North Georgia Mountains - Winter Vacation, with Video
North Georgia Mountains
I love the North Georgia Mountains! You might not think of the Peach State as mountainous, but we do have some beautiful hills in the northeastern corner. No, they’re not towering, rocky crags like you’d see out West, but they are mountains, nonetheless. Basically, the North Georgia Mountains cover the counties of Rabun, White, Towns, Union, and Habersham, with smaller foothills in Hall, Lumpkin, Banks, and Stephens counties. The mountains are the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains. The tallest peak in Georgia is Brasstown Bald, which rises 4,784 feet above the counties of Towns and Union. Some of the most popular cities and towns with tourists in this part of the state are Clayton, Dillard, Helen, Blairsville, Hiawassee, and Dahlonega, home to the first big U.S. gold rush. This area is filled with astounding natural scenery, history, and wildlife. For centuries, it was home to the Cherokee, who called it “Sakanaga,” meaning “the blue hills of God.” My family and I have traveled to the North Georgia Mountains many times, and one of our best times was a snow trip we enjoyed as a winter vacation.
Winter vacation for the entire family wasn’t something we did every year. Hubby and I often went to Helen, GA in December, but the kids and grandkids had only joined us there twice. Our family vacations usually take place in the summer, when we get together for a beach trip. I thought a family winter vacation would be a nice change for us, and I was right. The grandkids are always a little down in January and February, since the excitement of Christmas is over and the weather is usually bleak and dreary.
I’d mused over winter vacations for the family before, but I wasn’t sure where we should go. I thought about South Florida, where we could enjoy some sunshine and warm weather, but we usually made trips like that in summer. I thought about going to the Great Smoky Mountains, but that was where we usually went in the autumn to enjoy the fall foliage. Besides, both the places I’ve mentioned so far were pretty far away, and I knew our winter vacation would have to be short, so I needed to find somewhere closer.
Finally, I thought the North Georgia Mountains would be great for a winter vacation, but what could the kids do there in the winter months? It would be too cold for tubing, fishing, and gem mining – all things they enjoyed doing on our summer vacations in the mountains. It would probably even be too cold for horseback riding, which they loved. Hmmm…what if we could plan our winter vacation to coincide with a snowfall? That would delight the kids and provide lots of entertainment!
I was born in South Georgia, and I’ve always lived here. So have my three daughters and all my grandchildren. I’ve always been fascinated by snow. I guess part of the reason for that is that it’s such a rare commodity here. I remember when I was a kid, I would pray for snow several times each winter, until I realized that God had more important things to do than to give me a white landscape.
We did have a snow here when I was thirteen. It was only about two inches, but this was huge in the eyes of my friends and me. We made a snow man, we had snowball fights, and we lay on the ground and created dozens of snow angels. We would have loved to go sledding, but not only did we not have sleds – we also didn’t have any hills. Nevertheless, we spent the entire day out in the snow, trying to get every second of enjoyment we could out of the day, knowing it would be fleeting. Sure enough, it was all gone the next day.
When I was a young adult and my three girls were still little, we had another miracle. It snowed two days before Christmas. The kids were ecstatic, and I relived my childhood memories of snow vicariously through them. That day was almost magical, and it will always hold a special place in my memory bank.
After I started having grandchildren, I wanted them to experience a snowfall. I couldn’t wait around for one to come to South Georgia – heck, I might be dead by then. Or the grands might be in college by that time and too old to have that child-like wonder of snow that my girls and I had experienced. Being the crafty Nana that I am, I formulated a plan last winter for a snow trip.
I watched the weather channel every day for cold fronts moving into the North Georgia Mountains. We vacationed in the mountains often, and we loved the area. When I saw cold, damp air headed for the hills, I got on the internet and began checking the local forecasts for Helen and Dillard, our two favorite spots in the North Georgia Mountains. Once the chance for snow reached 100% for Dillard, my husband and I made our move.
We called all the girls and shared our scheme with them. Two of my daughters said they could go, but one had to work. All of the grandchildren except for the youngest girl were on board with the plan for our winter vacation, too.
