Georgia Road Trip: Hiking to Len Foote Inn

Amicalola Falls waterfall

I am checking out of the beautiful Limelight Inn and making a short stop at a waterfall before I start a 5 mile hike to an inn where I will spend the next two nights. While planning my trip to Georgia my aunt mentioned Springer Mountain as a multi-day hike. She has fond memories of hiking to this inn that can only be accessed by foot. The inn is also a starting point to hiking Springer Mountain, the start of the Appalachian trail in the south. The inn, Len Foote Hike Inn (named after Leonard E. Foote, a local conservationist), has limited capacity but luckily I am able to get a reservation for two nights. Most hike in for the day, stay one night, and hike out the next. I will stay for two nights so I can spend a complete day hiking to the summit of Springer Mountain. Some do this as very long hike to Springer Mountain to and from the parking lot but that is way too ambitious for me.

The check in for the hike is at the Visitors Center inside the Amicalola Falls State Park. They instruct hikers to start no later than 2:00 PM for the 5 mile hike to the inn. The check in deadline is to ensure all hikers arrive early enough for dinner and lodge check in. I plan start at about 11:00 am this morning after my visit to the Amicalola waterfall. Hopefully I have more than enough time, given how slow I am.

I stop at the first parking lot for viewing the waterfall. It is a short walk to the observation point. I notice a staircase to get different views for the waterfall. If I had more time I would go to different levels but I want to get my hike started. I take a couple photos and head back to my car.

Parking for the Hike Inn

There is limited parking nearby the trail. I’ve read I may have to park at the overflow lot at the nearby lodge. When I arrive at the turn the road for the parking lot it is blocked by service vehicles. I talk to the person at the parking entrance and tell them that I am trying to park for the hike (the same parking lot is used for viewing the waterfall from the top). They think the lot is full but let me in anyway. To my disapointment the lot is full. I park illegally for the time being and run over to use the nearby bathroom. I sit in my car and wait to think of what to do next. Luckily while I wait people return to their cars from viewing the waterfall and I am able secure a space right at the trailhead! This is where my car will live for the next 48 hours or so.

Parking lot for Hike Inn
Trailhead

I gather everything I think I might need for two nights into a smaller daypack and my hiking poles. I don’t want to carry extra weight but I kind of wish I had a bigger pack to bring more comforts with me. I’ve hiked the Inca Trail so two nights in semi-discomfort in a cabin should be a breeze to me at this point.

After the trail starts hikers have to cross a paved road which confuses some day hikers I run into. Eventually the trail splits in two: one heading to the Hike Inn (where I am going) and one heading directly to Springer Mountain (Blue trail, 7.3 miles one way). Some do the Springer mountain hike as an out and back day hike and some hike directly to Springer Mountain to start their Appalachian trail hike from the south.

The trail starts out relatively flat then is continuous inclines and declines. It can be quite tiring to an out of shape hiker. I stop along the way to rest and enjoy beautiful views. I feel blessed that I am able to enjoy fall foliage and have cooler air to hike in. I am warm but not overheated; I love hiking in this type of weather.

At one point I stop to watch the wind blow colorful leaves down all around me. It is magical.

I notice a skunk-like smell. I think some people are smoking pot on the trail. It isn’t until later that evening that I discover it is the plant called Galax that grows along the trail.

Most of the trail is flat but there are some rocky parts. There is a fun section with some bare trees that look like they are out of a horror movie. I am sure they look eerie at night.

I am also enjoying the signs that tell me how far I have gone. It is helpful to know when I should stop and take a break along the way.

Fun trees

I finally get to an area of flat paths at the last part of the trail. Wooden planks are elevated side by side to make a wooded trail. I assume this area must get wet at times. My legs are about to give up but I am just happy it is cool and flat here. I think I am getting close to the end.

Finally the trail leads me to the lodge where I am spending the next two nights. I catch my breath then head up the stairs to check in. My room is ready but my linens are not yet ready. The accommodations are minimal but they do provide bedding, towel, and wash cloth to use during your stay.

My room is a bunk bed room. I have the room to myself and no single supplement is required!

One of the main buildings houses individual odorless composting toilet stalls. Instructions say to only drop compostable items in the toilets and keep the lid closed when they are not in use. They are interesting to use since you feel air flowing below you; I almost thought it might suck me in. It is weird but you get used to it.

Nearby the toilets is a separate women’s and men’s washroom with sinks and two shower stalls. I thought it would be busy with only two showers but I really only had to wait once for a little bit for my shower opportunity. The water was warm which is nice.

I arrive early enough for the tour of the grounds at 5 pm. We learn the history of the lodge and all the efforts they put into reducing their carbon footprint – composting worms, reduced use of electricity and use of solar panels. There is no WIFI on site and although I could get a cell phone signal at the inn, they discourage phone and computer use.

Recreation room. During normal times this is full of games and books. They removed them temporarily due to covid.

Nice porch to read and waste the evening away.

view from the lodge
View of the lodge

There is a outdoor sitting area with a nice view of the range in the distance. It is a great place to watch the sunrise in the morning. If they expect a good sunrise, staff members will beat a drum gently to alert lodgers who want to see the sunrise.

