Nestled deep in the surrounding hills of the southern Appalachians of north Georgia stands Springer Mountain. At 3,780 feet above sea level, this mountain is neither the tallest nor steepest of those in the area. It does, however, hold a special place in the hearts of everyone who has ever hiked or considered hiking the Appalachian Trail and it stands as one of the final southern sentinels of the vast Appalachian Mountain range that stretches from Newfoundland in Canada to the hills of northeastern Alabama.
The History of Springer Mountain
The history of Springer Mountain is shrouded in mystery. So much so that even the origins of its name are unknown. What is known is that in 1540 Hernando De Soto, a Spanish conquistador, entered the area on his great exploration of the eastern portion of what is now the United States. Unfortunately for the Native Americans in the area, De Soto’s men brought diseases that decimated the population. In a somewhat fitting twist of events, most of De Soto’s expedition also perished on the journey.
When the first English settlers arrived in the area in the 17’th century they found that the region was largely unpopulated, rugged, and in the words of one historian “nothing but a desert of trees.” The area remained largely uninteresting to European settlers until, in 1832, the Georgia government awarded the land out to Georgia citizens in a land lottery. This set off a wild market in land speculation until it was realized that the rocky soil was inhospitable to farming and that the gold deposits in the area were concentrated mainly around the town of Dahlonega to the southeast.
Thus, the area surrounding Springer Mountain has remained largely undeveloped since the time of the land lottery, surviving mostly unchanged through the civil war, the rise of the logging industry, and the advent of the modern information society. In 1911 the United States Forest Service purchased land in northern Georgia that would later become the Chattahoochee National Forest. Part of this purchase included Springer Mountain.
In 1958 the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, known colloquially as the “AT” among trail aficionados, was moved from Mount Oglethorpe about 14 miles to the south to the summit of Springer Mountain.
The Appalachian Trail, considered the granddaddy of American long distance trails by many hiking enthusiasts, runs from the summit of Springer Mountain north for over twenty-one-hundred miles to its northern terminus atop Mount Katahdin in the wilderness of central Maine. According to recent estimates, several million people visit the Appalachian Trail annually with a large portion visiting the southern sections in northern Georgia. Several thousand of those visitors are prospective “thru-hikers” intent on hiking the entire length of the AT from Georgia to Maine. Most of these long distance hikers choose to start their hike on Springer Mountain between March and May each spring.
How to Get to Springer Mountain
Whether a visitor wishes to hike the entire Appalachian Trail, or just to spend a few hours hiking to relax from work in Atlanta, they will have to reach the Springer Mountain using one of three options.
The first and shortest route to the top is to park near the trailhead on USFS road 42. From there it is a nine tenths of a mile hike south along the Appalachian Trail to the summit. The second means of approach is a slightly longer hike, which can be made by parking at Nimblewill gap on USFS road 28 and following the approach trail (marked with blue blazes) 2.5 miles north to the summit. Unfortunately, USFS road 28 is often impassable due to bad road conditions resulting from heavy rains and washouts.
Before taking either of these routes, it is a good idea to contact the rangers of the Chattahoochee-Oconee national forest to get an idea of road conditions. Remember to also take into account the weather forecast for the time period that you’ll be hiking to ensure that you will be able to drive out on your return trip.
If you prefer to make your hike to the summit of Springer Mountain into more than a day trip you can choose to hike the approach trail from Amicalola Falls State Park. Located 8.7 miles from the top of the mountain, the start of this blue-blazed trail can be found behind the Amicalola Falls park office. There is ample parking across from the trailhead and the rangers at the office are always glad to answer any questions.
If you plan on camping during your trip, the approach trail has two shelters and many campsites set up to accommodate visitors. The first shelter, named the Ed Garvey Shelter, is located just a few yards from the approach trail trailhead and sleeps 12. The second, Black Gap Shelter, is located 7.5 miles north of the approach trail trailhead and sleeps 8. It has a spring located 300 yards further down the trail as a water source. All drinking and cooking water obtained from this spring should be treated before consumption.
Once a hiker arrives at the summit of Springer Mountain there is the option of staying at the Springer Mountain shelter. The short blue-blazed side trail to the shelter is located one tenth of a mile north on the AT from the summit. There is sleeping room for 12, poles to hang bear bags (yes, there are black bears active in the area!), and a piped spring for drinking and cooking water. Water from this spring should also be treated.
What You Will Find at the Summit of Springer Mountain:
When you reach the top of Springer Mountain take the time to catch your breath. It’s a long climb! Looking around, the first thing you’ll probably see is the famous bronze plaque that marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It depicts a male hiker confidently striding uphill and is located next the first white blaze of the AT.
Behind the overlook where the plaque is located you will find a prominent large boulder with a small metal door on the southern side. Inside is a trail register where the hikers who have reached the summit before you have left their names and thoughts about the mountain. Feel free to add your own to the list.
Hopefully your summit of Springer Mountain will be on a clear day and you’ll have the experience of this beautiful view to the southwest:
This is a great location for watching the sun set and to contemplate the rest of your trip, whether it is one of a few miles back to the car or a journey of a few thousand on the way to Maine.