The next morning, my husband, Johnny, called a local car leasing agency and rented a large van that would hold us all. We threw together all the winter clothes we could find: gloves, wool caps, boots, coats, and scarves. We piled into the van and began out adventure.
Everyone was in high spirits, and the trip up was fun. We stopped on the way for lunch, and as we got farther north, the temperature began dropping. We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for coffees, hot chocolates, and pastries before we got to our destination.
When we reached Dillard, we were all a little disappointed. There was no snow. In fact, the sky was a beautiful cerulean blue. I tried to lift everyone’s spirits, assuring them the snow would come after dark. We checked into our hotel rooms and unpacked.
By six p.m., darkness had fallen, and still not a sign of a single flake. We were all getting hungry, so the girls and I walked over to the grocery store next door to buy bread, sandwich meat, chips, and drinks. We gathered all our items and went through the checkout. When we exited the store, snow was falling.
We rushed back to the hotel to tell the kids. They had stayed behind with Papa while we shopped. When they heard the news, they all rushed outside to the balcony to view this wonder of nature. It was all we could do to get them back inside to eat.
After dinner, we bundled up the children and took them outside to play on the hotel’s playground. The snow was coming down hard, and it was accumulating pretty fast. There was already maybe a half-inch on the ground, and the kids were delighted. They tried their best to make a snowman by “borrowing” snow from cars in the parking lot, but there just wasn’t enough. Finally, we got them in and bathed them, and we all went to bed with great anticipation of the coming day.
I woke up in the middle of the night, which is very rare for me. I looked out the window at the back of our second-story room and found that the ground was covered by a thick, white blanket. The bright flood lights mounted at the hotel’s roofline made the little adjacent meadow visible, even though it was the wee hours of the morning. I smiled to myself and went back to bed.
Johnny was the first one up the next morning, and he roused all of us awake. We couldn’t force the kids to eat breakfast – they were far too excited. We all got dressed and went for a walk in the snow while Johnny went to a nearby hardware store and purchased a plastic sled and a snow saucer.
There was a small hill behind the hotel, and the kids slid down it time after time. I began wondering where we could find a bigger hill for sledding. I thought of the huge hill at the high school just down the road and mentioned it to Johnny.
“I don’t know. That’s a private school, I think. So it’s private property. I don’t know if we should,” was his reply.
I finally convinced him, however, so we loaded up and made the short drive. The scenery was breathtaking. The fallow fields slept under their thick, downy blanket, and the surrounding mountains were covered in mists. The heavy leaden clouds were so low it seemed as if I could almost reach up and touch them. Everything seemed so still and quiet, and the air carried the wonderful clean scent of new snow.
The school campus was alive with locals. Kids of all ages slid down the big hill as parents milled around the top, talking and drinking coffee. The snow had already begun to melt, but there was still enough for sledding. Our group loved swooshing down the steep hill, but trudging back up was tough. After a couple of hours, we were exhausted and hungry, and the kids were cold and wet.
We found a little restaurant a few blocks away – a mom and pop operation that served hot sandwiches, soup, and country cooking. We grabbed a big table near the fireplace and hung the wet coats on chairs near the roaring fire. We were just about the only folks in the place, and we enjoyed a leisurely late lunch and thawed out.
While we were eating, it began to rain, and when we left the restaurant, the beautiful snow was turning into gray slushy puddles. But that was okay. We had enjoyed a splendid day – one that we will all remember for the rest of our lives as our first snow trip.
That evening, the snow was all but completely gone, and since there was nothing to keep us there, we packed our bags and left the North Georgia Mountains. The grandkids chatted all the way home about their snow trip. They laughed about tumbling down hills, sledding, and making snowmen. They had a friendly argument about who really won the big snowball fight. Long before we returned home, they were already asking us to plan another winter vacation – preferably one that involved snow. If a winter vacation is in your plans, and if you live anywhere nearby, I strongly recommend a snow trip to the North Georgia Mountains!
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