Fall is Prime Time to go to Blue Ridge



Guest Blog by Blake Guthrie as written for the AJC (Atlanta Journal & Constitution).

The Cabin

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Cloud Nine. It’s the type of name one would expect for a mountain vacation rental home. It’s one of those places that if you try and follow GPS directions you’ll get lost. The rental agency sent a confirmation that stressed the importance of following the turn-by-turn directions provided in the email, including detail you wouldn’t get from a GPS such as “go right when you see a bunch of mailboxes.”

The Approach

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

What it didn’t mention was the very steep and winding one-lane road. After putting my Honda into its lowest gear for the first time ever and having to navigate past an approaching vehicle, I came to the crest of Sunrock Mountain four miles west of Blue Ridge. I saw that Cloud Nine was the type of place I might want to hole-up for a while, but, having never been to Blue Ridge or nearby Ellijay before, I came to do some exploring, to find the most beautiful scenery and the best outdoor spots to experience the autumnal ambiance.

The Train

Photo courtesy of @chusion

It turned out the back porch of the cabin was one of those places. In the morning I could see how the cabin got its name. It was literally in the clouds, the surrounding mountain peaks sticking up through a thick white blanket covering the valleys below. Still, I had to venture out. First on my itinerary was the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The major attraction in town, the railway has been in operation as a sightseeing excursion train since 1998 along tracks that have a history going back as far as 1886. The tracks follow the route of the winding Toccoa River through the Chattahoochee National Forest to the twin towns of McCaysville and Copperhill, Tennessee. They’re essentially the same town with the state line running through the middle. Like a running joke, the line is demarcated by a blue stripe painted on sidewalks, roadways and running through the middle of businesses.

The train rolls at a leisurely pace and the open-air windows are large, making it a prime fall sightseeing adventure with a good dose of history thrown in. Along the way, you’ll see a Native American fish trap in the middle of the river that experts believe is 500 years old, and the old telegraph poles that used to be the fastest form of communication in a bygone era. The trip takes four hours, with two spent in McCaysville/Copperhill for exploring the towns.

McCaysville

If hunger strikes, Burra Burra on the River in McCaysville is near the train station and serves pub fare and local brews. Be sure to ask for outside seating, weather permitting. The real selling point here is the covered deck that overlooks the clear waters of the Toccoa River flowing past the state line where it becomes the Ocoee River after crossing into Tennessee.

Piano Bar

Photo Courtesy of The Black Sheep

Back in Blue Ridge, the largest patio bar in town can be found at Black Sheep Restaurant, where the seasonal menu leans heavily on seafood. Housed in a historic home shaded by a 200-year-old oak tree, the patio overlooks the center of town. It’s a popular place, so make reservations for dinner. Or just have a drink at the bar.

Breweries

The craft beer scene is surprisingly good in Blue Ridge for such a small town that was dry not too long ago. Two breweries — Fannin Brewing Company and Grumpy Old Men Brewing — both have large, inviting outdoor beer gardens where you can play cornhole, meet the locals and catch some live music. Wine drinkers have no shortage of options either, as wineries have been opening at a fast clip in this area over the last few years.

Photo Courtesy of Bear Claw Vineyards

Near Ellijay, Chateau Meichtry (pronounced “my-tree”) stands out not only for its wine but also its patio outside the barn tasting room where the rolling vineyards reveal a long-range view of the mountains to the north.At Bear Claw Vineyards visitors can spend the night in the Blue Ridge Treehouse, featured on the DIY Network show “The Treehouse Guys.” The treehouse overlooks the vineyards and contains all the amenities one would expect when staying in a hotel.

Apple Country

Photo Courtesy of Mercier Orchards

No trip to the North Georgia mountains during the fall harvest season would be complete without taking advantage of apple country. The pull of a roadside farm store backed by endless acres of fruit orchards is undeniable. Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge and R&A Orchards outside Ellijay both have roadside markets selling freshly picked apples and other fruits, fresh-baked goods, local foodstuffs and offer pick-your-own days as well as plenty of free samples.

Welcome to the Mountains!

Photo Courtesy of Blake Guthrie

Lake Blue Ridge is the centerpiece of a scenic drive worth exploring. Stop at the Blue Ridge Welcome Center to pick up a detailed map. Ringed by mountains, the lake has clear, emerald-hued water and a pristine, forested shoreline. The route also runs alongside the tumbling rapids of the Toccoa River, rolling farmland, historic houses, and has many side hikes to cascading waterfalls and other pastoral pleasures. Bring comfortable hiking shoes and make an afternoon of it if you plan to visit all the stops listed on the map. On my last morning at Cloud Nine, I got up early enough to see the sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains and stayed on the porch until checkout. Sometimes where you are is the best place to be.

