Travel: North Georgia Mountains, with Video Tour
The mountains of North Georgia provide a wealth of interest and beauty for vacationers. The natural scenery is breathtaking, there's plenty to see and do, and a wide range of lodging accommodations are provided. There are rarely any crowds, either. Somehow, this little slice of Heaven has managed to stay under the radar while folks flock to its neighbors, Cherokee and Gatlinburg. What people don't realize, however, is that the Georgia mountains offer scenery that's just as beautiful, at a much cheaper price and without all the crowds and commercialization.
You'll find plenty to do in the area. You can tube a calm river, do some whitewater rafting, hike, trout fish, shop, pan for gold, mine for gemstones, or take a horseback ride through the mountains and valleys. Several large lakes provide sandy beaches, boat rentals, and fishing for trout, bass, perch, and bream.
As for lodging, the choices are endless. Rent a luxury cabin, a mountain chalet, a private mountain property, a rustic log cabin, a hotel, a bed-and-breakfast, a condominium, or a motel. There are also several nice campgrounds and RV parks. Honeymooners can find a secluded cabin in the woods complete with hot tub.
Helen is a charming little hamlet that's modeled after a Bavarian village. It has cobbled lanes, half-timbered buildings, town squares, stone foot bridges, and a river running right through downtown. Quaint little shops offer all kinds of imports, gourmet foods, and wines. Other stores carry locally made crafts and foods like pickles, jams, jellies, syrups, honey, chutneys and relishes. Be sure to visit Nora Mill, where you can watch grain being ground into meal the old-fashioned way. Purchase some to take home with you!
One of the best times to visit Helen is in December. Decked in holiday decorations, it looks like a storybook village. On the weekends, there's usually live entertainment in one of the squares. If you're lucky, you'll get a dusting of snow that will make theholiday postcard vacation complete.
Another popular time to visit Helen is in October. The villages show their German heritage by hosting a rousing Oktoberfest. The celebration includes all kinds of beer and ale, music, polka dancing, German foods, and general revelry.
The best time to take the kids to Helen is in the summer, when the amusement park rides are running. Kids and parents will also enjoy tubing the river that runs through town. This is a calm, relaxing float along the babbling Chatahoochee. Locally, it's referred to as "tubing the Hooch."
Unicoi State Park
Just up the road from Helen is Unicoi State Park. It has a beautiful lodge, camping, cabin rentals, a lake with a sandy beach, a gift shop, and hiking trails. If you decide to stay in a cabin instead of the lodge, ask for one of the older cabins up on Tray Mountain. Behind you will be the wooded mountainside, and across the road is Smith Creek.
Drive across the mountain just north of Helen to Hiawassee. You'll view beautiful mountains, noisy creeks, little farms, valleys, and wildlife. Georgia's highest mountain, Brass Town Bald is at Hiawassee, and you can take a bus to the top for great views.
In July, Hiawasse hosts the Georgia Mountain Fair, a huge event with live entertainment, arts and crafts, rides, and all kinds of local foods. In October, the Fall Festival is held at the fairgrounds. This is a great time to enjoy the harvest season and to do a little early Christmas shopping.
On your way to Dillard, stop and see Tallulah Gorge, located on US 441. Take a walk on one of the rims, or hike down to the bottom. There are several overlooks along the rim that provide amazing views and require little walking.
Dillard is a little town that's just a stone's throw from the North Carolina border - literally. The twon is very un-commercialized, with just a few shops downtown that offer mostly local arts and crafts and foods. Of the three areas discussed, however, Dillard has the most glorious scenery. The mountains are higher here, and the population is sparse.
When visiting Dillard, be sure to have a meal at the famous Dillard House. They raise much of their own meat and vegetables and cure their own hams and bacon. The jams, jellies, syrups, and relishes they serve are homemade. Meals are brought to your table on heaping platters, and when you finish one, they'll bring more. They'll box up any leftovers for you to take with you. After your meal, take a stroll outside to the petting zoo for kids and to the horse stables. Rides through the mountains are offered on calm, well trained mounts.
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