Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting to Springer Mountain

Mary and I plan to start hiking the Appalachian Trail in March. But, how do we get to the southern terminus?  With  hundreds of souls doing this every spring, the way is pretty well marked.  The Thru-Hiker's Companion offers lots of guidance.  Here's what we've found so far:

There are several options and decisions to consider.Will a friend or family member get us there? Or will we fly into Atlanta? Take a bus, or train?  When will we get to the area, and where will we spend the first night? Will we hike the approach trail from Amicalola State Park, or get someone to get us up the forest roads to a spot close to the top of Springer Mountain?

Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

If you have a friend or family member bringing you, and you get to the area early enough in the day, they can drop you off at Amicalola or near Springer's summit, and you can begin your hike.  For those of us travelling some distance, it's not that easy.

Flying means not being allowed to carry stove fuel with you, and having to purchase some before you start hiking.  It also adds the risk of being separated from your pack.  And it's just not fun anymore.  But it is fast, and depending on how far away you live, it might be your best option.

Once you get to the airport in Atlanta, there are public transportation options to get to Gainesville, Ga, and from Gainesville it's a taxi ride to Amicalola (Uni Taxi, (770) 534-5355).  As of 2010 the fare was $65 (cash only).  Consult the Thru-Hiker's Companion for the somewhat convoluted combination of train and bus transfers required to make this happen ...

Amtrak will get you within spitting distance of the trail, you can usually keep your pack with you, and as of this writing, no one seems to care if you're packing stove fuel.  We found Amtrak tickets to be competitive with the airlines, but it would be two overnight legs for us, and when you add in the cost of any kind of sleeping arrangement, the cost skyrockets.

If you take Amtrak, you can get off in Gainesville and take a taxi to Amicalola.

There are folks who provide shuttle services from the airport, the train station, or from most anywhere in the region.  The ATC maintains a list, but recent changes in park policies requiring these folks to be registered and insured means you should call early to see if they are still offering their services.  These folks can help arrange to get stove fuel, get you to the trailhead of your choice, and provide any number of other services.  Call at least two weeks in advance, and confirm a day or so before you get to the area.

We're looking at a one-way rental car from our local airport, to the Atlanta Airport.  A little more expensive than flying when you add in the cost of a motel along the way.  But we'll be on our own schedule, we'll get a good night's sleep, and we'll never be separated from our packs.  Be aware that some rental car agencies charge outrageous fees for one way.  Alamo offered the best deal when I looked recently.  Shop before you buy.

Where to stay

Amicalola State Park is the gateway to the trail's southern terminus on Springer Mountain.  This is where the approach trail starts. There is camping, cabins and a lodge, and they accept and hold packages for hikers via UPS and USPS in case you decide to mail your pack ahead (Call ahead for details).  Camping is around $23/night, cabins are $80-160, and the lodge runs $75-200.

For the last several years, Hiker Hostel has offered a "Hiker's Special" from February 20th until April 18th.  For $75 (2011 rate) they will shuttle you from the North Springs MARTA Station by tha Atlanta Airport, or from Gainesville to the hostel; provide an overnight stay in a bunk room; a breakfast befitting a hiker; wireless access, and a shuttle the next morning to either Amicalola or to the Springer Mountain parking lot.  They can offer this rate by grouping hikers together and limiting the number of shuttles they run.  So depending on your arrival time, you may be waiting awhile. Call in advance for reservations and advice.

We plan to get into Atlanta early, drop of our rental car at the airport, get to the MARTA station, and use the services of the Hiker Hostel.  The next morning, we'll be at Amicalola ready to hike the approach trail to Springer.


I might take a train, I might catch a plane,
If I have to do a goddam boogaloo,
I swear I'll get there just the same ...

- David Bromberg "Kansas City"