If You Go

Blue Ridge is 92 miles north of Atlanta.

What to see

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. $35 and up. 241 Depot St., Blue Ridge. 877-413-8724, brscenic.com

R&A Orchards. 5505 Hwy. 52 East, Ellijay. 706-273-3821, www.randaorchards.com

Where to stay

Escape to Blue Ridge. Cabins $140-$1,800 per night. 866-618-2521, www.escapetoblueridge.com.

Blue Ridge Treehouse. $234 and up. 2555 Tennis Court Road, Blue Ridge. 706-223-3750, blueridgetreehouse.com.

Where to Eat

Burra Burra on the River. $11 and up. 100 Blue Ridge Drive, McCaysville. 706-400-6660, www.burraburraontheriver.com.

Black Sheep Restaurant. $20 and up. 480 W. Main St., Blue Ridge 706-946-3663, www.blacksheepblueridge.com.

Visitor Info

Blue Ridge Welcome Center. 152 Orvin Lance Drive. 800-899-6867, www.blueridgemountains.com.

Ellijay Welcome Center. 10 Broad St. 706-635-7400, www.gilmerchamber.com.

A Four Season Scenic Ride



In the North Georgia Mountains, we celebrate four gentle yet very distinct seasonal transitions, each measured very close to the designated tri-month celestial calendar. Mother Nature’s landscape specialist (shall we call her Flora?) takes a particular interest in altering our mountainscape on a quarterly basis, cloaking it in very different hues, depths of foliage, and fragrances.

To get a full appreciation of Flora’s artistry in any one of the seasonal changeovers, we encourage you to drive the 41 miles of Georgia’s only national scenic drive, The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. The Byway, one of only 120  highways across our fifty states so designated, circles around the Chattahoochee National Forest and can be launched just seventeen miles southeast of Fannin County, at the intersection of Hwys 129 and 180, located in neighboring Union County.

Highest Peak In GA

Following Hwy 180 northeast, you’ll travel twelve miles to the entrance to Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain elevation (4,784’) in Georgia. When you get to the top of the Bald’s observation tower, you will have a spectacular 360-degree view of three states!

Photo Courtesy of Steve Grundy Photography

Anna Ruby Falls

Back on Hwy 180 and after heading southeast for ten miles, you will turn south onto Hwy 75/17. Over the next 10 miles, you will motor through some of the heaviest of forestry, including designated recreation areas Unicoi Gap and Andrews Cove. These are ideal places to hike, fish, picnic or just relax before heading out on the next part of your adventure. Driving for just a few minutes you will arrive at one of the region’s finest natural gems, Anna Ruby Falls. This double waterfall is formed from the merging of two creeks, both sourced from underground springs.

Anna Ruby Falls Photo Courtesy of Bill Mantooth

Just three more miles south you will find yourself at Unicoi State Park, where you can jet off on a bicycle, paddleboard on Unicoi Lake or eat at the Unicoi Restaurant located in the beautifully appointed Unicoi Lodge.

Alpine Helen

If you haven’t visited Bavaria’s USA sister city, quaint Helen GA, here’s the best opportunity, located just 3 more miles south of Unicoi State Park. But if Helen isn’t part of your plans for this scenic trip, then backtrack up 75/17 for only two miles where you’ll arrive at the entrance of one of the State’s most beautiful wooded parks, Smithgall Woods/Dukes Creek Falls State Park.  Covering over 5,600 acres, this Park focuses on conservation. It’s also an angler’s paradise with some of the very best trout fishing in the State on the waters of Dukes Creek. Visit their event calendar to see what is scheduled during your visit.

Photo Courtesy of Alpine Helen – White County Convention & Visitors Bureau

Hogpen Gap

There’s one more leg to this journey, and it is perhaps the most spectacular. Just a hair north of Smithgall Woods you will come upon the gateway (Hwy 348) to Richard Russell Scenic Hwy.  These next 23 miles are not only a favorite for motorists, bicyclists and motorcyclists, but wildlife also love to roam all over the cliffs and valleys along this route. Do drive with patience and caution.

Hogpen Gap Photo Courtesy of Scott Michael Anna

Helton Creek Falls

After nearly a 10 mile ascent, you’ll reach Hogpen Gap, (elevation 3,525′). This is a very popular, year-round hiking trail. But for just leaf lookers, the vistas at the appointed observation areas at this elevation are breathtaking! And in the spring there is no better place to view the “greening of the mountains”. As you begin the steep descent traveling north on Richard Russell, the valley brings more surprises as the fields open up and the farmlands, an integral facet of life in historical Choestoe Valley, are dotted across the highway. Look for a turn heading west at Hatchett Creek Rd. Follow this road till it merges with Helton Creek Road and visit one of the area’s favorite family waterfalls, Helton Creek Falls. The short hike (.24 miles) from the parking area leads to two falls. The lower falls has a wading pool area. The upper falls has an observation deck with bench seating.

