North Georgia trails are popular routes for raccoons, wild turkeys, deer, and even black bears. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources estimates that 1,200 to 1,500 bears roam the Georgia mountains. Typically weighing about 200 pounds, bruins here are most active in late spring and summer, and local hikers often spot them on ridgetops and on saddles. But Ursus americanus walks softly and flatfooted, leaving hard-to-find tracks for such a big animal.
Look for side-by-side footsteps roughly 36 to 42 inches apart, often on well-worn trails (bears use the same pathways repeatedly). Claw marks are rare, and the inside (small) toe may not appear. See yellowjackets on the trail? Search hard for tracks, as the disturbed insects could signal that bears have been digging for food.
The loop connecting the Len Foote Hike Inn Trail and Appalachian Approach Trail is especially popular with solo hikers and beginners—basically, anyone who is a little more comfortable with a built-in safety net. Injured, not sure about the route, worried about bears? Just ask for help. “Virtually every day people hike to the inn, so there’s always a lot of activity along these trails,” says Wade Chandler, a staff member at the lodge. Also, people who plan to stay at the inn register at Amicalola State Park before they hit the trail. “So we essentially know who’s out there and people are accounted for,” he says.
THE EXPERTSKelly Stewart, 44, runs Nashville Hiking Meetup (nashvillehiking.com), a 3,000-member outdoor adventure and local hiking club. His advice: Bring extra socks for long hikes. “Pack one set for yourself,” he says, “and one for your hiking buddy. You’re guaranteed hero status when you hand over a clean, dry pair.” Take note, aspiring trail angels.