Growing up in Atlanta, I visited the North Georgia mountains many times. My family especially enjoyed fall drives to see the colors. Now that I’m a baby boomer, it’s time to revisit the area. Do you know how many things there are to do in Blue Ridge, Georgia?
My Itchy Travel Feet featured contributor, Debi Lander (ByLanderSea), has visited Blue Ridge recently to return with lots of active travel ideas for boomers. Her best things to do in Blue Ridge, GA include admiring the area’s natural beauty, exploring local waterfalls, and much more. Keep reading before planning your visit to North Georgia.
Summer in Florida makes me want to escape to crisp, cool mountain air. So, I listened to that call and decided to head to the North Georgia mountains.
My visit to the mountain town of Blue Ridge, about 90 minutes north of Atlanta, Georgia, turned into Blue Heaven. Blue Ridge offered a refined yet rustic atmosphere, a welcoming place to get away to a cabin in the woods or spend a luxury weekend downtown. But be forewarned: after one visit, some boomers wan to retire here.
How Blue Ridge came to be: the birth of a North Georgia mountain town
The Marietta and North Georgia Railroad’s arrival in 1886 brought the sleepy little town to life. Soon, it began developing into a resort town.
Folks from Atlanta could arrive via a short rail trip, while residents could commute to work. Blue Ridge blossomed and continued to grow, acquiring a sizeable lake in 1930, Lake Blue Ridge, when a dam was built for hydropower.
An advertisement in 1939 in Bullet and Creel magazine called Blue Ridge “The Switzerland of the South.” In addition to the lake, the area surrounding the town includes the beautiful Toccoa River and the lush Chattahoochee National Forest (now the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests).
Active fun in the Blue Ridge Mountains
Besides exercise and scenic views, the mountains offer hikers and bikers over 300 miles of trails. You’ll access them from trailhead parking lots and many camping sites.
The North Georgia area features 16 photo-worthy waterfalls (check out this map) and numerous panoramic overlooks. Some of the most popular include Long Creek Falls in Fannin County, Amicalola Falls near Ellijay, and Fall Branch Falls on the Benton MacKaye Trail.
The start of the famous, over 2,000 miles long Appalachian Trail begins at nearby Springer Mountain. Trail officials suggest you start from Amicalola Falls State Park.
If you’re not a cyclist, perhaps try something new, rent an electric or e-bike in downtown at Pedego Bikes Blue Ridge. Ask about suitable trails or guided rides.
Treetop canopy climbing, an obstacle challenge course, and ziplining provide a fresh and fun perspective on nature at Blue Ridge Aerial Adventure Park. These experiences are especially appealing to teens traveling on a multigenerational trip.
Guided horseback riding becomes another option at Cowgirl Up Stables, Appalachian Trail Rides or one of the many other outfitters (see a list here). Rides include creek crossings, mountainside trails, and views on 250 privately owned acres.
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Short car trips plus a little walking will take you to a water-powered sawmill. It will also take you to the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi River. Located on the Benton MacKaye Trail, the Toccoa River Swinging Bridge is a popular day hiking destination.
The Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery, where they raise about a million rainbow trout each year, also offers tours year round.
Cruise beautiful Lake Blue Ridge
The 11-mile long Lake Blue Ridge (3,290 acres) provides 100 miles of primarily public shoreline, ideal for cruising in a pontoon boat with friends or family. Take a few hours to sit back and relax (unless you’re the captain) and gaze upon the mix of log cabins and luxury homes overlooking the water—many available as vacation rentals.
The Toccoa River feeds the lake, so jump in if you get hot! For a romantic evening, arrange a moonlight cruise.
Don’t leave without dining at the full-service restaurant at Lake Blue Ridge Marina before or after boating. In addition to the restaurant and pontoon boat rentals, the marina offers kayaks, canoes, jet skis, and stand-up paddleboards.
Fly fish on the rivers and streams
Fly fishing is king in Blue Ridge, the Trout Capital of the state. Coldwater streams provide ideal conditions for the fish, while catch and release rules help sustain the environment.
If you need equipment, a fly fishing lesson, or want to know where to fish, stop by Cohutta Outfitters on Main Street. The shop’s selection of colorful flies is worth a visit.
I decided to try fly fishing and signed up for a guided fishing trip. First, I was fit for waders, then I followed my guide off a private fishing spot.
