In this post we’re talking all about Springer Mountain, why it’s one of the most recognized hiking destinations in the world, and four of its most popular hikes. Let’s dive further into an overview of the mountain and the various hikes used to scale this renowned thru-hiking terminus.
Springer Mountain spans over 749,600 acres in the Chattahoochee National Forest and Ed Jenkins National Recreation area. The mountain marks the divide between the northern and southern sections of the blue ridge mountain range, its summit offers beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, and its many trails have been walked by day-hikers, section hikers and thru-hikers alike for nearly a century.
In 1959, Springer Mountain replaced Mount Oglethorpe as the official starting point of the Appalachian Trail. Its summit has three defining items that signal to thru-hikers they’ve either officially begun, or finished their 2000+ mile journey (depending on which direction they're hiking from). These items include the trail's first white blaze marker, the official AT registration logbook, and a bronze plaque endorsed with the Appalachian Trail certified logo. Let's dive right into four of our favorite day- and multi-day hikes on Springer Mountain.
A. Approach Trail (Northbound to Springer)
Trail length: 17 miles round trip (8.5 one-way)
Elevation Gain: 3,165 ft.
Estimated time to complete: 8-12 hours round trip
Start and endpoints: Amicalola State Park to the Summit of Springer Mountain
Trail type: Out and back
- Springer Mountain Trailhead: 34.637467, -84.195317 // N34 38.248 W84 11.719
- Amicalola Falls State Park: 34.5576892, -84.2489898
There are two ways to reach Springer Mountain's summit. The first (and shortest) path is a one-mile, round-trip jaunt at Springer Mountain Trailhead. Parking can be accessed off Forest Service Road 42. From there, hikers can complete the out-and-back trek to the summit before returning to the parking lot to continue hiking the AT north. However, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) has begun strongly advising against this option because of poor road conditions, parking and safety hazards, and the need to reduce heavy foot and car traffic in this area.
The more popular option is to take the scenic Approach Trail which begins at Amicalola Falls State Park off GA hwy 52. Although the approach trail is not officially part of the AT, it’s a favored starting place for many NOBO hikers. Here you can find a visitor’s center, lodging, and the park’s notorious stone arch (great place for a photo-op).
The approach trail tests hikers early on with a 604-stair climb to the top of Amicalola Falls, which is Georgia’s tallest waterfall. From there the trail continues through lush forestry with plenty of spots to camp. A few things to note is that water sources are limited on the trail, and the park has a $5 entrance fee.
Side note: The ATC has recommended that NOBO thru-hikers take the Approach Trail which begins at Amicalola Falls State Park instead of the Springer Mountain Trailhead. The road to the Springer Trailhead is dirt, and it can be hazardous in the winter and early spring, especially when there’s been heavy precipitation throughout the year. The drive to Amicalola Falls is paved, and you can get a hangtag and take part in a short thru-hike discussion covering important details and updates about the trail.
© Lilli Interdonato
B. Three Forks (Southbound to Springer)
Trail length: 8.6 miles round trip (4.3 one-way)
Elevation Gain: 1,700 ft.
Level: Moderately Difficult
Estimated time to complete: 4-5 hours
Start and endpoints: Three Forks Valley to Springer Mountain Summit
Trail type: Out and back
GPS Coordinates: 34.664183, -84.184317, N34 39.851 W84 11.059
A favored day hike for many locals, this trail has plenty of switchbacks and a moderately hilly terrain. Be sure to watch your footing as many rocks and root systems cover the trail. This southern part of the AT will take you through a variety of landscapes including pine-filled forests and in the spring, groves of blooming rhododendron.
The trail begins in a forested green valley and cut’s its way up to Springer’s summit leading to picturesque views. Throughout the hike, there are various creek crossings, however all have elevated paths or wooded bridges for traversing without wetting your boots. This trail also crosses with a path that leads to the Springer Mountain Shelter and camping area. Parking for this hike is available on Forest Service Road 58.
