Why is it that I have just recently discovered the impressive mountain towns of North Georgia? This stunning area of adorable small towns, each with different flair and fun, is an excellent escape from the heat and humidity of the south and offers a dose of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ve now visited the North Georgia mountain towns, including Young Harris, Hiawassee, Blue Ridge, Ellijay, Blairsville, Dawsonville, and Helen a few times and found so much fun and beauty that I couldn’t wait to share it with you. Here are some things I recommend doing on your travels.
Young Harris was the starting point for two of my North Georgia mountain trips. I’ve found that the Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa is the ultimate lodging choice, with luxury rooms, an 18-hole championship golf course, tennis, spa, hiking trails, and a plethora of amenities. Lodging choices run the gamut from the main lodge to cottages and a unique spa suite.
Brasstown Stables offers horseback riding in a charming country setting. Whether you are a newbie or a professional rider, they have just the right horse and guide for your ride around five miles of trails. You can select one- or two-hour or hand-led rides for children under seven.
The facility is lovely, and you are free to pet and photograph the horses there. I sat the ride out due to a back issue but watched my daughter have her first horse ride and admired the surrounding beauty. Sassy Susan and Rockin’ Ronnie, two rocking barrel (wooden) horses, offer some amusement for those wanting a more tame ride.
Dining choices outside the resort include Mary’s Southern Grill, excellent for breakfast and lunch, and Enrico’s Italian Restaurant for dinner. Mary’s has tasty burgers, fried chicken, and a daily selection of side dishes. The coleslaw, collards, and stewed tomatoes are worth writing home about.
Enjoy the billowy bread, herbed oil dipping sauce, and extensive wine list at Enrico’s before sinking your teeth into excellent Italian pasta dishes. Pizza is on the menu, too.
Enjoy a glass of wine from Crane Creek Vineyards, with award-winning varietals: Hellbender Red, Seyval Blanc, and Villard Noir Rosé. We did a wine flight and sat on the lovely outdoor patio. We paired our flight with some cheese and crackers from the tasting room store.
Pro Tip: The tasting room at Crane Creek is awesome for picking up stocking stuffers for the holidays, says the lady who spent way too much money.
You can rent a pontoon, ski boats, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and jet skis from Young Harris Water Sports to spend time on Lake Chatuge, a recreational hotspot. Fishing is supreme in North Georgia, where spotted and hybrid bass are abundant. Don’t be surprised if you catch dozens of fish without really trying.
Brasstown Valley Resort
Brasstown Valley Resort has an incredible lobby with a sky-high stone fireplace and oodles of seating arrangements for viewing the Blue Ridge Mountains. The rustic lodge’s cozy nooks have come in handy for snuggling up with a book, working puzzles and playing games with my daughter, catching up on social media, and people-watching. And there are equally as many outdoor seating areas, too, some with inviting rocking chairs and a fire pit.
One of my favorite parts of staying at the resort was the art gallery and small museum located on the lower level, just outside the first-class sundries and golf shop. The selection to shop from was superb, and besides every golf item you could need, there was a variety of kid’s clothing and toys, home decor and accessories, giftware, and apparel. And there is no denying the indoor and outdoor pools at Brasstown Valley Resort are fantastic.
Brasstown Valley has two nice onsite restaurants: The Dining Room and Brassies Grill. The food is tasty and reasonably priced, and the waitstaff is attentive and good at their jobs.
I’ve enjoyed breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Dining Room at Brasstown Valley Resort and never had less than a 10/10 meal. For breakfast, indulge in the southern breakfast buffet, which will most likely have everything you could want to start your day, or the Chef’s Skillet is darned tasty.
For lunch, we kept it light with a Brasstown Club one day and heavy with a Chicken Broccoli Alfredo another. Dinner called for juicy Steak Frittes and a chef specialty, Brasstown Meatloaf. The dish is bursting with flavors from a three-meat combination (bison, ground veal, and Wagyu beef) and is covered with luscious mushroom gravy. For dessert, the bread pudding is a winner!
Pro Tip: Enjoy the outdoor scenery up close and personal with the Dining Room’s outdoor porch seating.
Brassies is a sports bar-type eatery with games and TVs. The onion rings and spinach & artichoke dip are yummy, and the beer cheese and pretzels are a good choice no matter how hungry you are. Main entrees include Fish & Chips (the best seller), Fish Tacos, Chicken Quesadilla, and burgers, to name a few.
Hiawassee is popular for hiking, great scenic overlook spots, and outdoor lake activities. Also popular is chasing waterfalls, a must when visiting the North Georgia mountains. Some falls can be seen from a walkout area, but others require hiking to get there. Blue Hole Falls is a one-mile hike through a fantastic landscape, and even some climbing over tree trunks and ducking under branches for amazing photo-ops.
