View Full Version : The Approach Trail at Amicalola

03-13-2003, 10:09
I was having a discussion with a friend about the approach trail to Springer from Amicalola. I maintained that it was pointless to begin a through-hike without including this beginning section, while she submitted that as a blue blaze trail it seemed a bit silly to include it as a requirement for a through hike and one could easily just drive up to the summit, register and begin the hike from there.

So I am interested in how many people here believe that the approach trail is an essential componant of the trail, and what percentage of NOBO (and SOBO hikers for that matter) include the approach trail as an integral part of their hike.

SGT Rock
03-13-2003, 10:21
The approach trail is just a blue blazed trail. To do the FS42 you have to walk about a mile SOBO to Springer then back track that mile to cross the parking lot again, ether way you have to walk to the mountain. It is a personal thing with no right or wrong answer, but the climb up that blue blaze might be a good way for a hiker to find out if they really want to do this. I plan to have my family come with me to the FS42 parking lot and walk down to Springer so they can see me off (if they still want to LOL).

03-13-2003, 10:30
If I walk over 2000 miles to Katahdin, I don't think I'm going to care all that much either way. But enough people have declared it rather pretty, so I might walk it this year.

03-13-2003, 11:05
I strongly suggest if you are going to thru hike, to put all these notions of things you HAVE to do in order to be considered a true thru-hiker out of your head. Do it if you want, skip it if you don't. As Redbeard said, after 2000 miles, the fact that you did or didn't do the approach trail is irrelevant.

You're out there to hike and have fun and to walk from GA-ME. Do that, and you will be furfilled. Litter your hike with rules, and you will feel pressure, the very thing you are trying to get away from.

Gravity Man

03-13-2003, 12:05
I wouldn't say its pointless begin a thru hike without doing the Approach Trail, but it is a nice way to start your hike. To begin the hike by climbing Springer is makes reaching the beginning of the AT a little more rewarding. I like the idea of weighing in on the scale at Amicalola and then just heading off into the woods.

Just because a road is there doesn't mean it is more enjoyable to use it. I remember all the people on Mt. Washington, those that drove up didn't really seem to view the mountain in the same way as those who hiked up. I think I had more respect for Mt. Washington in part because I climbed it, and I figure Springer Mt. deserves to be climbed too.

Although you do have to walk to the summit from FS42, that isn't the same as climbing the mountain from the bottom. I have reached Springer from both ways, and starting from FS42 and it had a much different feel than starting from Amicalola. There are other reasons to start at FS42, such as sharing the summit with family and friends. It all comes down to a matter of preference, and what works for you. Of course, if you don't like climbing mountains...

I'm not claiming to make rules of how the AT should be hiked, just sharing my opinion. I thought the only "rules" are for debating why your definition of thru hiking is correct on somebody else's is incorrect. However, I would say that even after walking 2000 miles, I still find the way it all began to be quite relevant. Really, what part of the hike isn't relevant?

03-13-2003, 12:14
I'm not really imposing rules or suggesting one way is preferable to another. I'll walk it because - this is a personal thing here - I don't want to rationalize avoiding a tough hike on the first day. I could too easily allow that to become a behavioral pattern. :)

On the other hand, it's not part of the trail and I hadn't even considered the family send-off aspect.

I was primarily motivated by the curiosity of how many hikers started at the trailhead versus how many start with the approach.

Regardless of where I start, I am going to be one hurting puppy at the end of that first day. :)

03-13-2003, 13:39
Do whatever you want - I think you will find that it doesn't matter much in the long run.

I remember before my hike reading similar threads on another forum -- I got the impression then that EVERONE hiked the approach trail. My husband and I did hike the approach trail and had a terrific day and met other great hikers, but I think we would have regardless of where we started. There seemed to be at least as many that day who did not hike the approach trail, or did only part of it.

I never heard anyone say they regretted not hiking it.. ironically I did later meet a pair who regretted hiking it (and yes they ended up hiking the whole trail.) They said it was too long, difficult and not worth it. There was a guy we had breakfast with who made it about a quarter way up the approach trail, turned around and got a flight back home. So I would say it is a wakeup call for some (but don't let that scare you - he was an exception!) A nice thing about NOT hiking the approach trail is that if you got to the park late in the day you could take an ultra-low mile day and stay in Springer shelter, get used to your gear etc. before putting on miles. Maybe you could "play it by ear" incase you meet some hikers in the lodge (if you stay there) and do what they do.

I don't think I could say there is any correlation for successfully completing the entire trail and doing or not doing the approach trail, and I became good friends with many in each category.