They are all about conservation so you are encouraged to use the same mug for beverages during your stay. They have coffee, tea, water and juice available at all times. Food is only served at breakfast and dinner. You can plan for separate paid bag lunch ahead of time if you want something to take along for a day hike. Meals are typically served family style but due to covid they currently sit parties with only people they traveled with. I like my alone time but I need things like forced group activities to get me out of my shell. I guess for this trip I’ll do lots of reflection.

The food is plentiful and tasty. They are big fans of no waste so we are encouraged strongly to take seconds and even thirds. They even reuse some of the foods for the next day’s meals (i.e. extra ham is served at breakfast or as part of a lunch sandwich). Lets just say I did not go hungry during my entire stay.

After dinner it is pretty much almost dark (fall time). I go straight back to my room to unwind for the evening. Time to get rested up for my long hike tomorrow. I am doing the hike up to Springer Mountain.

Milford Sound to Queenstown

View from Tutoko Suspension Bridge

I finished my boat tour of Milford Sound by mid-day today. I only planned one night in the area but regretted that decision when I saw the vast number of walking tracks in the area.

I am heading to Queenstown now. No time scheduled for hikes but I do plan on making scenic stops along the way.

First I stop by the campsite in Milford Sound to get the perishables out of the refrigerator. Luckily they are still there.

Tutoko Suspension Bridge

My first stop is at the Tutoko bridge, the last remaining steel suspension bridge on the Milford Road. It is a beautiful day so there are beautiful views from the bridge.

The Chasm

The next stop is to see the Chasm, a series of waterfalls that form a deep and interesting chasm in the rocks. It is beautiful to see but hard to capture by photo.

Chasm car park

Hundred Falls and valley area before Homer Tunnel

On the approach into Milford Sound I was so nervous and preoccupied with the steep and tight curves after leaving the tunnel I didn’t really take the time to stop and appreciate the area. On my return trip I am sure to stop and take some pictures. When it comes to Milford Sound the journey is really the destination. It is hard to resist all the scenic stops. This is probably why the drive is so long.

Homer Tunnel

I have reached the tunnel again. This time with confidence! Unfortunately I am held up by the traffic light quite a while. It is a one-way tunnel and we must wait.

More stops along the way…..

I stop at the recommended Braken Hall in Mossburn for meat pies. It seems like the store might be closing soon. It is nice to get a little lunch break during my drive. I am much closer to Queenstown now.

Devil’s Staircase Lookout Point

A final scenic stop of the day is to the Devil’s Staircase lookout. It is a magnificent view of a big lake, over a part of Lake Wakatipu.

Finally I arrive in Queenstown and check into the holiday park. It is a funky holiday park. It isn’t cheap but is centrally located for easy access to the town area.


Queenstown Holiday Park & Motels Creeksyde

The campsite is nice enough. I retire early for the night.

Milford Sound

Today I am going on a day cruise of the famous Milford Sound in New Zealand. Milford Sound is a fiord – a slither of sea between high cliffs. The weather today is beautiful as can be but I am told it is hard to have a bad cruise….even if it is raining the resulting waterfalls are magical. I take lots of photos but unfortunately they don’t do justice. It is impossible to capture what I see, feel, and think while I am there.

In the morning I head down to the car park at Milford Sound area where the day cruises launch. There is a self pay machine for parking. There is free parking but further away so today I just pay. As I pay I am attacked by sandflies. There is a little shop in the visitors center where I pick up some bug spray. I hope it helps.

I have a little while before my cruise begins so I walk along the water. The views are amazing just from the short alone.

I head down to the pier to board for the cruise. Today’s cruise is a two and half hour cruise. It seems pretty short so I hope it is worth the overnight trip down here. Many come down here from Queenstown by coach for just a short day cruise. It seems like a super long day.

My cruise boat

As the cruise starts we are already are greeted with a nearby waterfall.

As we head further and further the views keep getting better.

I admire the sides of the cliffs.

We catch some seals in the sun. I am loving the colors on these rocks as well.

We start to see all the waterfalls along the sides. It is beautiful. Apparently when it rains you will see even more. I’ve been told it is magical.

The boat cruises up to the cliff and the waterfall pours onto the boat and into glasses. They let us taste the fresh waterfall water.

More waterfalls

We reach the end of the fiord. Beyond this point is the vast sea. We turn around at this point and head back.

We arrive back at the port. I walk around a bit more to take some more pictures before I head off to Queenstown.

Same view as earlier but brighter now!

I am not sure the pictures capture the feeling of the cruise but perhaps this short video will….

My drive to Queenstown has many stops so I’ll post more on that later.

Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand

Yesterday we took the train from Kaikoura back to Christchurch. According to the maps it seems like our bed and breakfast is in walking distance to the train station. We set off with our luggage but unfortunately it seems in the wrong direction. We hike over an overpass and seemingly going out of our way. We walk past some office buildings and then finally we see our lodging, Addington Bed and Breakfast.

