Road to adventure
A weekend excursion through North Georgia offers an abundance of activities
BY JANE F. GARVEY
North Georgia’s lush mountains, the foothills of the Appalachians, become especially appealing to Georgians looking for heat relief and some fun with the family. Its towns offer getaway opportunities for romance and family-focused weekends. Look into this region and its charming towns, each so distinctive, there’s no end to the discoveries a visit will unearth.
The Cherokee populated the hills around Chatsworth prior to the arrival of Europeans. The nearby Chief Vann House, known as “Spring Place,” is an 1804 mansion that was the centerpiece of a thriving plantation built by James Vann, a Cherokee chief. The thick walls, floating staircase and luxurious finishes made this house a source of pride for the Cherokee nation. A Cherokee Homecoming, complete with craft demonstrations, is slated for Oct. 14, and a candlelight tour for Dec. 8-9, 2006.
Outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate Fort Mountain State Park and the Cohutta Wilderness Area. General-purpose campers and hikers can enjoy the park, but seasoned hikers and backpackers are best suited for the 90 miles of tough trails that wind through the Cohutta Wilderness Area. All this is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest, which sweeps across North Georgia.
The Cohutta Lodge and Conference Center boasts extraordinary views. Nearby, Overlook Inn also looks deep into the national forest. Besides elegant, comfortable and inviting lodging, the inn boasts its own craft shop, Coyote Redd’s.
Chatsworth enjoys proximity to Lake Conasauga, with its year-round campground and opportunities for myriad outdoor activities and sports. Located on U.S. 76, Conasauga is Georgia’s highest lake.
• Chief Vann House Historic Site, Highway 225 and 52-A, (706) 695-2598 (closed Mondays)
• Cohutta Lodge and Restaurant, 500 Cochise Tr., (706) 695-9601, cohuttalodge.com
• Overlook Inn, 9420 Highway 52, (706) 517-8810, wildernessviewcabins.com
Head up U.S. 441 toward the mountains and Clarkesville, county seat for Habersham County. Rich with history, the county is named for Savannah native and Revolutionary War hero Joseph Habersham, whose summer home still stands just outside of Clarkesville. Perhaps the oldest home in the county, it now is a private residence. With its graceful 19th- and early 20th-century churches and homes, Clarkesville offers an opportunity to stroll and drive through a rich historical and architectural heritage. Driving north into town, notice the Burns-Sutton House on the left and the Charm House on the right. Built in the early 20th century, each captures a different style—Victorian and Greek Revival respectively—and sets the stage for the earlier examples found in Clarkesville. The town’s historic homes are mostly privately owned.
Start at the Habersham County Welcome Center, located in the Mauldin House on the southeast corner of the square, to pick up materials and a touring map. If shopping is paramount, head just north from town to the Old Clarkesville Mill, where antiques and flea market vendors have gathered at least an afternoon’s worth of treasures.
For fine crafts and art, Mark of the Potter, about 10 miles north of Clarkesville, is a must. It features ceramic, wood and metal sculpture, hand-blown glass and jewelry crafted by more than 25 local and regional artists.
While there are plenty of cabins in the area, nearby Moccasin Creek State Park on Lake Burton offers RV camping and other recreational facilities. For hikers, the Panther Creek Falls and Recreation Area features a trail that leads to pristine waterfalls. North Georgia is all about fishing, and around Clarkesville there’s plenty. The Lake Burton Trout Hatchery and Wildlife Management Area, with more than 12,000 acres of backcountry, offer fishing, hiking and camping, plus hunting in the appropriate seasons.
If camping isn’t your idea of lodging, the nearby Glen Ella Springs Inn is the perfect romantic weekend destination.
For next spring, schedule a visit to the long-lived Mountain Laurel Festival, which celebrates this unique mountain flower.
• Glen Ella Springs Inn, 1789 Bear Gap Rd., (706) 754-7295, (877) 456-7527, www.glenella.com
• Mark of the Potter, 9982 Highway 197 N., (706) 947-3440, markofthe potter.com
• Mauldin House, 458 Jefferson St., (706)-754-2296
• Old Clarkesville Mill, 583 Grant St., (706) 893-1583, oldclarkesville mill.com
Centering Cleveland’s downtown square is the historic, circa 1857 courthouse, a simple brick structure that attests to this community’s importance for as far back as 150 years. That’s where all visits to Cleveland should begin.
