Are you suffering from an uncontrollable urge to sleep outdoors, eat trail mix and tromp around the woods wearing a backpack?
If so, it sounds like you have a case of “Springer fever.”
The illness strikes thousands of outdoors enthusiasts each year, and the best cure is to pull on your hiking boots and hit the trail.
Perhaps the best place to begin is on the mountain that lends its name to the illness you’re suffering from.
Located on the eastern edge of Gilmer County, Springer Mountain serves as the southern terminus of two long-distance footpaths.
The Benton MacKaye Trail measures nearly 300 miles and stretches to the northern end of Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It’s much longer and more well-known cousin, the Appalachian Trail, tracks 2,190 miles through 14 states to Mount Katahdin in Maine and is the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Whether you’re planning to begin a multimonth trek to the Northeast or are just looking to stretch your legs for an afternoon, Springer Mountain is an excellent place to begin.
Here’s a list of things to enjoy during your visit to the 3,780-foot peak and its surrounding area.
Sign the log book
A .9-mile stretch of trail connects the Springer Mountain parking lot on Forest Service Road 42 to the summit.
Tucked in a shelf carved in a boulder at the top of the mountain is a hiker log book. Visitors can sign the registry and read entries from those who have traveled that way before them.
On a rocky outcropping nearby, visitors will also find a plaque bearing a picture of a hiker and the words “a footpath for those who seek fellowship with the wilderness.” Beside the metal sign is the first blaze – a 2 by 6 inch white rectangle – of the Appalachian Trail. Hikers can follow these markings to the northern terminus in Maine.
Benton MacKaye plaque
Fixed on a rock by the start of the Benton MacKaye Trail is a memorial plaque, which tells the history of the footpath’s namesake. MacKaye was a forester and regional planner who first cast the vision for the Appalachian Trail.
Completed in 2005, the pathway that bears his name follows part of the route he originally proposed for the footpath he envisioned.
Hikers will encounter the terminus of the Benton MacKaye Trail a few hundred yards before reaching the top of Springer Mountain.
Chat with a thru-hiker starting out
Those who attempt to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in a continuous trip are called thru-hikers. The majority of them choose to hike south to north and begin their trek atop Springer Mountain in March or April.
Visitors to Springer may enjoy asking these long-distance hikers about what inspired them to attempt the trail and hearing about their hopes for the journey northward.
On a clear day, hikers visiting Springer Mountain can enjoy a striking view westward to the Cohutta Mountains. A rock outcropping along the Benton MacKaye Trail also offers a nice vista during good weather of the Big Creek watershed.
Visit a hiker shelter
The first few miles of the Appalachian Trail are home to two hiker shelters – one near the summit of Springer Mountain and the other along Stover Creek. Campers use these rustic, three-sided structures to sleep in or get out of the elements during bad weather. Oftentimes, those hikers sleeping in tents will pitch camp near a shelter, since these areas typically are near a water source and have a privy. Shelters sometimes feature elaborate cable systems that hikers use to hang their food in order to keep it away from wildlife.
Loop hike opportunities
The Appalachian Trail and Benton MacKaye Trail criss-cross one another several times in the first few miles after leaving the top of Springer, creating some good loop hiking opportunities. There are two 5-mile loops between Springer and the Three Forks area, which can be hiked separately or strung together for a longer hiking outing.
The aforementioned series of loops, along with a connected 1.1-mile jaunt from Three Forks to Long Creek Falls make up the Trout Adventure Trail. Established in 2012 by Blue Ridge Trout Unlimited and the U. S. Forest Service, the 12-mile section of trail is dedicated to raising awareness about local trout and serves as an outdoor classroom exhibiting the importance of healthy habitats and watersheds, as well as conservation.
People who hike any part of the section of designated trail are eligible to receive a free patch. A 12-miler patch is also available.
Parking for this trail system is available nine-tenths of a mile from the summit of Springer Mountain on Forest Service 42 and at Three Forks on Forest Service 58. For trail directions, educational information and details about getting a patch, visit www.troutadventuretrail.org.
Flora and fauna
The woods around Springer Mountain are filled with a variety of native trees and shrubs, including gnarled rhododendron, towering hemlock trees and stately oaks. In the spring, hikers also may encounter a range of mountain wildflowers, such as bloodroot, trillium, mayapples and Indian-pink. Please be considerate of others on the trail and leave these little gems undisturbed.
In regard to animals, hikers may catch sight of some of the critters that call the north Georgia mountains home, such as deer, black bear, squirrels and raccoons.
For more information on hiking in Gilmer County Click Here.
Written by: Whitney Crouch, writer for the Times-Courier