Escaping to Blue Ridge

By on 14 May, 2019 in Fun, Holidays, Kate and Stephen, Outdoors with 0 Comments

We needed a vacation. More specifically, we needed to get out into the quiet, beautiful natural world — ideally somewhere with mountains. Alabama has many beautiful parts, but not a lot of mountains. So we decided to look for something in North Georgia because it’s pretty close, and we have heard from friends that it is awfully nice up there. We rented a cabin and spent four days up near Blue Ridge and the Chattahoochee National Forest. Although it rained about half the time we were up there, we still had a great time. It’s an easy drive, and we highly recommend a trip and we plan to return. Here are some trip highlights and practical advice.

Get a cabin. There are many, many places for rent up in North Georgia. These seem to range from palace to fishing shack, with commensurate and wildly divergent prices. You can look at properties on Airbnb, VRBO, or through the sites of any number of agencies. After looking at what seemed like hundreds of cabins until they all blurred together, we ended up choosing a property managed by Escape to Blue Ridge. It was pretty affordable, and the agency had excellent customer service, but when we go again we’ll probably shop around a little more. This is mostly because we ended up with a cabin that was very nice, but really much too big for just the two of us. The dog enjoyed it, though, and we enjoyed the hot tub, pool table and fire pit.

We were very happy with the location we kind of lucked into – we were right in the middle of the Aska Adventure Area, which seems like an informal name for a big swatch of Fannin County that includes lots of outdoor activities. People will rent you tubes, kayaks, or canoes to explore the rivers there. Hiking options range from basic to pro-level – this is where the Appalachian Trail starts on its long journey to Vermont. We could drive to nearby Blue Ridge or Ellijay for supplies. The Food Lion grocery store chain isn’t exactly gourmet central, but who cares? You’re out in nature!

Explore the outdoors. We only had one day where there was a good-sized window of time without rain, so we wanted to hike. But where to go? We stopped by the Blue Ridge Welcome Center, where a very nice lady gave us various maps produced by Fannin County’s incredibly prolific promotional agencies. We took maps for trails, waterfalls, “Antique and Unique” shopping, restaurants, and maybe a few other things. Her advice was to go to Amicalola Falls State Park, where we could see the eponymous waterfall and even (if we were feeling ambitious) hike up to Mt. Springer and see where the Appalachian Trail begins. Sold.

It’s a very nice state park. Also, it has a surprisingly extensive gift shop, perhaps because it’s so AT-proximate, and because it hosts what seems like an elaborate (and publicly owned) lodge up on the mountaintop. Two routes lead to the falls. You can hike a few miles along well-kept trails that wind gently upwards, or you can climb 604 stairs. Our dog is adventurous in most things but refuses to cross any kind of metal grate, whether in the city or country. So we kept our feet and her delicate paws to the trails.

Amicalola Falls is well worth the trip, whether by path or stairway. It’s Georgia’s highest waterfall, a striking 729 foot plunge of clear water that separates and braids around old rocks and ambitious trees across a surprisingly wide cliff expanse. The trail joins steps at on a bridge crossing the front of the falls pretty close to the top. It’s a heck of a view, and it’s cool to think about this water’s fast-moving journey to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Coosa River and our own Mobile Bay.

There are more steps there, steep ones, to the top of the falls and an even more spectacular view. The dog, having refused to walk on the bridge’s metal mesh base, was definitely not climbing up those. We divided the fun – one of us made it all the way to the top, while the other stayed below for the people-watching part of it. The dog made lots of new friends.

Go to Blue Ridge (and take your dog). Sure, hiking is more fun with a dog. But it turns out that the town of Blue Ridge may be one of the most dog-friendly places in the United States. The charming downtown shops and restaurants bustled with tourists even on a rainy Saturday. And the dog was welcome in every single place (well, on the restaurant’s patio, but still). She was even allowed into the knife shop, which sold expensive swords alongside buckets of pocketknives purchased from TSA’s airport confiscation operations.

We left without buying anything sharp and navigated onward, making it from shop to shop via awnings that kept us relatively dry despite the downpour. Blue Ridge has blocks of stores and a refreshing lack of chain franchises. Generally, stuff you can buy here falls into a few (often overlapping) categories:

  • Things emblazoned with clever/wry/wine-related sayings;
  • An astonishingly vast array of tea towels;
  • “Rustic Cabin Decor,” e.g. stuff to put in your mountain house or into your regular house to make it resemble a mountain house;
  • Outdoorsy clothing;
  • Lifestyle products such as candles and soaps, mostly from brands that would’t be out of place in Garden and Gun or Southern Living.

Also there is a shop that only sells things from Peru. And one that only sells fudge, and one that specializes in exotic jerky. This was the dog’s very favorite stop. We were more partial to E. Quinn Booksellers, with its combination of quirky finds and valuable old volumes. We also loved Mountain Man Comics, whose hand-made wooden long boxes store a surprisingly large selection of back issues.

The planners and owners in the Main Street ecosystem seem to have figured out a lot of what it takes to both attract tourists and get them to spend money. There are still a few kinks to work out. Like parking – Main Street doesn’t have meters, so employees and owners park out front while customers go to big makeshift lots on the fringes. We didn’t mind the walk, even in the rain, but it might deter many others. Also, the “antique” shops are a little subpar, which would be less of an issue than if they didn’t also stock their shelves with merchandise that was often some combination of Confederate, racist, and vehemently partisan. It’s not a good look for a town that’s striving to attract more cosmopolitan tourists from nearby.

Go to the Bigfoot Museum. Because it’s the rural hills of North Georgia, the folklore and mysteries of Appalachia can be seen in the area’s largest “research center” and museum focused on sightings of Bigfoot. And perhaps you would say “Sasquatch,” or perhaps “yeti.” There are many names for these elusive creatures, and many tales from those who seek to document them.

Don’t get confused: There’s a spot in downtown Blue Ridge that claims to contain information about all manned of “crypto-zoology.” But we weren’t interested in the Loch Ness Monster. We wanted the real deal, an $8 per person tour of the joint that was offering a deep dive into Bigfoot.

Whether you believe or not, the museum is worth the trip. It’s lovingly curated with a variety of exhibits and quasi-scholarly displays. It seems to draw a little from Disney’s Mount Everest-themed roller coaster, and perhaps a bit from local folk art galleries. It’s nice to be reminded that this world is full of mysteries and roadside attractions that seek to profit and entertain at the same time. It’s really good fun. Note: We did not see any Bigfoot-related activity in or around our mountain cabin.

There’s lots of great stuff to do in Alabama, but it’s also good to remember how close we are to other vacation destinations. We’d never really thought of North Georgia as a vacation spot, but we did return rested and happy that we’d made the trip. It’s nice to see that a small Southern town like Blue Ridge can hold on to its small Southern-ness while transforming to host a robust tourist economy. We look forward to exploring the mountains more in the future.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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