At the White County Historical Museum, you’ll find examples of the famous Meaders family face jugs. This family of potters, whose work is highly prized, put Cleveland on the map for folk pottery. For an introduction to their works, take a look at John Burrison’s book “Brothers in Clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery,” (University of Georgia Press, 1995).
BabyLand General Hospital, where “Cabbage Patch Kids” are “born,” also made Cleveland famous. Xavier Roberts’ classic dolls have been must-haves for children since he began the project in 1978. Staffers dress in medical outfits to “deliver” the adopted dolls to eagerly waiting visitors. Tours of the facility are free. White County is all about enjoying this pristine landscape. At the Chestatee Wildlife Management Area, 11 miles north of Cleveland off U.S. 19, a 25,000-acre preserve offers public hunting, camping, hiking, birding and fishing.
The nearby Chattahoochee River provides opportunities for canoeing and kayaking; check in at Wildwood Outfitters for rentals, trip information and guidance. And topping the crest of a hill is Cleveland’s winery, BlackStock Vineyard and Winery, where visitors may taste wines and enjoy a gorgeous hilltop view.
Dedicated fly-fishing fanatics should check out Cannon Falls Lodge. Guests not only catch rainbow, brown and brook trout in this river, but also may sleep at the facility. Fly fishing is carefully regulated here, so check with the lodge about requirements before booking. Visits are by appointment only.
For family fun, consider panning for gold at Gold ’n Gem Grubbin’ Mine. Gold? Yup, gold. In fact, the North Georgia gold rush not only preceded the California rush of 1849, it also exceeded it in the amount of gold extracted.
• BabyLand General Hospital, 73 W. Underwood St., (706) 865-2171, cabbagepatchkids.com
• BlackStock Vineyards & Winery, Town Creek Church Rd., Cleveland, (770) 983-1371 or (706)-219-2789 (BSVW), bsvw.com
• Cannon Falls Lodge, (706) 348-7919, cannonfallslodge.com
• Chestatee Wildlife Management Area, Dick’s Creek Rd., (off U.S. 19), (770) 535-5700, visitnortheastgeorgia.com
• Gold ’n Gem Grubbin’ Mine, 75 Gold Nugget Ln., (706) 865-5454, goldngem.com
• White County Historical Museum, on the square, (706) 865-3225
• Wildwood Outfitters, 140 Mossy Creek Pt., (706) 865-4451, (800) 553-2715, wildwoodoutfitters.com
Taken from the Cherokee word “Ta-lo-ne-ga,” meaning yellow, Dahlonega witnessed the nation’s earliest major gold strike. In 1828, Auraria, a ghost town whose Latin-derived name alludes to gold, zoomed to some 10,000 in population by 1832. The strike was so rich that that the federal government opened a branch mint in Dahlonega in 1838. The mines have mostly closed for commercial purposes, but tourists can pan for gold at several locations.
At the courthouse on the square, a video details this historic town’s golden history. Surrounding the square are numerous historic buildings, making a walking tour a sheer delight. Restaurants and shops now occupy many of these buildings.
Live bluegrass and mountain music jams take place in the square on Saturday afternoons from spring through fall. The Crimson Moon Café, which occupies the same historic building that hosted long-ago fiddlers’ jam sessions, today brims again with music.
Performance art extends to theater in Dahlonega, where the fully renovated historic Holly Theatre not only shows first-run films but also features live performances. The Buisson Arts Center, once a Baptist church, hosts improvisational theater, dinner theater and musical performances. Its former recreation hall is now an art gallery. Throughout the year, Dahlonega features arts festivals that are “must moments” on the annual calendar.
Another aspect of Dahlonega gold comes in liquid form: Wine! Three wineries operate close by. Frogtown Cellars, Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery, and Wolf Mountain Vineyard are all easily visited on a single day and host special events throughout the year. Cleveland’s BlackStock is only a few miles east of Dahlonega.
For outdoors lovers, Dahlonega features a rich environment, with nearby waterfalls at Desoto Falls Recreation Area just 18 miles north of town on U.S. 19.