Helton Creek Falls Photo Courtesy of Molly Carreras

Seasons of Fun!

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is a 4 season wonderland. In the spring the hiking trails boast 1500 varieties of wildflowers with over 200 plants indigenous to just this Southern Appalachian region. 

Stop, look and listen and you’ll see fawn and bear cubs emerging from the woods, beavers building dams to reroute the heavy spring rainwater, and you’ll hear the songbirds who’ve migrated back to these mountains from their winter retreats.

Open the windows on your summer drive and capture the fragrances of the season as you pass cavernous areas of native azalea, rhododendron and mountain laurel. The farmers cut hay around Memorial Day and again at Labor Day. The smell of fresh-cut hay, watching the baling process or just coming upon a field of hay bales peppering the countryside all leave an indelible imprint on one’s senses.

Photo Courtesy of Mountain Mem’ries Photography

Summer visits to the waterfalls along this road will often find the thunderous waters framed by a rainbow. And as the days become shorter and autumn ushers in, the forest canopy bursts with vibrant colors as the sweetgum, red maples, and oak trees display their final fashion before shedding their foliage. In winter the starkness of the bare forest, covered in frost is an incredible photo opportunity. The cliffs near Hogpen Gap are covered with ice and a favorite spot for ice climbers to hone their skills.

Plan on this driving adventure the next time you visit us. It promises to impress you, whatever the season. Share your adventures with us by tagging #escapetobr on your social posts. Enjoy!

9 Cabins with Incredible Game Rooms



Ha! I knew I was going to win!

What? Best two out of three determines the winner?

Alright then! Bring it!

This is my game right here. May the best man (or woman) win!

Oh yes, there is nothing more fun than a little trash talking before you take on your spouse, kid, or best friend in a friendly game of pool, foosball, air hockey, darts, video games or even old-fashioned board games. Bored teenagers are usually super thrilled to have new ways to beat their siblings and on rainy days you will be so thankful you considered the cabin’s gaming options when you booked your Escape to Blue Ridge. We in fact have 175 cabins with game rooms, but let’s take a look at the 9 most Incredible Game Rooms:

A Heaven on Earth

A Heaven on Earth is indeed in a heavenly spot atop a scenic ridge with two private, wooded acres to roam. This real log home offers a unique floor plan with two master suites featuring custom crafted log beds on the main level and adjoining bathrooms. Each also features direct access to the large deck overlooking the North Georgia Mountains. Game rooms have become ever so important in selecting the perfect cabin for your vacation. This one is no exception with dynamic offerings such as a beautiful pecan wood billiards table, foosball, and steps away from a warm and cozy lounging area in front of the stone fireplace. This is an ideal cabin offering the fulfillment of anyone’s aspirations for a great mountain getaway. Bring your better half, several friends or your whole family and everyone is sure to find “A Heaven on Earth!”

Aska Adventure Lodge

Aska is the Cherokee Native American word for “winter retreat,” however, this cabin is perfect in every season. The home’s professionally decorated and richly appointed great room features expansive glass windows that are strategically positioned to overlook the breathtaking and panoramic Aska Adventure area mountains. The Game Room features regulation size billiards, an air hockey table, a dart board and an Xbox gaming system. Aska Adventure Lodge is the perfect place and setting to clear the mind and steal away on vacation with your friends or family. Here, overlooking the mountains and upward to the sky-blue heavens, take in the crisp, clean air that rejuvenates the spirit!

Bearfoot Bungalow

Bearfoot Bungalow complete with magnificent vistas and cozy rustic charm is a mountain oasis where you can relax and recharge. Inside the cabin settle into a comfy couch or recliner and kick off your shoes in front of a fire while you watch TV in the family room, or play ping-pong, pool, air hockey, and board games in the game room, which is equipped with DVD and Wii. There are four flat screen TVs in the cabin, each with Dish service and Netflix ability and wireless Internet throughout. When it’s time to turn in for the night, you’ll choose from three comfortable, inviting bedrooms. Whether you’re planning a family vacation, a romantic getaway, or a weekend with the guys or the girls, there’s something for everyone at Bearfoot Bungalow!