I have to say that the archway at the base of the trail (near the visitor center) makes a great photo, and it did seem more dramatic going that way. One of my favorite memories is making to that plaque on Springer.. not realizing we had made it to the top until we were practically standing on it. OOooh just thinking about it makes me want to hop on a plane this minute!

Good luck, you will have a great time either way!

03-13-2003, 14:24
I hiked SOBO - we got to Springer, reflected, stayed the night at Springer Shelter, drank some beers which we had been carrying since Wylasi Yi, reflected some more, hiked back to Springer the next morning to meet the parents. Hiked to the parking lot on the FS road and went immediately to an awesome country style AYCE place in Dahlonega. Don't regret missing the Departure Trail one bit. It would have been 8 more miles before I could have sat down and eaten for 2.5 hours straight.

03-13-2003, 16:26
We did the approach trail. Lots of folks didn't. In the end, 8 miles doesn't really matter one way or the other. If someone were to ask my advice about it, I would say to do it, because I thought, well, I enjoy hiking, and here's the chance to have an extra day off it! It was a nice hike, a nice warm up, put us on Springer summit for a leisurely lunch, and we got to "test the waters" of Georgia, where we had never hiked before. It was pretty, scenic, and gave us all morning to "anticipate" the summit of Springer, which made the summit that much more exciting. Either way, I would say not to fret, your hike won't be better off or worse off for having or having not done it.

03-13-2003, 17:15
Well, one thing that can be said, is that hiking the approach trail gives all prospect thru-hikers a good dose of reality right from the start.

I think Baltimore Jack or someone once wrote that cutting the appoach trail is kinda indicative to what type of thru hike you are going to do. Looking to take the easy way out, or short cuts right from the start.

03-13-2003, 20:29
Peaks said it all!

As tough as the Springer Approach Trail
is, it's only a taste of what's to come.


03-13-2003, 23:54
I did the Approach in '96 and again in '01. Yup, I'll do it this year as well. I only grumble a little about that first mile (grumblegrumble - maybe this year I'll start at the falls now I come to think about it...)

I just hike it cuz it's there.

03-14-2003, 19:07
This question isn't about the approach trail but I think it might be relevant. Wabbit seems to be asking..to me..do you need to hike the approach trail to be considered a "thru-hiker".
My problem..and question..is............at some point in the hike (probably early May) I will have to leave the trail for about 2 weeks to attend to farm matters. If I return to the point I left the trail and continued from there would I be considered a thru-hiker or a LONG section hiker? I know this may seem trivial to some..or most. My main goal is to ENJOY the hike..then to complete it in one season....but also to be recognized as a "thru-hiker". Your thoughts....?

03-14-2003, 19:19
The approach trail from Amicolola is a nice hike. Had I never hiked it before I would most likely include it in my plans for this year's thru. On the other hand though ...it is NOT incluced in the mileage used to calculate the length of the AT. Check your guide/handbooks. For a northbound hike of the AT, Springer Mountain is the southern terminus and is labeled as mile "0" on the current charts I've referenced.

I think this is one of those ...hike your own hike issues.

max patch
03-14-2003, 20:48
Yes, you would still be considered a thru-hiker under the scenario you described.

max patch
03-14-2003, 21:14
While the southern terminus of the AT is at Springer Mountain, I think there is something to be said for starting at the "start" of the trail, even if those first 8 miles are blazed blue instead of white. Especially since the approach trail used to be the actual trail years ago.

One consideration on where to start may depend on who is taking you to the trail. Springer is reached via a 6.5 mile forest service (dirt) road. There are no services available at the parking area. Amicalola is reached via the highway. There are picnic tables, restrooms, a small store, and cabins available for rental. The availability of these services may make an Amicalola start preferable for some people.

Papa Bear
03-14-2003, 21:36
Enough has been said on this issue that I need not add another opinion.

HOWEVER I did want to point out that I believe the coolest start for an AT thru-hike ever was done by Robie "Jumpstart" Hensley.

From Larry Luxemberg's Walking the Appalachian Trail (one of the best collections of neat AT experience you will find):

On March 9, 1986, from a small plane piloted by his son Steve, Robie parachuted to the summit of Springer to start his NOBO trek. Family members were waiting at the summit with his pack and had just set off a smoke grenade so he could aim himself. He landed a short distance from the summit with his chute caught between two trees "Dangling like a grasshopper from a spider web"

Now That is the way to do it! Folks just have no imagination any more!

