With family living far apart, we have tried in recent years to find someplace in the middle to spend some quality time. Rather than staying in hotels, we choose to rent a house, both to save money and to facilitate bonding moments. With three separate households and pets, finding the right place takes coordination, but is not as difficult as it may sound. We found Blue Ridge, Georgia to be a good choice.
While not quite in the middle, it was a manageable distance from South Florida and Philadelphia (except for our choice of dates – Thanksgiving week). The area has much to offer at any time of year and vacation rentals were abundant.
The home we chose was on the side of a mountain, not far from Blue Ridge Lake. The road to the house was steep and narrowed the higher up the mountain we traveled. Though the locals zoomed up and down the road, we stayed put for most of our trip, venturing out only a couple times to see more of the area. What we found was a charming town and plenty of outdoor activities to entice us to visit again in warmer weather.
The town of Blue Ridge is nestled in the mountains of North Georgia, near the Chattahoochee Forest and not far from Springer Mountain, the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Originally a railroad town, the town was founded in 1886 and soon became known for its pure mineral waters. once known as the “Switzerland of the South.” Today visitors can ride the train or watch as it departs the station daily at 11:00 am in season. Those who choose the two-hour (26 mile) train ride along the Toccoa River on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway have three options: an authentic indoor car, an open rail car or Premier Class. The train makes a two hour layover in nearby McCaysville, before returning to Blue Ridge.
Home to the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association’s Arts Center as well as a number of art galleries, antique and specialty shops and a self-guided historic walking tour, there are plenty of things to see and do. There are also many restaurants to choose from as well as three craft breweries. It hosts family-friendly events such as Light Up Blue Ridge, the annual Christmas festival the day after Thanksgiving. The full festival schedule also celebrates other holidays in style and highlights the area’s arts, music, food and heritage.
Just outside of town, Mercier Orchards is much more than a farm stand. The sprawling store includes local produce, its own bakery and wine tasting room and a wide range of gift options. A large lake on the property provides a nice backdrop for photos (we chose this spot for our large family group photo) or simply a casual walk. There are other wineries and farm stores nearby as well. The North Georgia Farm Trail provides information on area farms and their offerings whether it be pick-your-own, seeing friendly farm animals, wandering a corn maze, staying the night or sampling food or drinks fresh from the farm.
In nearby McCaysville, you can stand in both Georgia and Tennessee at the same time – the state line is clearly marked by the Blue Line that travels directly through a busy intersection (though some argue that the line is not accurate). Copperhill, Tennessee was, as the name indicates, once a thriving copper mining town. In 1843, the metal was discovered in Ducktown and the area grew rapidly. At the Ducktown Basin Museum, visitors can learn more about the history and see the former Burra Burra mine site. McCaysville also has its own self-guided walking tour.
The Ocoee Whitewater Center, originally constructed for the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom competitions, is now operated by the National Forest Service as a multi-use recreation and education area. In addition to the paddling playground, the OWC offers more than 20 miles of hiking/bicycling trails as well as picnicking, a visitor’s center, environmental education programs and the requisite gift shop. Local outfitters also offer whitewater rafting trips on the Ocoee, which boasts 14 rapids rated Class III-IV in the Middle Section. With a drop of 260 feet in five miles, there is little flat water, so Tennessee regulations state that participants must be 12 or older. For a calmer river experience, families with smaller children can opt for kayak, float and tubing trips on the Toccoa River. (The Toccoa becomes the Ocoee as it flows into Tennessee.)
Blue Ridge Lake also offers water activities, with kayak, stand-up paddle board or pontoon boat rentals, fishing, swimming and camping at Morganton Point. Other points of interest are the Chattahoochee National Fish Hatchery, where visitors learn about raiding trout, and gem mining at Aska Mining Company, Cohutta Cove Mini Golf or the Lillly Pad Village.
Other things to do in the area include horseback riding, zip lining and adventure courses as well as hiking to one of several area waterfalls, the Swinging Bridge (the longest suspension bridge east of the Mississippi) or even part of the Appalachian or Benton MacKaye Trails.