A swimming hole at the bottom of the falls provides a refreshing drink and cool-down spot at the bottom. On the same trail, you’ll find a second waterfall, High Shoals.
Do some shopping in Hiawassee, North Georgia at roadside antique shops (each loaded with treasures and trinkets), C&J Mountain Outfitters, TATA on Main, and Hometown Quilt Studio. One of the best Christmas stores you could imagine is Always Christmas, connected with other nice clothing, home decor, collectibles, and souvenir shops.
For dining options, Sundance Grill is perfect for breakfast dishes such as a Gyro Omelet, Breakfast Sandwiches (with double sausage and cheese!), and Stuffed French Toast. They serve lunch and dinner, too.
Sand Bar is a sandy beach eatery with lake views, a food truck, live music, corn hole, and kid’s activities. It has a relaxing atmosphere and everyone appears to be having fun there. Try the Pimento Cheese Dip with tortilla chips or Boneless Wings, both tasty choices.
Kids (and adults, too) will love Splash Island at Ridges Resort, an on-water obstacle course with inflatables, slides, swings, and bouncing platforms. There are river tubing and zip line places around the area, especially in the direction of Helen, dubbed “Georgia’s Little Bavaria.”
Drop by Hiawassee Brew for a funky Cherry Cordial Stout or Hop Dang Diggity IPA. They have an inviting outdoor patio and serve food, as well.
My favorite attraction, maybe in the whole North Georgia mountains, is a trip to Bell Mountain. You will experience an exciting drive and amazing 360-degree panoramic views as you wind up to the rugged park and historic site in Hiawassee. Once you park your car at the top, you can walk up the steep hill to the plateau for epic views of Lake Chatuge.
The landscape is surrounded by enormous rock formations that have been spray painted with graffiti over the years. While I read many complaints about “vandalism” online, I thought it looked pretty and interesting.
Blue Ridge is the jewel of the North Georgia mountain towns and the most visited of the cities. As bad as I want to cheer for the underdogs and lesser-known destinations, Blue Ridge is truly all that and a bag of chips.
The shopping caliber in Blue Ridge is more sophisticated and plentiful than in the other mountain towns we visited. I loved how walkable the downtown is and how easy it was to find and secure a parking space. You can honestly just wander around this town for hours on foot.
If you want to sample wine, do a beer flight, taste gourmet fruit pies, have a treetop canopy adventure, or ride on the scenic Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, it’s all there in this charming town. Mercier Orchards is a must, with slap-yo-mamma delicious fruit pies. I sampled both cherry and peach. Blue Ridge is also the Trout Fishing Capital of Georgia.
Harvest on Main and Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar & Grill are two restaurants you should not miss. I recommend lunch at Harvest on Main for the Blue Ridge Hot Brown (the cheesy mornay sauce is fabulous!) and Chester B’s for dinner. Chester Brunnenmeyer’s is a rustic American establishment with a lively atmosphere, professional waitstaff, and hard-hitting hand-crafted cocktails. Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.
Though I haven’t been to Toccoa River Swinging Bridge yet, it is on my list and a highly popular outdoor activity.
I met up with a girlfriend who lives in Ellijay, an hour north of Atlanta, and she took me for a tour of her town. I especially loved Ellijay’s downtown area, filled with cute shops and a few really good restaurants, which you can learn more about in this post. My two favorites were Country Corner Kitchen for Cuban breakfast dishes and coffee and Ellijay Wood-Fired Pizza for delicious pies and the daily fondue special.
Ellijay has a darling coffee shop and a popular biking scene. The bike shop has top-notch bicycles and accessories, so if you are in the market for an upgrade, look no further.
Ellijay also has primo wineries, with Engelheim, Cartecay, and Ott Farms Vineyards, to mention a few. My husband and I had wine tastings at a couple, and the setting and interior decor made you want to be there and feel like family.
Something you can’t miss in Ellijay is the lip-smacking delicious hand-held fried pies. Ellijay seems to be a leader in the country for apple houses, many open year-round, and they are all worth visiting, though I found R & A Orchards to be my top pick. Ellijay also boasts the “Apple Capital of Georgia” title.
Of course, fried apple pies are most popular, but in the fall, be on the lookout for pumpkin, peach, and pecan. If you aren’t into fried pies, plenty of other sweet treats are available, such as homemade fudge, mini pies, and cider donuts.
Check out the Airbnb offerings for mountain house rustic retreats like the one we stayed at shown below. I will warn you that they are sometimes 20 minutes or so out of town, so know before you go.