Unfortunately, there was no helicopter waiting to pick him up from Katahdin months later (yes he made it) so alas he had to hike down after completing his trek.

(Now please I don't want any one to complain "but he slack-packed the approach")

:) :)
;) ;)


Bandana Man
03-14-2003, 22:18
Max, you beat me to it! My comments are pretty much the same with just a slightly different twist. My wife went along to see me off on my 2001 section hike. I felt more comfortable starting from Amicalola so that she wouldn't have to drive alone on those backcountry dirt roads after dropping me off at Springer. And, I didn't learn until recently that the approach trail was once part of the original AT when the southern terminus was Mount Oglethorpe. That just makes the approach trail seem a little more special now. It was a nice hike. If I ever get to be a thru-hiker instead of a lowly section hiker, I'm bringing the whole family to see me starting off at Amicalola. And how can I pass up the famous scale at the Amicalola visitor center? I think of it as an AT tradition, too!

03-14-2003, 22:21
Nothing stopped him from 'base jumping'
off Katahdin!':eek:'

No, the Approach Trail isn't included in a
thru-hike. Yes, you can take time off
and return to finish your hike.

03-18-2003, 19:21
I heard from a friend that the approach kicked his butt. Is it really all that hard?

03-18-2003, 19:53
It really isn't all that hard. The first 1.2miles is definitely steep but that's about it. Generally, you are climbing up to Springer so a lot of the going is uphill.

I think for many who are new to hiking, it is a bit of an eye-opener but that's the most I can say for how "difficult" it is - after all, it's only 8 miles and you can start from the top of the falls if you like skipping that first hard mile altogether.

Lone Wolf
03-18-2003, 19:55
If your fat ass is coming off the couch like me, yes it will kick your butt. Springer to Hawk Mtn. is a cakewalk. That's why I'm going to FS 42 to start.

03-19-2003, 08:30
Originally posted by OutdoorExperiement
I heard from a friend that the approach kicked his butt. Is it really all that hard?

Right at the start you can hike up along side Amicalola Falls. Amicalola Falls is a 700 foot cascade, the highest in the East. So, with a heavy pack, you knees will probably be weak and trembling when you get to the top of the falls. Mine were.

03-19-2003, 09:20
It depends on so many factors. If you're really out of shape and have never hiked before, I'm sure it can be quite difficult. If you're a super-hero, probably not so much ;) I thought it was fairly moderate, but the day we had on the Approach trial was 60 degrees and sunny all the way. In the rain, it might be worse. The one thing, though, is that it was fairly indicative of the trail conditions in Georgia, some ups and downs, and good climbs.

03-19-2003, 09:28
Every couple of days during my thru-hike, I would meet someone along the trail who would tell me that the "toughest part of the trail" lay just ahead. Everything is relative and dependant in large part on your backpacking experience and physical conditioning.

Early on in NC, many of us NOBO hikers were commenting on how steep the short climb up Albert Mountain was. A young thru-hiker from Maine (Northwind 2000) told us that the trail in NH & ME was similar to Albert Mtn, but for miles & miles instead of .4 miles. He was right on. Of course, we were in great shape by the time we hit NH & ME.

In other words, don't agonize about the Approach Trail. Its just one of the many hundreds of climbs before Katahdin.

03-19-2003, 20:07
Originally posted by OutdoorExperiement
I heard from a friend that the approach kicked his butt. Is it really all that hard?

The first mile must be the most difficult part as I found a stove, a heavy cold weather jacket, a water bottle........

03-20-2003, 14:32
my take on it is, since i am coming from halfway around the world, I want to experience that 8mile climb, for good or bad, that way i can always say, yes I did that initial climb up the mountain and have that experience were someone to ask me about it!

i want the entire experience. to some, its probably just 8 miles, or a blue blazed trail, or something else, etc. To me, its the begining of my hike, just not _the_ trail.

03-20-2003, 16:12
Mad Aussie: Right on brother.

03-21-2003, 09:21
Mad Aussie....very well said.

SGT Rock
03-21-2003, 09:35
I guess that is a good point. I'm always looking for good trail and the approach is good trail. I have done it, so I don't see it as a need for a thru-hike, but if you want good trail, the approach trail isn't somehow any less a trail because it isn't white blazed.

Lone Wolf
03-21-2003, 09:41
Well Aussie, don't stop at the approach trail. There are scores of blue-blazed side trails that used to be white-blazed AT. Most times prettier too. Don't become an anal purist with white-blaze fever.

SGT Rock
03-21-2003, 09:55
I would trade all the trails in Louisiana for just 30 miles of those blue blaze trails along the AT.