Celtic Weaver Lodge

Celtic Weaver Lodge is one of the most delightful North Georgia Mountain cabin rentals imaginable. Elegantly rustic with tongue and groove wood throughout, Celtic Weaver Lodge was professionally decorated and it shows. Bursting with character, this charming cabin will intrigue you at every turn with eye-catching furnishings and accents abundant in this split log home. The kids will naturally gravitate to the game room downstairs, drawn there to play billiards, ping pong, Xbox, board games, even NASCAR mini air hockey. The DVD player and iCraig will also keep them entertained for hours — they can play movies or music to their hearts’ content while lounging by the stone gas fireplace. This warm and cheerful cabin is positively peace on Earth for all in its midst. Location, relaxation and a sense of magic — Celtic Weaver Lodge weaves all the best things vacations are made of into one perfect place!

Hilltop Hideaway

Located on a mountain with wraparound decks to showcase the view from every angle, Hilltop Hideaway is the epitome of rustic elegance, with plenty of country charm and a relaxed, welcoming ambience. The downstairs game room is a gamer’s paradise, with air hockey, billiards, foosball, a classic arcade machine with 60+ games including Donkey Kong, a wood-slab bar, plenty of comfy seating, and a 65” flat screen TV. There’s also a fireplace, hot tub, and a ping-pong table on the adjacent patio. The two screened-in porches each have a wood-burning fireplace. There’s a hot tub on the lower level porch, outfitted with Bluetooth speakers, and the upper patio has a large swing, six rockers, and a gas grill with a picnic table on the upper level near the kitchen. If you have dogs, you don’t have to leave them behind. You’re welcome to bring up to two with you (as long as you pick up after them) while you and your loved ones create vacation memories at this very special mountain paradise.

Lake Vista Lodge

Lake Vista Lodge is a relaxing getaway where you can escape from the everyday world, enjoy the company of your family and friends, and marvel at the peaceful, 50-mile views of Lake Blue Ridge and mountains as far as the eye can see. If you’re seeking a bit of rest and relaxation, there is nothing better than simply swinging or rocking on the porch and soaking up the beautiful vista of Lake Blue Ridge, the mountains surrounding it, and on clear days, the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina beyond. On rainy days, kids will have fun playing Xbox 360 Kinect with games foosball, shuffle board, or choosing amongst plenty of books and board games. Grownups can play billiards or indulge in a dip in the hot tub from the comfort of the covered porch. Lake Vista Lodge was built as a welcoming place for families and friends to come together to enjoy simple pleasures and each other’s company. Create your own traditions and special memories here that you’ll share for many years to come.

Legend

Staying at Legend is like having an entire five-star resort all to yourself. This luxury log cabin is truly in a class of its own. It’s built from handcrafted Douglas-fir logs and each spacious room presents incredible attention to detail with cathedral ceilings, arched doorways, sumptuous furnishings, stylish fixtures, and every amenity you desire to relax in complete luxury. Any time of year, Legend’s spacious, covered decks with their sweeping views make entertaining easy as a mountain breeze. Nature will entertain you and your guests for hours, with views of the rushing creek, horses playing in the nearby pastures, and the verdant tree farm nearby. Inclement weather can’t dampen your spirits here. Spend an afternoon in the game room downstairs playing pinball, billiards, foosball, ping pong or board games— there’s a little something for everyone. Legend even has its own cinema screening room downstairs, complete with stadium seating — it doesn’t get any closer to an authentic movie theater experience than this! Make some popcorn, grab drinks at the nearby kitchen and bar, then everyone can sink into sumptuous loungers and enjoy a great movie up on the big screen. A stay at this peaceful and elegant retreat is just the start of what your special time here will mean for family and friends. Stories will be recounted for years to come, and the memories will be legendary!

Moonlight Lodge

Moonlight Lodge is a spacious four-bedroom cabin with gorgeous mountain views. The house features two master bedrooms, ideal for a multi-family getaway. The two bedrooms on the lower level open to a game room and media center perfect for family fun. Sharpen your pool skills or play foosball or Xbox 360. Watch a movie or cheer on your favorite team on the big screen TV. There’s plenty indoors to keep kids of all ages entertained. This secluded refuge is perfect for families looking for a comfortable, relaxing home away from home!

Our Blue Heaven

Named for the old song of the same name, Our Blue Heaven is ideally located on a magnificent wooded property just five miles from downtown Blue Ridge. Inside, it’s built for comfort, with inviting, spacious rooms, all of them cozy and handsomely appointed with high-end furnishings in rustic mountain style. It’s also built for outdoor living, with over 1100 square feet of covered, screened-in deck space on three levels. Inside, you can gather in the living room, with its soaring vaulted ceiling, impressive stone gas fireplace, and 55” TV, or head to the game room to play pool or watch the game on the 65” screen. The cabin’s three inviting bedrooms, one per level, each have their own full bath and deck or balcony access. And if your dog is well trained, feel free to bring him along. Whether you’re taking a family vacation or planning a getaway with your best friends, you’ll have unforgettable memories of your stay at Our Blue Heaven!

