By Chris McBeath

Late spring is one of the finest times of year to explore the Appalachian Trail. The early-season hiking crowds have long gone, and the heat and humidity of high summer have yet to come.

Although more than 2,500 people attempt the entire trail each year, fewer than 15 percent actually complete it, and more than 500 hikers quit after the first eight miles!

If you’re a thru-hiker – die-hards and Bryson-style wannabes who have set aside six months of their lives to complete the 2170 mile trek up to Maine, it’s not too late to start your adventure. Just be sure to do your homework. If you’re enthusiastic trail-blazer, section hikes can take as many days or weeks as you can spare. Plan your logistics around one of the many hiker-friendly towns along the way so pick-ups can be easily coordinated and supplies aren’t such an issue. And if you’re simply a casual hiker who needs a few hours to reconnect with nature, you won’t be disappointed.

Springer Mountain, an easy one-hour drive from Cumming, marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian, also offers many access trails to enjoy (see sidebar). As might be expected, the first section, Benton MacKaye Trail, near Ellijay, Blue Ridge, is named for the man who, in 1921, dreamed up the idea of this mountain walkway; it runs for 290 miles to eastern Tennessee. The 80-mile stretch through Georgia traverses the primitive areas of the Chattahoochee National Forest and consequently, features some pretty rugged wilderness hiking. And, although this part of the trail is lower than in nearby North Carolina and Tennessee (where peaks rise to some 6,000 feet), you can still expect many steep ascents (and descents). But it’s well worth fuelling up with energy-boosting vitamins. The forested paths are beautiful with blossoming dogwoods and mountain laurel and, as the spring rains give way to wildflowers such as trillium and wild azalea, the air becomes as fragrant as the scenery is stunning. If you’re lucky, you’ll find tracks of black bears, bobcats, and white tailed deer, or hear the high shrill of red tailed hawks or the melodic song of the whip-poor-will, or see an eagle gliding across an air current. Little wonder that the Cherokee once called this region their Enchanted Land.

And in case you were wondering? The humor-filled, all-to-real mountain experiences of Bill Bryson have been immortalized about 11 miles into the trail, at an appropriately named juncture — Bryson Gap!

Welcome Pit-Stop

32 miles into the trail, and you’ll come across Mountain Crossings, an tiny stone-walled store that offers all the supplies hikers realize they really need, plus cabin rentals, showers, real toilets and laundry services. A boot museum is among its more whimsical projects, with a soul determination to collect 2170 pairs of worn and tattered hiking boots, one pair for each mile on the Appalachian Trail! Boots must have at least 1,000 miles or more on the Appalachian Trail and boots with 2,000 miles plus are greatly appreciated!

Section trails

Springer Mountain to Woody Gap 20.0 miles
Dawsonville, Ellijay
Woody Gap to Neels Gap 11.5 miles Dahlonega
Neels Gap to Hogpen Gap 6.8 miles Dahlonega, Cleaveland
Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap 13.43 miles Hiawasee, Helen, Blairsville

Major Access Trails

Andrews Cove Trail 2.0 miles Helen
Byron Herbert Reece Access Trail 0.7 miles Blairsville
Dockery Lake Trail 6.8 miles Dahlonega
Duncan Ridge Trail 30.1 miles Dahlonega
Jacks Knob Trail 4.5 miles Cleaveland, Blairsville
Jarrard Gap Trail 1.0 miles Suches
Logan Turnpike 4.0 miles Dahlonega
Benton MacKaye Trail 50.0 miles Ellijay, Blue Ridge
Slaughter Creek Trail 2.7 miles Dahlonega, Blairsville
Southern Terminus Approach Trail 8.4 miles Dahlonega, Ellijay, Dawsonville


Appalachian Trail Conservancy –
The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club – – run by seven-time thru-hiker Dan “wingfoot” Bruce and packed with must-know tips and information
Appalachian Trail Map