Hike to a Natural Retreat
A Walk in the Woods
This journey begins with a walk in the woods. Like a moving meditation, the rhythm of footsteps, breath, and pulse brings us to a place where days stretch out like childhood summers. Hot showers, good food, and comfortable beds await at the end of the trail, but we must earn these backcountry luxuries. There's only one way to reach the Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park near Dawsonville, Georgia: a moderate uphill hike on a 5-mile trail.
It's worth it. After a day on the trail, food tastes better, air seems fresher, and the rustic bunks feel like beds at The Ritz-Carlton. "People always come up the hill with smiles on their faces," says volunteer staffer Mary Sproat.
Named after a Georgia conservationist, the Len Foote Hike Inn blends Green architecture with sustainable practices that teach visitors how to limit their impact on the natural world. Many of the Green elements are simple: cooling rooms with open windows and lighting them with sunshine. Others, such as solar panels and composting toilets (no, they don't stink), use techniques and tools that reduce dependence on water lines and power grids.
Zero waste is the goal, and our hosts weigh food scraps after every meal. What we do not eat goes downstairs to the "worm room." Here, through a process called vermiculture, table scraps and other waste become rich garden fertilizer with the help of a few thousand red wiggler worms. "Last year alone I fed them more than 1,000 pounds of food waste," says Sandy Straw, educational manager. It's a great opportunity to teach visitors about recycling nutrients through composting, which doesn't stop at dinner scraps. She's also fed the worms paper, blue jeans, and khaki pants.
Like Summer Camp
Up on a ridge at 3,100 feet, we rediscover the joys of simple life. Without TVs, cell phones, or other beeping distractions, our pace and pulse slows down. We gather for games and songs in a room that feels like a tree house fort. Each day begins and ends with a glorious pause as we all stop to salute the sun trading places with the moon and stars.
Len Foote Hike Inn: www.hike-inn.com or 1-800-581-8032.
Volunteer and Stay for Free
Join the Friends of the Hike Inn volunteer program ($15 per year) to trade service for a free stay. Tasks include kitchen prep and cleanup, garden work, and housekeeping. An overnight stay for two adults, including breakfast and dinner, usually costs $140.
Exercising (such as hiking) improves the brain's capacity for memory formation and retention.
Help control your blood glucose levels with physical activity.
Improve your mood by getting outside. Research shows that being in natural settings reduces stress.
Elements of Green
Winner of LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, this structure's many eco-friendly features make for a sustainable stay.
Open windows and a gentle breeze cool rooms--no need for AC.
Rainwater streams off the roof into barrels, where it's saved for watering plants.
A passive solar water heater on a south-facing roof warms water 20 to 30 degrees (propane gas does the rest). This reduces gas use by 60%.
Plenty of windows illuminate the common rooms with natural light.
Twenty-four photovoltaic solar panels supplement electricity supplied by the grid. In the summer, it saves about $300 per month.
Composting and vermiculture create rich plant fertilizer and reduce waste.
Energy-efficient radiant heat panels warm rooms with less power.