We booked the cheapest room, the twin room. It is tight for the two of us with all our luggage but the home is nice. The breakfast is quite good and the house is clean. I am happy there is a washer and dryer available so I can do some laundry while I am here. Space is tight but we don’t plan on spending too much time in the room; besides I’ll have the whole room to myself for the third night anyway.

Today we visit Arthurs Pass National Park and seemingly the best way to visit is by train, a couple hours from Christchurch. Accommodation and amenities are limited at the national park so we visit as most do as a day trip by train. There is also an option to rent a car and drive to the pass; in the interest of time we didn’t take this option.

The weather is quite uncertain as it often is. We hope to get some time to look around before the rain sets in.

We start off with a walking tour provided by a park ranger. We meet at the temporary visitor center.

Learn about animals introduced that became pests. New Zealand is very strict about people bringing in foreign plants and animals, even checking our hiking boots on the way into the country. Unfortunately they weren’t always as strict and now they are paying the price with foreign introduced animals wreaking havoc on their ecosystem.

Our guide takes us past a waterfall, a church with a great view and some other notable landmarks.

Only about 30 people actually live at Arthur’s Pass. As far as visitors go I think many who stay the night do tramping (similar to backpacking, the recreational activity of going for long-distance walks in rough country).

After our tour ends we take the hike up to view some waterfalls.

Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (Māori name is Hinekakai) is up and down a good amount of stairs (2.2 mile hike). I may have cursed and whined a little on the stairs but it is worth it.

After the water fall hike I’m hungry so we head to lunch at one the two restaurants at Arthur’s Pass.

Even with no competition, The Wobbly Kea isn’t bad.

I love my halloumi and pear salad.

After lunch we go for a short nature hike. At this point I am focused on seeing a live kiwi but from what we’ve been told it is more likely to see them at dusk. My ears are actively listening but we are unsuccessful in the quest. However we do happen upon some beautiful lichen lined paths that are other worldly.

Wide open spaces

After our hike we head over to the general store and watch a very naughty Kea bird try to steal everything.

We walk back to the station to await the train. It starts raining but fortunately the rain was not able to ruin our day.

While we wait for the train we start chatting with the guys next to us. We find out they are in Christchurch for a quick stop back home (California I believe). They are scientists that work in Antarctica. They are responsible for fixing and setting up important scientific equipment. They are fascinating to speak with.

Our ride back to Christchurch begins and the rain stops to open up some beautiful views.

Once we are back in Christchurch we head to dinner before walking back to our bed and breakfast. My aunt leaves me tomorrow and I am once again alone for at least another month. It is nice to have a companion while it lasts.

Asheville Hiking

We were determined to get a hike in while we were in Asheville last June. Our friend suggested that we would like the hike to see the waterfalls at Dupont State Forest.
We lost phone service on the way so were very confused with directions. It made me think that there should always be a paper map as a backup plan. We finally found it and parked the car in a designated free lot.
It started raining just as we arrived. It was nothing hard but a sprinkle. We decided to pack our ponchos and do the hike anyway. It proved to be a good choice. Sure we got soaked but rain kept many hikers away. The falls that were normally packed were not very crowded at all.

We started our hike with a stop at a disgusting porta potty. We had a chance to go to either hooker falls or triple falls. 3 is better than 1 right? We started toward the triple falls.

Trails were nice and mostly quiet.

We came across our first set of falls. They looked kind of small and we weren’t sure how to get closer to them.

We reached the big falls. Above them lies a bridge to get across the water.

We finally found a path to get closer to the one set of falls. It was wet and slippery. It was a bit of an obstacle course to get to them. When we got there we discovered we had them all to ourselves. We decided against getting in the water. Perhaps it seemed like too much trouble at the time.

When we arrived at the next set of falls we noticed people climbing the rocks. When it is a dry day climbing the rocks is probably a much safer activity. The day we were there it was raining and the rocks were very wet. My husband decided to brave climbing them anyway.
Notice me below with my superhero cape ready to save him (hint its actually a poncho).

While he climbs I take in the view off in the distance.

He finally gets to the top.

But then has trouble getting back down. Don’t worry, he eventually made it down.

After the day of hiking we returned to my friends house to clean up for the night. Thanks to her awesome husband she was able to come to dinner with us and have a grown up night out. We decided on dinner at  Bouchon in downtown Asheville. While waiting for our table we shared a bottle of wine.

We enjoyed a lovely dinner with great conversation in the courtyard. I miss being around my friend. We were thrown together in a dorm in college and become close. We have kept in touch throughout the years through all our changes and moves. I definitely don’t call her as much as I should. It was nice to spend some quality time with her again. As a special surprise we found out that Jude Law was dining out at the same restaurant the same night. Too bad we missed or didn’t notice him!

Afterwards my friend took us to listen some local music at 5 Walnut Wine Bar. It was a small cozy bar that fit just right on a weeknight. My friend told me on the weekends people line up on the sidewalk to listen and get in. We got lucky and got stools at the bar. A lovely band was playing soft tunes. They did a cover that I knew all the words to but I could remember the band. After some deep thought I remembered it was the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It was a great night.