Itching to get outside for some long walks amid the coming cooler temps and fall foliage? These unique lodges within a day's drive of Chattanooga will help you make the most of the season while offering a change of pace from ordinary campsites. They say it's the journey, not the destination, but these hike-inns manage to marry both.
Len Foote Hike Inn
Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville, Ga.
Tucked in among rolling ridgetops, this 20-room hostel offers gorgeous scenery, home-cooked meals, educational programs, and the chance to seriously unplug—cellphone and laptop use is not allowed, though solar panels offer a recharge for all the photos you'll want to take.
The hike: Welcoming hikers of all levels and families with young children, the inn is accessible by an easy to moderate 5-mile hike. The trail doesn't skimp on scenery, though. It was named one of 36 Best American Hikes by Backpacker magazine and landed on National Geographic Traveler's Stay List. (Sorry, hikers only, and no furry family members.)
The amenities: The straightforward rooms are outfitted with an extra-long single-size bunk bed (mats available to put young children on the floor), linens, and a heater or fan as necessary. Shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers are available in the bathhouse, along with solar-heated showers and odorless composting toilets. Adirondack chairs line the meandering wraparound porch, and the Sunrise Room offers a library of books and games.
Guests are treated to breakfast and dinner served family style, and vegan and vegetarian meals are available with advance notice. Sack lunches can be purchased by overnight guests.
The daily pre-dinner tour gives guests an overview of the inn and all the sustainability practices that qualify its Platinum LEED certification. After dinner, educational programs could cover anything from native plants to nature photography to Appalachian Trail history. (The AT's southern terminus, Springer Mountain, is a popular 9-mile round-trip hike from the inn.)
Don't miss: After checking in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitors Center, be sure to check out the namesake falls, the tallest east of the Mississippi. The 829-acre park also offers zip lines, 3-D archery, a self-guided GPS scavenger hunt and organized group activities.
Charit Creek Lodge
Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Oneida, Tenn.
Step back in time at this rustic valley lodge outfitted with wood-burning stoves, gas lamps (there is no electricity) and some of the most historic buildings in the National Park Service.
The hike: The trail is short, only 1.1 miles, but steep. For that reason, it is rated moderate to difficult. The trail does offer the option of biking or horseback riding for those with their own.
The amenities: The five pioneer-era log cabins are outfitted with multiple double-size bunk beds, a wood-burning stove, family-size table, a cooler, linens and screened-in plus open-air rocking chair porches. Still, each welcomes a single party of up to 12 guests. Detached bathhouses offer hot showers and flush toilets, but no toiletries or towels.
Two tree tents welcome up to three adults each, and horse stabling is available.
Full-service overnight guests are welcomed to family-style breakfast and dinner daily, and sack lunches can be purchased by anyone with advance notice. While vegetarian meals can be accommodated with whatever's in season, more specific dietary restrictions cannot. Limited-service guests must bring their own food, though utensils, a propane stove and sink are at the ready.
Capitalize on the remote setting by relaxing by the fire pit with a glass of beer or wine, available for purchase; playing horseshoes, cornhole or bocce ball; exploring the area with a four-leggged companion (dogs welcome for $5 per animal per day); or further escaping into the pages of a book from the lodge's library.
Good to know: Access to the facilities and daily meals can be purchased separately for those looking for a more rugged backcountry experience. All guests should bring a water bottle and flashlight. The inn is closed Jan. 1-Feb. 28 each year. September in the surrounding Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area features several interesting special events.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tenn.
It goes without saying that the highest guest lodge in the eastern U.S. packs some stunning scenery. The inn's rough-hewn log buildings are nestled at 6,360 feet in elevation, just below the summit of Mt. LeConte, the third-highest peak in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The hike: Five trails of varying lengths and difficulty give hikers options when it comes to access, though no bikes or horses are allowed. Ranging from 5.5-8 miles, the trails can be steep. The Trillium Gap Trail is considered by many to be the easiest—and is also the trail used by the lodge's supply-carrying lamas. The lodge is closed late November through late March, but guests may still encounter ice and snow due to the altitude.
The amenities: With a host of buildings scattered across the glade, guests can choose from one-, two- or three-bedroom units, all of which are private. The homey cabins feature full-size bunk beds, some with an additional single bed, plus linens, a kerosene lantern (no electricity), propane wall unit and covered rocking chair porch. They also contain a wash basin and bucket for bathing, with a spigot offering hot water located by the dining room. Flush toilets are located in a separate building.
Guests should bring a towel, washcloth and any desired toiletries, but most important are a flashlight, rain jacket and clothing layers—nighttime temps can dip into the 30s even in the summer.
Overnight guests are served a standard-menu breakfast and dinner. Those staying more than one night are treated to alternate menus and a sack lunch, which are otherwise available for purchase. Vegetarian and limited dietary restrictions can be accommodated with advance notice, and "bottomless" wine service is available with dinner for a nominal fee.
Good to know: The lodge fills up fast. This season is largely booked, though cancellations are possible. Written and digital requests and phone reservations for next year will be processed simultaneously on Oct. 1 beginning at 8 a.m.
Edisto River Treehouses
Edisto River, midway between Charleston, Columbia and Savannah, S.C.
These river-only accessible treehouses are a charming approach to "roughing it." Featured in National Geographic Adventure, Outside Magazine, Travel & Leisure and Garden & Gun, they offer sunny interiors and the chance to explore the largest private wildlife refuge on the pristine Edisto River.
The route: The treehouses sit at the midpoint of a 21-mile trip down what the South Carolina Parks and Recreation calls "one of the largest undeveloped ecosystems remaining on the Atlantic coast." The Edisto River is calm and flat, though downed trees frequently present obstacles that require basic paddling skills.
The amenities: Guests are welcome to visit with their own watercraft, but canoes are available for day trips that spit you out at your car or the treehouses, and are included in the price of treehouse rentals.
Made using locally harvested materials, the houses are at home in the trees, built off the ground using stilts and accessed via stairs. With a "small," "medium" and "large" size abode, the stand can welcome anywhere from two to eight guests per dwelling. Inside, guests will find futons, a sleeping loft, furnished kitchen with propane stovetop, and dining table and chairs, all framed by walls of windows. Outside, they'll find a dining deck with a propane grill overlooking cypress trees ringed by the lapping waters of the longest free-flowing blackwater river in the Southeast. Torches and oil candles add to the relaxing ambiance. There is no electricity, running water or flush toilets.
Good to know: Guests must bring their own food, water and linens.