I started the trail on Springer Mountain at the end of February, wanting to beat “the bubble” and hopefully get ahead of the heat and bugs. I knew the weather would be cold, but I have backpacked in cold weather. The Superior Hiking Trail hike the year prior is a recent example.
Because I started early in the year, Georgia had fantastic views from its ridges and overlooks. Climbs were steep, but there were plenty of shelters and campsites when I needed to stop early or wanted to hike late.
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Georgia Terrain on the Appalachian Trail
Georgia is a tough state for new thru-hiker legs. The trail traverses approximately 78 miles of rugged terrain, consistently climbing steep ascents, some over 1,000 feet, only to drop you back into a gap to start another blood-pumping climb. Below are a few of my memorable climbs.
- Blood Mountain (1,573) – A long climb that was not overly steep, rock slabs on the northern side can be slick in lousy weather. The views from the top are fantastic!
- Tray Mountain (902′), Rocky Mountain (1,331′), Blue Moutain (1,349′ SOBO) – I hiked over these all on a long day, and my legs ached all night as I tried to sleep. It was a little too much too soon.
One advantage of starting the trail early in the season was the views. The trees had no leaves in Georgia, so the long sweeping views through the hardwoods were breathtaking, and the sunsets and sunrises were amazing!
Georgia Weather on the Appalachian Trail
Depending on the time of year you start your hike, the weather in Georgia is a factor. The southern Appalachians can be COLD and even get snow. If you start your hike NOBO in March or April, shelters and campsites may be full. This can make it tough to get out of bad weather.
I started the trail at the end of February and was fortunate. The cold temperatures were moderate, ranging from the 30s and 40s at night to 60 – 70 degrees during the day.
There were a few days with rain, severe storms, and even tornadoes, but this is not uncommon for Spring weather in the southern Appalachians.
Georgia Towns and Accommodations on the AT
Georgia has plenty of hostels and towns to resupply and recover, but in February, there were enough hikers that I needed to make reservations at least a few days in advance. Depending on the location, I even needed to make reservations a week out, and surprisingly this was the case as I continued north.
There are good hiker towns in Georgia. All of them provide basic services and supplies most hikers need. Most of the information you need to navigate towns and trails can be found in the Farout App. I use this App for many of the trails I hike. Farout also includes feedback from other hikers and often provides shuttle information in the town and road crossing sections.
I prefer small towns where everything is within walking distance, but when the towns are not small, I can often get a shuttle, cab, or Uber. When arriving in town, I try to get all my chores done as quickly as possible, so I have the rest of the day or evening to relax. After I get in shape, I prefer a Nero to a Zero, where I go into town early, spend the day, and leave the next morning.
Towns in Georgia included Dahlonega, Suches, Blairsville, Helen, Clayton, and Hiawassee. Below, I listed the ones where I stayed or have stayed on other hikes.
- Dahlonega, GA – I stayed at the Quality Inn when I hiked the Benton Mackaye Trail. This is a larger town, but I was within walking distance of restaurants, and the town had a taxi and a shuttle. I know several hikers that stayed here when they started their hikes and then took a shuttle to the southern terminus.
- Hiawassee, GA – I have stayed in Hiawassee and always enjoyed my time there. This is a popular resupply town for hikers starting the trail and has everything you need for a full resupply.
There are several good hostels in Georgia, but I have not stayed in them. My first resupply town was in Franklin, NC, where I stayed at Chica and Sunsets Hostel.
- Both Above the Clouds Hostel and Around the Ben Hostel have good reputations. Around the Bend Hostel was full every night I was near it due to rain and its proximity to the trail. Around the Bend also has a remarkably good outfitter store on site.
- Barefoot Hills Hiker Hostel is located in Blairsville, GA. Several years ago, this was the place to stay and widely used by starting thru-hikers. It is currently more of a high-end hotel type of establishment that, in addition to upscale rooms and cabins, also offers four bunks and a communal area for hikers.
- Hidden Pond Hostel – This new hostel in 2023 is open and run by 2022 thru-hikers. It is more expensive than some other hostels on the trail, but it gets rave reviews on Farout. I spoke with two hikers that stayed there, and they both had good feedback.
- Neels Gap Hostel is next to the Mountain Crossings Outfitter at Neels Gap. The hostel is first-come-first-serve, so get there early. If it is full, there are cabins not far down the road, and Mountain Crossings also has a list of shuttle providers. I was there in early March, and it was not open.
Georgia Highlights on the Appalachian Trail – Summary
Georgia’s hiking is tough, but I enjoyed hiking early in the season with open views, fewer hikers, and plenty of water. Rustic Appalachian Trail shelters and lean-tos are located every 8-12 miles, and Georgia takes good care of its shelter system.
If you don’t want to camp or endure bad weather, there are plenty of hostel and town options, along with numerous shelter providers that will come to just about any trailhead. Many hostels also provide a slack packing option which I observed any thru-hikers taking advantage of, especially in bad weather.