Labor Day in the Mountains



Labor Day weekend is typically summer’s last hurrah. Visitors flock to the mountains to escape the southern city heat, hoping to “chill” before the final quarter of the year kicks into full gear. (Yikes, only 12 weeks till Christmas? Say it isn’t so!)

Whether you came to be entertained, experience the great outdoors or just eat and drink your way through these three days, we wanted to give you a heads up on what’s happening over this holiday weekend. If the event is kid-friendly we’ve noted it with a KF seal.

Grape Stomp Festival

One of the most iconic episodes of the I Love Lucy Show was the show where Lucy and Ethel take a job in a vineyard stomping grapes. It is impossible not to belly laugh your way through this episode, and Paradise Hills Winery Resort in Blairsville, offers you an opportunity to experience this adventure at their 6th Annual Grape Fest, Saturday, August 31st.

Photo Courtesy of Paradise Hills

Join the fun staff at this mountain top winery for live music all day, grape stomping at 2pm & 4pm, a kid’s craft corner, local craft vendors and delicious wine & craft beer, too. Local BBQ food will be available for purchase. They’ll be having an “I LOVE LUCY – Look-alike Contest” at 2pm and 4pm. Wine Prizes for best costume! You don’t want to miss this fun time (KF). Admission is just $25 per person includes a souvenir glass and a basic tasting. Click here for tickets.

Everybody Loves Opal

Photo Courtesy of Blue Ridge Community Theater

It’s not just Lucy that everyone loves. Opal is a middle-aged recluse living in a tumbledown mansion in the edge of a municipal dump. Enter three vagabonds who try to swindle this kind-hearted optimist. The laughs are plenty and the joyfulness of this cast will make for one of your fondest theatrical experiences. Presented all weekend long at the Blue Ridge Community Theater, Blue Ridge GA. Click here for tickets.

U-Pick Apples

Photo Courtesy of Mercier Orchards

Enjoying the fresh air and summer breezes in the mountains is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Labor Day Weekend is the start of one of our annual visitors favorite family traditions and outdoor activities, Mercier’s Orchards U Pick  Apple season. For more details, visit their website here. (KF)

5K & Fun Run

Photo Courtesy of the Boys & Girls Club of North Georgia

If you are looking for a more challenging outdoor time before the summer ends, than you might want to rise very early on Labor Day and participate in the 3rd Annual River Run 5K and Fun Run at Horseshoe Bend Park in Mineral Bluff, GA. Sponsored by the Boys & Girls Club of North Georgia, Race Day Registration and Packet Pickup begins at 7am with the 5K race starting at 8am and the fun race at 8:30am. Bring the kids to participate, too! Awards will be presented to Overall Male/Female and top three male/female runners in 5 year age groups beginning at 10 years old and under through 75 and over. Click here for registration information. (KF)

Race Time

Photo Courtesy of Blue Ridge Motorsports Park

If you like your outdoor entertainment to be loud and dirty, then you might want to head over to the Blue Ridge Motorsports Park on Saturday night, Aug 31 for the UCRA 3K to Win. A night at the racetrack is fun for the whole family! (KF)

Live Music

Photo Courtesy of Southern Vantage

If you love live music then you have some exceptional options this long weekend. Saturday night the Copperhead Lodge in Blairsville is throwing a party and they’ve invited Southern Vantage to headline. Join this amazing southern rock cover band on the huge veranda/porch at the lodge for drinks, grub, and dance.  They cover a variety of genres and hit songs from artists like Haggard, Cash, Waylon, Willie, Skynyrd, CCR, Seger, Blackberry Smoke, Hank Jr., Brooks and Dunn, Garth Brooks, Toby Kieth, Alan Jackson, Chris Stapleton, Luke Combs, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Uncle Cracker and much more. Music begins at 7 pm. Come early, grab a seat and some great grub from the Lodge’s award-winning restaurant, The Flying Trout

BBQ & Gospel Music

Photo Courtesy of the Good Samaritans of Fannin County

Though Southern BBQ is good twelve months a year, there’s something special about smellin’ that smoker cooking some tender butts for hours on end. If it’s BBQ and good southern gospel that you are yearnin’ for, then head into the heart of Blue Ridge for the 39th Annual Labor Day BBQ & Gospel Music Show.  If it has thrived for nearly four decades, you know it has to offer the best in music and in BBQ.  It’s a 3-day event and the public is invited to enjoy all or part of it. On Monday, Sept. 2  from 11:30-6, enjoy the annual Labor Day Bar-B-Q with all the fixings served with Gospel and Blue Grass by tri-state area groups.  Presale tickets are available from participating churches, Fannin Chamber of Commerce, and American Wholesale Print Shop. (KF)