C. Springer Mountain Loop Trail
Trail length: 5 miles round trip (2.5 miles one-way)
Elevation gain: 1100 ft.
Estimated time to complete: 2-3 hours
Start and endpoints: Springer Mountain Parking area on forest road 42
Trail type: Loop
GPS Coordinates: 34.637631, -84.195217
Following along with the AT and Benton MacKaye Trail (a 300-mile stretch through Great Smoky Mountains National Park), this well-kept loop includes shaded lush valleys, forests strewn with rock formations and two rewarding mountain summit views.
Within the first two miles the trail climbs Springer Mountain before continuing another short climb to Ball Mountain (whose views are solid competition for Springer). The loop also passes by a memorial dedicated to Benton MacKaye, the man who first dreamed up the AT. In the spring, wildflowers are abundant, and in fall, the valleys of colorful foliage are spectacular.
Note: to get to the trailhead, you’ll have to drive 45-50 minutes on a bumpy one-lane mountain road. Also, since the trail is a winding one that goes along the same route as the AT, using GPS here could be handy.
D. Springer Mountain to Neels Gap
Trail length: 30 miles
Elevation gain: 3,550 ft.
Estimated time to complete: 4-5 days
Start and endpoints: Springer Mountain or Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls Entrance to Neels Gap
Trail type: Point-to-Point, multi-day
GPS coordinates: 34.63764, -84.19428
Since you can’t leave your car at Neel’s Gap, you’ll want to use a shuttle service or have a pre-arranged ride when doing this 30-mile stretch of the AT. There are plenty of shuttles available in the area. One recommendation is Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttle Service which is said to be reliable and affordable. You can also call Mountain Crossings, a popular gear shop in the area. They can get you a list of all the shuttle services around, not to mention the store’s a cool shop to check out since it’s the only covered structure the AT passes through.
As for campsites, Wood Gap is a popular one along the trail, but you may want to hike a little farther to Woods Hole Shelter which is said to be less busy. During this hike you’ll also scale Blood Mountain, one of Georgia’s most popular day hikes. There’s no denying it’s a strenuous uphill climb, but once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be at the highest section of the AT in all of Georgia. From there, the trail descends into the valley of Neels Gap. There’s plenty of stone steps here, so watch your footing during wet conditions as it can get slick.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Springer Mountain?
Located in Fannin County 17 miles east of Ellijay, Georgia, Springer Mountain lies in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
How tall is Springer Mountain?
The mountain rises 3,782 feet above sea level.
What's the best season/time of year to hike?
Most NOBO (northbound) thru-hikers begin their journey at Springer Mountain in March-April. By this time the temperatures are milder and the snow in higher elevations has begun to melt. Although accessible year around, the mountains weather is unpredictable. Check trail conditions and recent precipitation levels ahead of time.
Are there shelters I can spend the night in?
Various shelters have been built on the mountain, with the most popular being the Springer Mountain Shelter which lies about .2 miles north of the summit (GPS coordinates: 34.62946, -84.019268). This shelter has water (be sure to filter it), fires are allowed, and toilets, firewood and bear lockers are available. Another popular shelter near the summit is the Black Gap Shelter which can be found 1.5 miles south of the summit on the approach trail (GPS coordinates: 34.61768, -84.19871). Water sources and privy bathrooms are also available here.
Are dogs allowed?
Yes, dogs are welcome on all trails in the Springer Mountain area as long as they’re on a leash.
Are bear canisters required?
If hiking overnight between Jarrard Gap and Neels Gap from March-June, the park requires the use of bear canisters. Many shelters on the AT in Georgia also have cable systems for hanging food or bear proof boxes.
Where to park?
There is plenty of parking to choose from around the mountain, with the largest lots being at Woody Gap, the Byron Reese trail head and Dick’s Creek Gap. Keep in mind that Forest service roads often offer limited spaces; and, if parking in the Springer Mountain Parking lot, there’s a 14-day limit and vehicle registration is required.