Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Rocks from the Blue Ridge eastern slope date back as much as 1.2 billion years.
- Etowah Indian mounds, in the Blue Ridge foothills, are North America’s largest such mounds.
- Dahlonega had the largest gold-mining operation east of the Mississippi.
- Peanuts are an ingredient in dynamite.
- Cherokee Indians published the first Indian-language newspaper at New Echota.
From war to wine
Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and their foothills stretch across most of the state’s northern border, acting as a barrier or portal to America’s Deep South. The Union Army’s General Sherman saw the portal — his troops marched into the state through the foothills in 1864 during America’s Civil War.
Today’s invaders, from the North, South and everywhere else, are considerably friendlier and find a friendly welcome in return. The Blue Ridge region offers potential for a multilayered vacation, built around the mountains, history, mountain culture — and who knew this? — wine tasting.
Starting with the mountains themselves, they are 90% forested. Much of Georgia’s Blue Ridge is protected in the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest.
The mountains are particularly attractive for their hiking trails, including the starting point for the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail. But the trails are good for cycling and horseback riding, too. For scenery, the mountains have the requisite gorges and waterfalls, but also rivers for whitewater rafting and other rivers suited to fishing.
The rivers feed lakes, some of them manmade; the lakes are attractive for camping sites, canoeing, kayaking and some swimming, but especially for the fishing. The largest, Lake Lanier, in the foothills, offers beaches, golf, tennis and other resort amenities; it hosted some Olympic competitions in 1996.
As to the history, the Blue Ridge region saw action during the American Civil War. It also was one of the areas where Native Americans were rounded up and forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 19th century. Both traumas are remembered in museums and designated historic sites of interest to history buffs.
Blue Ridge residents are heirs to the culture associated with the southern Appalachians. Aspects of that heritage are on display in museums, mountain fairs, folk life plays and any venue where there is a lot of fiddlin’ going on.
Finally, the fabled moonshine still is (mostly) out of use and grape vineyards are in. Two-thirds of Georgia’s vineyards are in the Blue Ridge foothills, which are favored with 1,400- to 2,000-foot elevations and cool nights. There are enough wineries with tasting rooms now to toast the Blue Ridge Mountains several times.
Things to do for Venturers
- Go to the start of the famous Appalachian Trail to begin your hike. Walk to Maine — or to a more convenient stopping point.
- Sightsee from the seat of a bike at Ellijay. The town is considered Georgia’s mountain biking capital.
- Pause for a history lesson. At the New Echota State Historic Site, near Calhoun, see where local Cherokee Indians were assembled for their forced removal to Oklahoma along the famous Trail of Tears. Visit the shop where the Cherokees produced the first Indian-language newspaper.
- Strap on your lifejacket for a day of whitewater rafting on the Chattooga River.
- Camp at one of the U.S. Forest Service’s campgrounds at the edge of Lake Blue Ridge so you can spend a couple of days fishing at the lake, or combine fishing and hiking.
- Head to places just because their names are irresistible. Consider Track Rock Gap, which sits between Thunderstruck Mountain and Buzzard Roost Ridge. Your goal is the Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site, where you will look for some of a series of rock carvings made by early Native Americans on soapstone boulders.
Things to do for Centrics
- Fish for trout in the Toccoa River or in a number of other rivers in the mountains. The Chattahoochee National Forest has more than 1,300 miles of trout streams.
- Soak up the atmosphere of a Blue Ridge mountain town at McCaysville or the town noted for art galleries called Blue Ridge, and then there are places with names like Cherry Log and Talking Rock. Another option: Blairsville for the Mountain Life Museum.
- Come to Hiawassee for the summertime Georgia Mountain Fair and watch someone make lye soap or cook a batch of hominy; sample fresh cider and fried apple pie; tour the Pioneer Village, but most of all, listen for the music, which is certain to include bluegrass, country and gospel tunes. Shop for crafts at the fair, or if visiting at another time, head to the town’s Artworks Artisan Centre.
- The Chattahoochee National Forest has more than 430 miles of hiking and riding trails. Choose one for a half-day or daylong walk that suits you. Or, spend a day horseback riding on forest trails.
- Float awhile (and paddle some) in a canoe on the Chattahoochee or Toccoa River. The latter is considered the state’s prettiest river.
- Plan a wine tasting tour built around a few or all 10 members of the Winegrowers Association of Georgia. Several wineries are located in or near Dahlonega, but your trail can introduce you to Ellijay, Helen, Sautee, Tiger and Young Harris as well. Visiting all sites will take more than one day.
Things to do for Authentics
- Ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway for a four-hour, 26-mile route from Blue Ridge (the town) to McCaysville and to its twin on the Tennessee side of the state line, Copperhill. The route follows the hills along the Toccoa River.
- Spot wild animals in their natural settings, but for an easier way to get a close look at them, visit the Wildlife Sanctuary in Ellijay. The rescue facility offers Sunday tours where you may see rescued black bears, cougars, deer or other species.
- Attend a “Land of Spirit” folk life play in Lavonia. The productions with volunteer actors are based on true local stories. Or, in Sautee, attend “Headwaters,” which also tells local stories of mountain life with acting by home-grown performers.
- In autumn, drive the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway for its impressive fall colors. Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak at 4,784 feet, is a stop on this drive — and reached from a parking lot by vans or by walking.
- Get an eyeful at the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center in the aptly named Mountain City. The center showcases early Appalachian life in a village of 22 log cabins. Or, choose the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center in the foothills, for a look at Civil War, Native American and railroad history in a single package. The site is on a Civil War Discovery Trail.
- In Dahlonega, pan for gold and sift for gems at Consolidated Gold Mines or Crisson Gold Mine.
For more information, consult the Georgia Department of Economic Development at www.exploregeorgia.org