Mountain Heritage Festival

Photo Courtesy of Visit Downtown Blairsville

Every Saturday and Sunday of  Labor Day weekend downtown Blairsville hosts, the Mountain Heritage Festival. Presented by the Union County Historical Society, the festival celebrates the history and mountain culture of these hills and valleys.  Mountain arts/crafts, music, living history activities, demonstrations on quilting, spinning, basket making, chair caning, farm animals, and gold panning, along with activities for children. The activities will be centered around the restored 1861 Payne family log cabin, the Mauney family barn, the Duncan family cabin, and other structures from Union County’s past. Festival hours are 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free and there’s plenty of free parking around the Square. (KF)

Summer’s Last Hurrah

Photo Courtesy of Heather Drones

William Shakespeare penned “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” We couldn’t agree more. We look forward to seeing you here in the mountains this Labor Day weekend for summer’s last hurrah!

From Field to Fork



Over the last decade, the number of Farmers Markets in this country has grown four-fold. Today’s consumers want our food to be as fresh, tasty, GMO and pesticide free as possible. We use the expression “sustainable food” to give a modern term to our intentions. What we really mean is we are more interested in calculating our food miles, or how far it’s traveled before we put it on our table.  

But sustainable food isn’t only about proximity of the food. How the food is produced, how it’s distributed and how it’s consumed are all factors. Many of our local chefs take these factors into consideration when creating their menus. They’ve made a commitment to provide culinary fare from food grown, raised and delivered locally, and under the best possible sustainable conditions. With their Farm to Table menus, they celebrate the small local farmer, and honor the connection between the land and the patrons they serve. We would like to introduce you to a couple of the regions most committed chefs.

Harvest On Main

Don’t let the downtown location fool you. When you cross the threshold at Harvest on Main you enter a superbly appointed mountain lodge. Chef-owner Danny Mellman and his partner Michelle Moran bring over three decades of culinary mastery and magic to the Blue Ridge food scene. Chef Danny creates the menus and Michelle is responsible for sourcing the best products from local producers. Grass fed Brasstown beef, Springer Mountain chicken, and Bramlett  Farm Trout are the local suppliers for such house favorites like Painted Hills Beef & Veal Meatloaf topped with Cabernet-Veal Demi-glace.

Local produce is delivered daily and those who prefer a more vegetarian fare will not be disappointed with the menu options, such as Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie, layered with brown rice, beets, Portabella mushrooms, baba ganoush, red skinned garlic mashed potatoes and topped with Gouda cheese.

Mellman and Moran have other restaurants on the Blue Ridge scene, all focusing on locally grown and raised products. They even have their own farm where they’ve developed and produce their heritage rabbit, honey, and quail. If that wasn’t enough, these amazing humans also host a summer camp for children age 6-16 sharing their vision of sustainable living within the community.

Reviewers rave about the service and have more accolades for the ample number of locally brewed beers as well as Harvest on Main’s extensive wine list. The Chef describes his menu as internationally inspired with a southern twang. His patrons describe it as 5-star.

Harvest on Main (576 E. Main St., Blue Ridge) features both a lunch and dinner menu. Click here for hours and days of operation. For reservations (highly suggested) call 706-946-6164.

The Sawmill Place

The restaurants tagline says it all. “Farm Fresh, Harvest Driven, Locally Sourced”.  Local suppliers include a pretty impressive list including produce from 7M Farms and Freddie Collins Farm; grits and flours for their scrumptious breakfast fare from Logan Turnpike Mill; toppings for their (patron favorite) pancakes  from Tim Dyer’s Blueberry Patch, Michael Surles’ Honey and Hughes Sorghum Mill; and that coffee mug is filled endlessly with beans from roaster, JumpinGoat Coffee. 

Co-owners Shawn and Amy Kight serve breakfast and lunch six days a week in this delightful cabin located just a slight jog off the downtown Square in neighboring Blairsville GA.  Their giant homemade biscuits start popping out of the ovens by 6:30am. And if you don’t like to wait for a seat, you might want to get there that early. But bring a big appetite.

