Bunk up: The Len Foote Hike Inn

The four-season lodge is LEED-certified and features a celestial calendar made from rocks

There is one backcountry inn only accessible by foot in Georgia. Starting from a parking lot above Amicalola Falls, it’s a beautiful, fairly easy five-mile walk through a mossy forest just ninety minutes north of Atlanta.

Photograph by Cary Jobe

On a recent weekend, I arrived with my girlfriend around 5 p.m., in time for a tour. Named for the Georgia botanist, ecologist, and author, the inn is owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources—where Foote once served as a board member—but run by a nonprofit, the Appalachian Education and Recreation Services.

A four-season lodge, it became the first LEED-certified building in Georgia in 2002, several years after its construction. It uses little power and produces minimal waste for its size: twenty rooms with bunk beds (each big enough to fit two) and radiant heat panels for winter. You’ll find composting toilets, worms for food scraps, photovoltaic solar panels, a hike-in-hike-out trash policy, and a passive solar water heater that saves 60 percent compared with conventional heating methods.

My favorite part of the inn is the “star base,” a celestial calendar made from rocks (think Machu Picchu in miniature) sitting below the main lodge and surrounded by chairs for sunrise viewing. A drumbeat alerts light sleepers of the rising sun each morning. For everyone else, a bell rings just before eight, announcing that it’s time for a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, grits, and, if you’re lucky, spoonbread.

We met an AIDS activist, a physical therapist, and a Cuban refugee over a communal dinner of baked ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cake. (An on-site crew carries in and cooks food.) Alcohol isn’t served or encouraged, but the unofficial flask policy is “bring enough to share.” After dinner, you can take the flask outside for cornhole, head to the game room, listen to a naturalist give a talk, or marvel at stars you’d all but forgotten about. From $107 single occupancy, $150 double; hike-inn.com

This article originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.