Another friend (Howard), who has had a cabin in the woods of Blairsville for 20 years, met up with me to show me his town. Blairsville is an “authentic pre-Civil War mountain community located deep in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest,” and it is as cute as can be.
Howard and I chased waterfalls, some easily viewed from the backroads, shopped, and had lunch in another adorable downtown square. The Sawmill Place, serving breakfast and lunch, was excellent for juicy burgers with comfort food sides. Blairsville has some awesome murals you will want to check out.
Alexander’s in Blairsville will knock your socks off if you like to shop. The drive to get to this off-the-beaten-path gem is windy and scenic, but the fun comes when you enter the 50,000 square feet of retail space with various goods ranging from home decor to furniture, Vera Bradley to sporting goods and hunting supplies, and the list goes on. This small general store of 1953 is a force to be reckoned with today, and you would be nuts to miss it. They don’t use the tagline “everything under the sun” for nothing.
If you want to get outdoors and enjoy some hiking, fishing, or leaf-peeing in the fall, Vogel State Park at the base of Blood Mountain is where to go. You can also camp and park your RV here, something I filed away for my next trip through the North Georgia mountains.
Pro Tip: Just two miles away is Sunrise Grocery, a roadside attraction and market with fresh boiled peanuts, locally made jam, jellies, candies, and soaps, plus the freshest vegetables and fruit around. Sunrise Grocery first opened in 1920 and has been featured in Southern Living Magazine.
However, the number one attraction in Blairsville is Brasstown Bald Mountain, the highest spot in Georgia, with incredible overlooks and 360-degree scenic views. From the observation deck, you can almost always see four states: Georgia (sometimes the skyline of Atlanta), Tennesee, North Carolina, and South Carolina, which are easy to find with the onsite markers.
Pro Tip: You can bring your dog, but they must be leashed at all times.
Staying at Amicalola Falls State Park, doing the 600+ step walk down the fabulous waterfall, and taking many hiking trails is reason enough to wander down to Dawsonville, the “Moonshine Capital of the World.”
Amicalola is one of Georgia’s premier state park resorts, with beautiful mountain views in the stylish rooms, a huge deck for enjoying the sunset, and a beautiful lobby with a stone fireplace and onsite restaurant. If you feel like splurging, ask about the glamping options at the state park. There are enough amenities at this park and property to keep you busy for days without ever leaving.
Pro Tip: Always be alert for bears in this state park.
Back at the adventure lodge, enjoy 3-D archery, ax-throwing, and zip lining options if you need add-on activities. However, Amicalola Falls is by far the main draw. This magnificent 729-foot cascading waterfall is one of the highest east of the Mississippi and one you’ll want to take hundreds of photos at.
There are hiking options for different views of the falls. Those who are physically challenged or unable to hike can take advantage of the strategically placed accessible platforms offering stellar postcard-worthy views and even a mist from the proximity of the mighty falls.
Grab tasty bbq from Big D’s BBQ, which has multiple locations. I loved the Southern-style smoked barbecue pork and chicken, while the side dishes of green beans and mac & cheese were great accompaniments. Then, have a free moonshine tasting at Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery, creating small-batch, hand-crafted spirits from 150-year-old recipes.
A super fun fall activity in Dawsonville is to stop by Uncle Shucks Corn Maze & Pumpkin Patch, where you can pick your own pumpkins and enjoy the jumping pillow, tire mountain, and kids maze. Concessions run Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, featuring turkey legs, hotdogs and corndogs, roasted corn, fried Oreos, and funnel cakes.
Helen is the mountain town with an identity problem—it looks like and feels like Bavaria. Step across the continent and experience German culture, food, and fun in Helen’s quaint and charming town, lined with cobblestone streets. I like to think of this town as a mini-Gatlinburg, without as many cheesy family-friendly attractions. You’ll still find a plethora of things to do, but the wine tasting and river tubing the Chattahoochee seemed to be the most popular to me.
I would guess that most people come to Helen to experience the food scene, which is pretty darned tasty. There are four or five German specialty restaurants and a handful of others. My two favorite places for German fare were The Heidelberg (in the prettiest three-story building in town) and Muller’s Famous Fried Cheese Cafe, where the Czech bread dumplings and classic Hungarian food won me over.
Two unique things to Helen, Georgia, are riding a mountain roller coaster, a thrill ride that beats you to death along the way but is super fun, and panning for gemstones (rubies, sapphires, and more) at Dukes Creek Mines. And, if you haven’t had enough waterfall action yet, head over to Anna Ruby Falls, where a $5 admission (16 years old and older) will get you within one-half mile via the paved trail of the 150-ft tall plunging twin falls.
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