Set atop a ridge overlooking the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, the Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park in north Georgia offers a sweeping view of the foothills, the lights of the old gold-rush town of Dahlonega and distant peaks to the east. The 20-room lodge, celebrating its 10th anniversary in October, also offers a close-up view of how thoughtful design and day-to-day diligence combine for low-impact living. The Hike Inn was built for those who love the outdoors, but aren't so crazy about sleeping on the ground. Guests arrive on foot, hiking a five-mile trail that takes you through a deeply shaded forest of oak and pine, tulip poplar and maple; through tunnels of rhododendron and patches of pungent galax, a broadleaf evergreen groundcover. Your steps will be lighter, though, knowing that a hot shower and hot meal are waiting for a you at the end of the trail.
The inn, named for the naturalist who inspired the Mark Trail newspaper comic strip, was designed to provide accommodations "somewhere between a tent and a Holiday Inn," says architect Garland Reynolds of nearby Gainesville, Ga.
Traditional Japanese inns inspire the steeply pitched roofs and deep eaves, Reynolds says. And there are practical concerns: the eaves provide shelter from rain and snow as you move from the bunkhouse to the bathhouse to the mess hall and on to the Sunrise Room, the social center of the inn where guests gather around a wood stove, reading, chatting or playing one another in a collection of board games. The covered deck off the Sunrise Room (pictured above) is the place to stand, coffee cup in hand, to welcome the crimson streaks of daybreak.
The inn's design also is aimed at preserving as much of the wooded landscape as possible. The four buildings that comprise the inn were built on pilings to minimize grading. Composting toilets are used, in part, because building a septic tank leech field would have meant cutting down many more trees. And the trees that had to be felled provided firewood to heat the inn for its first four seasons.