The breakfast menu is quite extensive and features large portions of high quality food, exceptional service and truly inspired southern recipes at very reasonable prices. Take the “Nottely Scramble” as an example. Chef Shawn scrambles 3 large Lathem farm eggs into spicy collard greens, onions, bacon and cheddar cheese. He serves this with your choice of 2 strips of Applewood smoked bacon or 1 local sausage patty, along with grits or gravy, a buttermilk biscuit, coffee or tea all for around $10.

The lunch menu boasts burgers from Certified Angus Beef raised by Georgia Cattle Farmers. There are several salad choices and all include a delectable freshly baked morning glory muffins. The hydroponic -grown lettuce and other produce are delivered daily, 12 months a year from local 7M Farms.

As we already mentioned, this place is hopping from the time it opens till the time it turns the biscuit oven off, but don’t let the possibility of a wait for a seat at the table deter you. The Sawmill Place has a lovely front porch with lots of rockers to pass the time, as well as a new Market building adjacent to the restaurant where you can shop for all things local including produce harvested locally in Union County, flower bouquets grown on Blairsville’s Whimsy Flower Farm and other artisan goods from the Tri-State area.  Leave some room in your trunk to bring home honey, syrups, jams, soaps and beeswax products. They all make great souvenirs. 

The Sawmill Place (1159 Pat Haralson Dr., Blairsville) features both a breakfast and lunch menu. Click here for hours and days of operation or call 706- 745-1250 .

Trail Trees and Fairy Crosses



For most American kids, our first introduction to the concept of trail markers is Hansel and Gretel’s attempt at leaving crumbs on their venture into the woods. The birds thwarted their efforts and that’s where their fictional journey begins. First published in 1812, their story was read to children in Germany at the same time the Cherokee Indians were creating their own trail markers here in the North Georgia Mountains. Or are Trail trees just folklore?

Trail Marker Trees

Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow. These distinctive characteristics convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. The legend is that Native Americans intentionally shaped these trees for navigational purposes or to mark important places, such as sacred burial grounds.

Photo Courtesy of Donna O’Neal

Throughout the North Georgia Mountains, a day of hiking can find you encountering one or more of these gentle bent giants in our forests. As you hike through one of the twenty four top forests in our area you’ll stumble upon some of the most incredible shaped trees and wonder if they are the work of Mother Nature or did an American Indians walk these same trails 200 years ago. It is both highly possible and very likely that the tree was there marking a specific direction or possibly an area where a plant grew at its base that was used for healing.

Fairy Crosses

For many, a hike in the woods is an adventure you remember from your childhood days. It is a child’s foray into uncharted territory, a field or a wooded area close to home where they might discover an old unidentifiable bone, a creek filled with crayfish, or a cluster of butterflies on a floral bush they’ve never seen the likes of before. They come back from these walking expeditions with pockets filled with pretty leaves, unusual shaped stones and always a bird feather or two. As adults we reawaken that lust for exploration and here on these mountain trails, there seems to be one treasure that many are hunting: Fairy Crosses

The Legend of the Fairy Cross derives from the Cherokee Indians and thought to be over 2000 years old! It is said that long, long, ago fairies inhabited a certain quiet and remote region in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fairies roamed freely, enjoying the beauty and serenity of that enchanted place. One day, the fairies were playing in a sunny dell when an elfin courier arrived from a far-away city bearing the sad news of Christ’s death. When they heard the terrible details of the crucifixion, the fairies wept. As their tears fell to the earth, they crystallized into little stone crosses. Though the fairies have long since disappeared, the little stone crosses, known as “fairy stones,” still remain as vestiges in that enchanted spot. There was a belief among the Cherokee that the crosses had the power to reduce the owner invisible at will. In some instances, the tiny crosses were supposed to give the owner the power of diving into the ground and coming up again among the enemy to scalp and kill with unexpected terror.

The Scientific Side

Fairy crosses (aka fairy stones) are small bricks originally formed seven miles underground of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Staurolite crystals form into little tiny “bricks” that, under pressure, twist in 60 degree or 90 degree angles, forming crosses. As they push their way up to the earth’s surface, the action of wind and rain dissolve the softer surrounding stone called schist to reveal the precious cross-shaped minerals within. 

The good fortune of finding fairy stones is best after a heavy rain. Dig with your hands along the soft dirt at the base of the trees. The cross stones are the same color as the dirt, so use your hands to sift the stones from the soil until you find a cross shaped stone about the size of a small marble, usually less than an inch in length. They are wonderful keepsakes when found, and can be polished and used as a lucky pocket token, or designed into a necklace, bracelet, or earrings.

Pezrok

If you haven’t had the good fortune to find a fairy stone on your hiking trip, you can still find a wonderful collection of fairy crosses at Pezrok in downtown Blue Ridge, a gallery full of artistic creations of exquisite minerals, fossils, gems and carved driftwood.