03-21-2003, 18:12
Originally posted by Lone Wolf
Well Aussie, don't stop at the approach trail. There are scores of blue-blazed side trails that used to be white-blazed AT. Most times prettier too. Don't become an anal purist with white-blaze fever.

I'd sure like to know about some good former AT now blue blaze sections. Please post.

Lone Wolf
03-21-2003, 18:22
Where to start? There's so many. The Wesser Creek Trail is a beaut. It begins opposite the trail to Wesser Bald shelter. The Iron Mtn. Trail out of Damascus is really nice but it cuts out the Highlands/Mt. Rogers area. It's also yellow-blazed. Gotta go. I'll list more later.

03-21-2003, 23:30
I agree with LW; the trek down the Wesser Creek trail is very nice, especially when there is good water flow. I donít know if you have to fight off the dogs on the road walk anymore.

If memory serves (this was before my hiking days), the trail did not cross at Fontana Dam. It went west and entered the main ridge of the Smokies at Gregory Bald. Youíd have to arrange a ferry ride across a lake to follow this route.

Be sure to take the short walk to Charlieís Bunion. Seems a lot of people bypass this. I havenít been there for several years, but I believe that the Trail follows the horse trail behind the Bunion. It used to follow the cliffside trail, but was treacherous in icy weather. If following a blue blaze makes you feel quilty, you can retrace your steps.

I donít advise taking the old road walk from 19E N. The route through Laurel Creek Gorge used to end at Hampton, TN, an interesting walk, which avoids the ascent of Pond Mountain.

Near VA the trail crossed the Valley and ascended another Mountain. I forget the details. The Iron Mountain Trail out of Damascus used to be the Trail route. It is interesting, but not nearly as scenic as the AT over Mt. Rogers. The Sandy Flats Shelter is under some fantastic Hemlocks and has a piped spring about 20 feet from the shelter. Unfortunately it is dirt road accessable.

The Trail did not always go over Wilburn Ridge (after Mt. Rogers). It skirted it to the E. I wonder how many hikers missed this great place by sticking to the trail? If you have the extra energy climb the outcrop that the Fat Mansí Squeeze is under; this is the best view in the area. Nice camping spot for 1 or 2 people on top, if the wind doesnít blow you off.

The AT used to traverse Big Walker Mountain and go through Crandon. Interesting hike, easier than the present route, but misses a lot of nice features: Dragonís Tooth, Dairy Queen in Bland, etc.

The Pennsylvania Cumberland Valley road walk was great when the weather was pleasant. Does anyone have a Guide description of this from the seventies?

Lone Wolf
03-22-2003, 00:32
Groucho, I first did the Cumberland Valley in 1986. I have the guide book and maps. The road walk was great fun. Bonnie Shipe (The ice cream lady) was one of the original "trail angels".

03-22-2003, 08:36
Originally posted by Groucho
The Pennsylvania Cumberland Valley road walk was great when the weather was pleasant. Does anyone have a Guide description of this from the seventies?

The Cumberland Valley was one of my very favorite places along the entire trail. It is so different from anything else. Walking through fields of wheat, along miles of hedgerows, and through small woodlots makes for a nice change after being in the forest for a few months. In June with the Honeysuckle in bloom and the Mulberries ripe, the air was sweet with smell and birdsong.

I found the Cumberland Valley typified America better than anyplace along the trail. Farmers workin the fields, people sittin on their front porches, etc. It was probably my best day along the trail.

Papa Bear
03-22-2003, 10:05
I'm familiar with the territory in New York and New England so here goes:

[Connecticut] The "old AT" on the East side of the Hoosatonic is supposed to be lovely but I'v never done it.

[Vermont] Definately the "old AT" off of Killington down to the Inn at the Long Trail is vastly preferred to the relo. I've heard more objections to this relo than to any other. And don't forget to go up to Killington Peak when you get to Cooper Lodge (just .2 miles but 500 ' elevation). In season, take the ski lift down for Pizza, then back up.

[New Hampshire] The Presidential peaks (Eisenhower, Monroe, Clay, Jefferson and Adams) are much nicer that the walk arounds. Unless the weather is bad, these are musts. Purists should note that Earl Shaffer went over, not around these peaks in his 1948 first-ever thru-hike.

