Escape to the Mountains
Seven Sensational Georgia Adventures
by Hope S. Philbrick
The north Georgia mountains offer plenty of opportunities to escape the city. Whether you’re seeking an adrenaline boost or a romantic jolt, you’ll find a range of activities sure to lift your spirits and help you forget about how many boxes remain unpacked. And if you’re craving snow-covered vistas this winter, the region offers the best odds in the state. Here are seven of our favorite retreats.
Great options abound, but Unicoi State Park offers some of Georgia’s most beloved hiking. Navigate all of the park’s 7.5 miles of trails, or choose a specific destination, such as the two-mile route to the Alpine village of Helen or the challenging 4.6-mile Smith Creek Trail. Or park your car strategically at the lot on the bordering U.S. Forest Service land and walk a quarter-mile paved footpath to the base of the Anna Ruby Falls—spectacular twin waterfalls! From the falls, Smith Creek tumbles down to the beautiful 53-acre Smith Lake. 706-878-2201. www.gastateparks.org/Unicoi.
Winter is an ideal time to race down the mountainsides on a mountain bike. The air is crisp, the underbrush has died down, and critters are scarce. Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way, located in the Chattahoochee National Forest just 12 miles from Ellijay, offers an overnight “home base” with ride-in/ride-out access to some of the best single-track mountain bike trails in the Southeast, including the renowned Georgia Pinhoti trail system. Explore miles of challenging fun for intermediate to advanced riders without risk of falling into a routine: The trails are packed with variety, including stream crossings, switchbacks, climbing, roller-coaster descents and wildlife sightings. 706-698-2865. www.mulberrygap.com.
Lookout Mountain Flight Park, the nation’s largest and most popular full-time hang gliding school and resort since 1978, is located less than 150 miles from Atlanta. Soar 2,000 feet above lush Lookout Valley, drifting in loops above the gorgeous view. Try it just once during a 15-minute tandem flight with a professional at your side, or take several lessons over a weekend or longer period of time and work toward a solo flight as a certified hang gliding pilot. 706-398-3541. www.hanglide.com.
Leisure trips aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway depart from Blue Ridge, a picturesque town bursting with unique restaurants and boutiques. The red locomotive pulls out of the 100-year-old depot towing 10 vintage railcars, some of which are climate-controlled, others open-air. One popular route is a 26-mile round trip boasting peeks at the Toccoa River. Friendly car hosts share interesting facts about sites passed en route and even suggest when to ready your camera to snap the best scenes. The trip follows the old Marietta and North Georgia Railroad line circa 1877. Abandoned in 1949, it was restored and relaunched as the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in 1998. (Special December dates offering rides with Santa are especially popular.) 706-632-8724. www.BRScenic.com.
For those times when you just want to kick back and say ahhhh, the luxurious solution is to head to the Spa at Château Élan. Located at a resort designed to evoke the French countryside, this full-service, European-style spa occupies a 35,000-square-foot facility that recently underwent a renovating face-lift. The result is a space that melds comfort with modern conveniences. Whether you opt for a body treatment, massage, facial, hydrotherapy, signature antioxidant winery treatments, nail service, sauna, steam room or another option, and whether you stay for a few hours or a full week, you’ll feel like royalty. Since you won’t want to leave, book a stay in one of the 14 overnight guest suites and dine at the signature Fleur de Lis restaurant. Château Élan also boasts three world-class public golf courses and a full-production winery. 800-233-9463. www.chateauelan.com.
Dozens of wineries crisscross the rolling mountainsides that surround Dahlonega, Helen and Sautee. While many of the wines from these vineyards are available at restaurants and package stores in Atlanta, the wineries offer the best selection, plus the advantage of sipping before you buy. One stop along the Georgia Wine Highway is Habersham Vineyards & Winery, located just a half-mile from Alpine Helen in Nacoochee Village. Founded in 1983, it’s one of the largest and oldest wineries in Georgia, with production of approximately 15,000 cases each year of more than 20 different wines under three different labels in a range of styles from dry to sweet. 706-878-WINE. www.habershamwinery.com. Additional stops along the Georgia Wine Highway are listed online at www.georgiawine.com.
Add a thrill to your discovery of Georgia by zipping through the treetops at speeds up to 40 miles per hour at North Georgia Canopy Tours, located in Lula on 136 acres near the headwaters of the North Oconee River. Two course options both promise invigorating fun. The Skybridge Tour offers nine zip lines, two sky bridges and two nature hikes. Highlights include a zip that crosses the North Oconee River three times and a 700-foot dual racing zip as the grand finale. The Adventure Tour boasts an additional three zip lines for a total of more than a mile of cable, plus a 20-foot rappel. 770-869-7272. www.northgeorgiacanopytours.com.