time of year you plan on hiking, moss-covered boulders, gorgeous waterfalls and towering forest canopies abound throughout the primeval forests along this southern portion of the Appalachian Trail.

What to bring

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Even though, as a beginner, you're not planning on spending a great deal of time on your hike, you should still prepare to bring a stocked backpack with items you might need along the trail. A few basic items you should bring include:

  • A GPS and a compass, so that you can easily find your location
  • A map of the trail
  • A watertight first aid kit, or one sealed in a gallon-sized zip bag
  • Insect repellent, because it's the South
  • Sunscreen
  • A trail knife, or a multi-tool with a knife attachment
  • A flashlight, in case you lose track of the time
  • A water bottle, full
  • Snacks, like granola, energy bars and fruit

Where to go

As a beginner, you probably won't want to start off with 10 to 15 miles along one of the longer Appalachian Trail hikes in Georgia. However, some of the shorter trails will help you get started.

  • Appalachian Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls. Access the trailhead at Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville. www.atlantatrails.com. Instead of hiking the entire 15.6-mile length of this trail, try attempting the first few miles starting at the base of the breathtaking Amicalola Falls. Much of the trail at the falls consists of well-maintained pathways and stairways.
  • Springer Mountain Loop Trail. Access the trailhead at Forest Road 42, Fannin County, Ga. www.fs.usda.gov. This 4.75-mile loop takes you through lush forests, down into a valley and past many stunning overlooks. Hike part of the trail if you're just starting out or give the whole thing a go if you feel like you're up for the full Appalachian Trail experience.
  • Three Forks to Long Creek Falls. Access the trailhead at Forest Road 58, Fannin County, Ga. www.atlantatrails.com. This waterfall-filled path takes you through hemlock groves and bubbling creeks along its 1.9 round-trip miles. This trail makes the perfect hike if you're looking for something short and sweet.
  • Tesnatee Gap to Cowrock Mountain. Access the trailhead at Georgia 348, Cleveland, Ga. www.atlantatrails.com. You'll experience gorgeous views and easy access along a paved trailhead on this 2.25-mile round-trip route. It offers a little more challenge while still keeping the mileage low.

Wildlife safety

Since the southern branch of the Appalachian Trail meanders through the Chattahoochee National Forest, you might run into wildlife along your journey. Along with smaller animals like squirrels, chipmunks, birds and woodchucks, you might also encounter deer, wild turkeys, wild hogs and black bears. Always remember to respect the natural environment of the local wildlife. You can keep yourself and the animals throughout the wilderness safe by observing them from distance, keeping all snack and drinks to yourself and staying on the trail. Consider hiking in a group, instead of by yourself, so that animals will hear you coming more easily.

Do you think that you're ready for more of a challenge? Try out the 5 most difficult hiking trails in Georgia.

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