[Maine] In Maine the slightly off trail peaks: Goose Eye, Old Speck, Abraham (very nice Alpine peak), Spaulding, Sugarloaf and South Crocker. These are all out and back hikes, the longest being Abraham (1.7 miles off trail), the rest short hops. Sugarloaf is especially nice - it may be the first spot to see Katahdin (unless you're really lucky on Old Speck or Saddleback). Cosider staying over at the ski-shack on Sugarloaf. The AT used to pass over Old Speck and Sugarloaf.

[Maine] Gulf Hagas may be the most awsome place along the entire trail; consider the loop. Also check out the old growth pine at The Hermitage and the Katahdin Iron Works.

[Maine] All over Baxter State Park: Hamlin Peak, Chimney Pond, The Knife Edge. It seems a shame (but understandable) that most hikers reach the Katahdin summit and just go home when they are in one of the most exciting areas east of the Mississippi for hiking.

For many AT hikers you get one chance. Don't miss these places because of schedule or purity concerns.

Whatever you do, enjoy it all.


03-23-2003, 17:18
From all I've read about the AT, there's no way I'm going to miss Amicalola Falls SP. I want to see and use this scale I hear about. I want to see the dramatic arch or whatever it is I read about. I want to be part of the adventure hiking up to Springer Mountain. But I certainly don't consider anyone that skips the approach trail as a non-thru-hiker. After all, while it might be the traditional start of the AT, it's still not the actual one!

That said, I have another ulterior motive for wanting to do the approach trail after reading Bill Bryon's "A Walk In the Woods." I want to see and giggle at the propective thru-hikers that are breaking their backs and feet and about to fall over from exhaustion before they even reach the official start of the trail. The imagery amuses me to no end. (Hopefully I'll be able to bluff my way to the top without looking like I'm about to fall over from exhaustion, though!)

-- Ryan

Lone Wolf
03-23-2003, 21:27
Yup. Do the the approach trail cuz your chances of making it to Maine are slim. That 8 miles are awesome. Don't miss them.

03-27-2003, 02:25
I like the idea of the approach trail...kinda like the warm-up for Georgia, and it's nice to see the first white blaze and it really is the first ya know? But the 42 start is sweet as, you'll be at Springer in 20 min!

03-31-2003, 00:09
I'm a thru hiker wannabe and have for the past 3 years went to Springer and Amicalola many times to see the thru hikers leaving for Maine. The ones that left from the visitors center seemed excited as did the ones that left from Springer. It seemed to me that watching loved ones say goodbye at either place was emotional for all and at the same time exciting for all. Most that leave from Amicalola probably do not know they are walking on part of the old A.T. and that when they go over Frosty Mountain that the Benton Mackaye shelter used to be their, but also there is plenty of history and wonder at starting at Springer Mountain. Have saw several parents and loved ones go from FS42 to the top that have never hiked before and back to the lot, but have also saw many hike the first mile with their loved ones to the top of the falls and some meet their loved ones at the top and walk around to High Shoals road and say goodbye and go back to their car alone. Met coolfoot at Springer and he had his wife and daughter take him to Springer only to find out the roads were so bad after a rain that he did not want them going out alone and had them take him to Amicalola so they did not have to navigate the ruts without him. That same night when I went to leave I sat with a lady and her two little guys until a four wheel drive showed up and helped her out of the middle of a mud hole after she had just let her husband out headed to Maine.

Pretty exciting either way I would say!! I think if I could do it, I personally would go to the visitor center, weigh my bag, sign in inside, look around a bit, go out back, say goodbye to my family look at the sign that tells the milage to Maine and walk through the arches and head up to the top of the falls, around to High Shoals Rd, up to the second rise around the ridge and back to High Shoals Rd again, up to Frosty and realize the Benton Mackaye Shelter used to be there, down to Nimblewill Gap and see the memorial plaque for the plane crash several years before, on around and down to Black Gap Shelter, get some water and head up Springer and be on my way to Maine!!!

07-15-2003, 01:18
I don't feel the need to put any more restrictions on what can and can not be considered a thru-hike than the usual seeing all the white blazes with in a year or so. However, having grown up in GA with springer so near by, I wouldn't even consider doing my thru-hike (planned for 2006) without the access trail. It in a way represents the journey to get to the trail for me; it will be my last speck of preperation before I start at Springer - a sort of sending off. Each person has different goals, ambitions, and reasons for doing his or her thru-hike. Because of this, what each person wants or needs to complete his or her thru-hike will be different. So, it is my conclusion that you can not generalize the need for (or lack there of), nor can you look to others oppinions for the answer. Whether or not the access trail is an important part of you thru-hike or not a part of it at all is solely up to you the individual. It is after all your hike and your journey.