My pro soon had me casting a line in an idyllic mountain stream. It felt rather Zen, a satisfying connection between sport and environment. Hulsey Fly Fishing and several other outfitters in the area are also available (complete list is here).
If you’re an angler, the Oyster Bamboo showroom on Main Street becomes a must-stop. See examples of the exquisite custom bamboo rods made by Bill Oyster.
If one of his workshops is in session, you may get a chance to peek through a window and see the students hard at work. Bill is a world-renowned expert on fly fishing.
Tubing the Toccoa River
Lazy days of summer call for drifting in a tube or rafting, and local businesses will provide all you need. Most tubing trips begin in McCaysville but include transportation. This is a popular activity in the Blue Ridge area so you won’t be alone.
Whitewater Rafting on an Olympic course
The Ocoee River Rapids, home of the 1996 Olympic whitewater events, lies about six miles beyond McCaysville. Take the family for an unforgettable rafting adventure. Teens especially love it!
Ride the local train
Over the years, rail passenger service in Blue Ridge fell off, replaced by the automobile, but the town kept their train and historic depot. It’s now the Caboose Visitor Center and ticket office.
Today, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway makes just one run on most days. Adults appreciate riding in the vintage cars, but kids prefer the open-air ones.
The hour-long narrated journey passes through the Chattahoochee National Forest and alongside the Toccoa River. Look for anglers and people tubing as well as some enticing creekside rental homes.
The train arrives in McCaysville, and its sister city, Copperhill, Tennessee, letting passengers depart to enjoy lunch and shopping. These river towns have also seen growth, now offering a variety of indoor-outdoor restaurants and interesting shops.
Before the train returns, be sure to take a quirky photo straddling the Georgia/Tennessee state line. Copperhill, Tennessee, the adjacent town, was the location of copper mines. History-lovers should make a short visit to the Ducktown Basin Museum.
Fall foliage rides run from October through mid-November. Other seasonal trains include the Easter Eggspress, Firecracker Special, Santa Train from Thanksgiving until Christmas, and the New Year’s Eve Excursion
Where to find dining, wineries and breweries
Vacations call for dining out, and Blue Ridge presents an abundance of options. Pick from no-fuss down-home eateries to white tablecloth gourmet meals. For casual dining, try the Fightingtown Tavern or Masseria Kitchen and Bar along Main Street.
A gala evening might start with cocktails overlooking downtown from the Hampton Inn Rooftop bar. Then, head out on a short walk to savor a luscious meal at Black Sheep (my personal favorite). Complete your evening with an after-dinner drink at Whiskey and Water.
Of course, many shops in the town sell light fare, snacks, candy, and ice cream. The Sweet Shoppe of the South specializes in cupcakes, a former winner on Food Network’s Cupcake Wars.
North Georgia breweries
One afternoon I stopped into Grumpy Old Men, an authentic local brewery and hangout started by two “old retired guys” in 2012. The selection of ales changes all the time, but my favorite was Moon Over Blue Ridge.
I saw a regular group of karaoke contestants performing at a surprising near-professional level. I was spellbound and honestly didn’t want to leave. Other days and nights you’ll find live music.
Fannin Brewing Company’s proprietor, Tom Fennell, uses local ingredients in their beers, including strawberries, blackberries, and sourwood honey. He aptly names the beers: Toccoa Brown, Blue Ridge Lager, and Hiawassee Golden Ale.
The Blue Ridge Brewery, yet another local brewpub, pours six house brews and eight beers from other craft breweries. The Brewery offers live acoustic music on Friday and Saturday nights starting early.
Local apples, cider and wine
Mercier Orchards has been a Blue Ridge icon for over 75 years. The 4th- generation family-operated farm on 300 acres expanded to include a restaurant cafe, bakery, grocery/gift shop, and tasting room for hard cider and wine. Mercier is the only apple orchard in Georgia that can say they grow, press, ferment, and bottle their own product.
Locals rave about their hearty breakfast and baked goods like fried hand-pies, donuts, apple butter, jams, jellies, preserves, and apple cider (non-alcoholic or hard), and apple wine. Of course, you can pick your own apples or other seasonal fruit, or buy pre-picked baskets in their shop. Mercier Orchards has started growing sunflowers, not for picking, but for the public to photograph or simply enjoy.
