Hike Inn | Amicalola Falls State Park

During our visit to the Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls, my family was as full of surprises as the inn itself.

  • My kids, ages 11 and 7, didn’t complain. Not once. They had no complaints about the length of hike (5 miles coming and going), lack of access to electronics, making their own beds, or sharing meals with other guests.
  • While hiking, the entire family focused on the environment and stayed in the “now” instead of just getting somewhere quickly. My son was so inspired by the nature around us that he pulled out his harmonica and composed a little song!
  • Over our two meals at the inn, we left behind zero food waste (the inn’s goal). This is shocking considering what my kids leave on their plates at home.
  • For a family not considered “outdoorsy,” we’re already planning our next visit.

The Hike

There’s just one way to get to Georgia’s first eco-lodge: by taking a five-mile hike from the top of Amicalola Falls. The facility operates with a “pack in, pack out” policy, meaning everything you bring with you has to leave with you. Each of us took along a backpack with our toiletries, change of clothes and shoes, pajamas and water bottles.

At the Visitor’s Center at Amicalola Falls, we checked in and got our trail map. Everyone must arrive by 2 p.m. to ensure nobody’s left on the trails after dark. The trail was challenging, but for every hill there was also a valley, and some flat areas. We crossed through small streams, moved jungle-like foliage, and navigated narrow paths on moderate uphill segments. Mile markers let us know how far we’d gone, and we spent our hike talking and playing word games. During several stops, we perched on natural tree trunk benches to drop our packs and have some water, and to admire the view over the trees.

Our daughter noted that “hikers are so friendly.” Day hikers all said “hello” and people coming back down from a stay at the Hike Inn promised we would love it. (They were right!)  It took 2½ hours to get to there. Although we were tired near the end, we got a last burst of energy when we realized we were close.

The Inn

At check-in, we learned about the evening’s programming and the four sustainably-designed buildings on the property, and picked up supply bags containing bed linens, towels and washcloths. Pillows and blankets are in the rooms, along with a cushioned mat for having an extra child sleep on the floor. Some rooms are adjoining, so a group of four can keep doors open and create a suite. Rooms are small but clean, with all wood floors, walls, and bunk beds.

The bathhouse holds individual bathroom stalls and a men’s and women’s shower room with two showers each and multiple sinks and hair dryers. But the main attraction here for the kids was the toilets. They don’t use water! The inn’s odorless composting toilets feel cool when you use them as the waste is moved into a composting tank by cold air.

Dinner and breakfast are served in the dining hall, family style at long wooden tables. Every guest can take a cup and mug for their stay, labeling them with nametags and reusing at each meal to minimize dishwashing. Water and coffee are always available, and during the day, tea, lemonade and other drinks. The rule here is to eat what you take since the goal is no trash. Food waste goals are calculated for each meal based on how many people are eating. For example, 40 people should produce no more than 4 ounces of food waste. We were proud to earn a smiley face on the food waste board for zero waste, and we repeated that feat again at breakfast the next day.

The Sunrise room is the community gathering place, with plenty of books, puzzles, board games and tables for playing, comfortable seating inside and around the porch for taking in views, including, of course, sunrise. Right below the Sunrise room is a horseshoe area, where our family played a few games with other guests, and a group of Adirondack chairs facing spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Tour

Each day at 5 p.m., the inn’s education director leads a tour of the eco-friendly facilities. It includes a visit to the worm farm, where thousands of red wigglers munch on paper shreds, food waste and natural fabrics, then create nutrient rich worm castings (“poop!,”as my son pointed out) which help organically fertilize plants and trees on property. The waste from the composting toilets also becomes organic fertilizer, with an extra step. Every few years, all the inn’s human waste gets processed by an external company and turned into Humanure.

Outside is Star Base, a huge granite block sculpture designed by Fernbank Science Center that marks the position of the sun to show north, south, east and west.  On the spring and fall equinoxes, the rising sun shines through a hole in Star Base and projects light onto a cave behind it.

“This is the most interesting place we’ve ever stayed,” my son said. “I want to stay for a week.”

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