• Buisson Arts Center, 199 Choice St., (706) 867-0050, buissonartscenter.com
• Consolidated Gold Mine, 185 Consolidated Gold Mine Rd., (706) 864-8473, consolidatedgoldmine.com
• Crimson Moon Café, 24 N. Park St., (706) 864-3982, thecrimsonmoon.com
• Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site, 1 Public Square, (706) 864-2257, gastateparks.org
• Frogtown Cellars, 3300 Damascus Church Rd., (706) 865-0687, frogtownwine.com
• Crisson Gold Mine, 2736 Morrison Moore Pkwy. E., (706) 864-6363, crissongoldmine.com
• The Historic Holly Theatre, 69 W. Main St., (706) 864-3759, hollytheater.com
• Three Sisters Vineyard & Winery, 439 Vineyard Way, P.O. Box 3, (706) 865-9463 (WINE), threesistersvineyards.com
• Wolf Mountain, 180 Wolf Mountain Trail, (706) 867-9862, wolfmountainvineyards.com
Scooting up Interstate 75 toward Chattanooga, Tenn., one reaches Dalton, known as the carpet capital of the world. The industry grew out of a home-based, Depression-era cottage industry that produced chenille, made into tufted bedspreads and even ladies undergarments. As a result, many Georgians head to Dalton to buy carpeting for their homes.
But a trip to Dalton has other draws, including shopping at the discount malls that line I-75. Besides being able to source discount prices on carpeting, many businesses also offer great prices on hardwood flooring. Formerly a Tanger Outlet, Market Street Shops of Dalton offers a dizzying array of discount stores. The town has renovated many of its historic downtown buildings, including the depot, which now houses a restaurant, enhancing all with a still-in-progress streetscaping plan. Innovative businesses have taken spaces in these restored historic structures, such as Planet of the Grapes, a popular fine wine shop.
History enthusiasts should note the nearby presence of Chickamauga, where the nation’s oldest battlefield park commemorates the Civil War’s Battle of Chickamauga, one of the bloodiest in U.S. history. The Tunnel Hill Heritage Center exhibits Civil War and Native American artifacts. Prater’s Mill, an 1855 mill, today is the site of a fascinating fair held in the fall.
Activities that appeal to families abound in Dalton, including Little River Farms near Resaca, another Civil War battlefield site. Lodging is available here, and the setup is great for family reunions.
• Little River Farms, 669 Nicklesville Rd., Highway 136, Resaca, (706) 629-9688, littleriverfarms.com
• Prater’s Mill, 500 Prater’s Mill Rd., (706) 694-6455, (800) 331-3258, pratersmill.org
• Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, 215 Clisby Austin Rd., (706) 270-9960, (800) 331-3258, tunnelhillheritagecenter.com
Ellijay serves as the apple capital of the state. A fall apple festival held on two weekends in October, dovetailing with nearby Tate’s Marble Festival, means fall weekends in this part of North Georgia are all about apple cider, apple cakes, apple bread and apple butter. In the fall, Hillcrest Orchards opens to sell apples and apple-based products. Drive along Highway 52, known as Apple Orchard Alley, to course through the heart of apple country.
Ellijay’s historic downtown offers a weekend’s worth of browsing its antique shops and collectibles emporia. The downtown square is the hub of this activity. Outdoor adventures are legion in Ellijay. Mountain bikers enjoy the challenge of the six-mile Ridgeway Mountain Bike Trail on Highway 282. Be sure to call ahead for fees and information.
The Rich Mountain Wildlife Area is a 9,000-acre black bear preserve that, although it lacks trails, attracts experienced hikers and climbers. White-water enthusiasts will want to engage their sport on the Cartacay River.
Nature lovers can fill a weekend. The Ellijay Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary, caring for orphaned and injured indigenous wildlife, is open to the public Sunday through Friday (by appointment only).
No trip to Ellijay is complete without exploring the barbecue joints whose fame resonates throughout the region: Holloway’s Pink Pig, said to be former President Jimmy Carter’s favorite, and Col. Poole’s BAR-B-Q, known for its hill of wooden pigs arranged in the shape of a pig, both open Wednesday-Saturday.
• Antique Hound, 10 Northside Square, Downtown Ellijay, (706) 635-1826
• Ellijay Wildlife Rehabilitation Sanctuary, Cylke Rd., Highway 282 to Pleasant Gap Rd., then right to Cylke Rd. Reservations required, (706) 276-2980
• Holloway’s Pink Pig, 824 Cherry Log St., (706) 276-3341
• Col. Poole’s BAR-B-Q, 164 Craig St., (706) 635-4100 • Ridgeway Mountain Bike Trail, (706) 334-2248, carters.sam.usace. army.mil
For more on Ellijay, visit downtownellijay.org.
Jane F. Garvey is a freelance writer based in Decatur.