Another afternoon I drove to the lovely grounds of Bear Claw Vineyards for a wine tasting. I received a round tray with five goblets filled with varieties of red or white wine: Sip chardonnay, Vidal blanc, cabernet sauvignon, white Riesling, and Cayuga.
These North Georgia wines were unexpectedly good, especially the Cayuga. I was captivated by a fabulous treehouse overlooking the vineyards, and learned it was built by “The Treehouse Guys” on the DIY network, complete with a galley kitchen and bath. It’s a rental for up to four people.
Sadly, I did not have time to visit Serenberry Vineyards, another winery in Blue Ridge.
Shopping in downtown Blue Ridge
Even if you aren’t a shopper, the businesses along Main Street will pull you in. Shopping brings surprising choices that you don’t find in chain stores. Look for many ‘Georgia Made’ products like country furniture and accessories, art galleries, antiques, jewelry, and specialty food and gift shops.
If you are new to outdoor adventure and need proper gear, you’ll find plenty of rugged outdoor attire and casual clothing.
Antique lovers enjoy the Blue Ridge Antique Mall and Consignment shop on Main Street and other consignment and thrift shops about town.
Going to the spa
For anyone desiring some pampering, look no further than Serenity in the Mountains Spa. The owners designed the complex to incorporate the log-cabin look, yet providing the latest treatments and products.
My facial was one of the best I have ever had. You can reserve a massage in one of their treehouse rooms and even stay overnight in the Serenity Suites.
Another place to splurge on soothing massage therapy, holistic facials, or therapeutic body treatments is Teatrees Boutique Spa.
While Blue Ridge can’t compete with the extraordinary array of attractions and activities in a city like Orlando, but you might be astonished at the options available.
Play pinball all evening at a pinball arcade on Main Street- all for one price.
Visit the quirky Expedition: Bigfoot, the Sasquatch Museum. (seriously). The nearby site attracts those interested in the myth. See the world’s only Bigfoot research and tech vehicle and a unique gift shop.
For a chance to drive a tank, go to Tank Town. I went on my first visit to Blue Ridge, and it remains an often talked-about memory.
This is your chance to feel macho or let out any pent-up aggression. You can even choose to crush a car with the tank! Tank Town also offers a turn at working an excavator and bulldozer.
Here’s a surprise: consider visiting recused research chimps in their retirement village at Project Chimps. (That’s on my list for my next visit.)
Where to stay in Blue Ridge
Blue Ridge has become a popular retreat, especially on weekends. Reserve your rooms early.
Vacation rentals at VRBO, and local businesses offer every type and size of overnight accommodation for a romantic getaway for two, a family vacation, girlfriend’s getaway, guy’s fishing trip, family reunion, business retreat – you name it. Choices include lodging with stunning mountain views, creekside retreats, riverfront fishing lodges, cabins on the lake, quaint bed and breakfasts, cozy or luxury cabin rentals, resorts, lodges, hotels, and campgrounds.
You can even book a private chef to prepare a meal in your rental. Honestly, narrowing the choices proves difficult.
I stayed in a spacious, beautifully decorated two-bedroom apartment above Main Street operated by Southern Comfort Cabin Rental. The super convenient location included a luxury kitchen, Jacuzzi tub, wrap-around porch, and elevator. I also suggest these downtown favorites: the Blue Ridge Inn, a boutique inn on First Street, and the Hampton Inn offering 109 rooms.
Seriously, if all the above isn’t enough, just grab a cup of coffee or glass of wine, and sit on a porch and rock. Blue Ridge lets you escape but won’t let you be bored.
An App for planning your visit to Blue Ridge
If mountains, lakes, rivers, streams, and shops speak to you, I suggest you start planning a visit with the free smartphone app: Visit Blue Ridge GA (download here). The app offers easy and extensive information on lodging, dining, things to do, and events.
Once you are on your way (you will need a car), make your first stop at the main Visitor Center (152 Orvin Lance Drive in Blue Ridge). You can pick up numerous brochures and detailed self-touring itineraries, complete with maps.
The itineraries are separated for various interests: water activities, hiking, biking, walking, dining, shopping, history, etc. The knowledgeable staff can answer all your questions or make suggestions for your stay.