Photo Courtesy of Jim Korzep

There are countless numbers of adventures to be had on your visit to these mountains. You’ll want to capture many of your explorations in pictures to take home and share with us, your family, and your friends. Oh, and while you are taking a cell phone selfie at one of the bent trees you are likely to encounter, remember your phone is also equipped with GPS, which will assure your chances of getting back to your car in the parking lot. As we already know from 19th century literature, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs will not suffice.

Hit the Rapids



Photo courtesy of Ocoee Rafting

The Southeastern United States is known for having some of the best whitewater around. Here in Blue Ridge we are within 1 hour of 3 action packed, exciting rivers and 2 hours away from one of the most challenging rivers in the state! Our cabins make the perfect Home Base for day trips, exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and soaking up the Appalachian Lifestyle.

Cartecay River

Photo Courtesy of Ellijay River Outfitters

Just thirty minutes from downtown Blue Ridge, you can access the put-in to the 91-mile Cartecay River off Highway 52. This class I-II river starts in foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and runs West and if you follow it pass the common commercial takeout, you’ll float right through the center of town! The river begins with a nice, calm current as it meanders through the valley. About halfway through your float, the rapids begin to increase in frequency and in fun! The last quarter of the river offers some fun rapids that aren’t too terribly technical and end in a last hurrah at Blackberry Falls. This intimidating looking rapid is really just a big slide and is tons of fun to run down regardless of the your water vessel. There are two outfitters, Cartecay River Experience or Ellijay River Outfitters, to help you with shuttle assistance or to rent you a tube, kayak, or canoe.

Bonus: Since Ellijay is the Apple Capital of Georgia, there are plenty of Apple Houses around to stock up on cider, breads, and of course a wide variety of apples!  

Nantahala River

Photo courtesy of Nantahala Outdoor Center

About an hour Northeast of Blue Ridge after passing through the mountain towns of Murphy and Andrews in Western North Carolina the road will narrow up and you will begin to drop down into the Nantahala Gorge. There’s just something about this gorge that’s special. You can hang a right on old river road and watch the pro kayakers take on the Cascades and Upper Nantahala or continue straight to the lower Nantahala and stop at one of many outfitters that offer guided and non-guided rafting adventures.

The 8-mile Nantahala River is a Class II-III River that runs right along US HWY 76 deep through the Nantahala National Forest. There is no shortage of fun on this exciting river! The opening rapid Pattons Run is a good class III rapid to get your blood pumping right off the bat! After that enjoy a good hour or two of fun, fast, cold water and about 20 named rapids. The river ends with the Grand Finale of The Falls. This class III rapid has an observation deck for passerby’s to stop and watch as the kayaks, canoes, and rafts navigate the technical section of fast white water as they try to pick the perfect line to conquer The Falls!

Bonus: Eat at River’s End after a fun day on the water. Enjoy delicious food, friendly service, and a spectacular view of the river below.

Ocoee River

Photo Courtesy of Ocoee Rafting

Traveling a little less than an hour Northwest from Blue Ridge the Ocoee River, home of the 1996 Olympics is 10 miles of Whitewater fun! The aforementioned Olympic competition took place on the upper section of the Ocoee River. This super technical section of the river features some of the biggest most challenging rapids and is only able to be experienced for 34 days per year. The Middle Ocoee is 5 miles of class III and IV rapids. Hop on Mother Nature’s natural roller coaster and squeal with delightment as your trusty raft guide navigates you and your party down the river with great care to maximize the fun! From the put in at Grumpy’s to the ending rapid at Hell’s Hole, you will never forget the fun and excitement of a trip down the Ocoee!

Bonus: Love to mountain bike? The Cherokee National Forest features miles of mountain biking trails.

Chattooga River

Photo Courtesy of Wildwater

Made famous after the filming of the movie Deliverence, the Chattooga River is about two hours from Blue Ridge. Flowing across both Georgia and South Carolina, the Chattooga River is divided into 4 sections with section 4 being probably the hardest in the Southeast. The class III section increases in difficulty from a mild beginning to a challenging final rapid at Bull Sluice. Being that section 4 of the Chattooga begins at the hardest rapid on section 3 should lead you to believe that this will be a much more challenging run, and you’d be absolutely right about that. The crux of section 4 is at the Five Falls Section of the river. These Class IV rapids are no joke with a 75 foot drop from the beginning to end.

Bonus: Add to your adrenaline rush by booking a Zipline trip where you fly through the sky, over lakes, and among nature!

Blue Ridge Unplugged



In today’s world, we spend more time staring at screens than with each other. It’s important to take a break every now and then and reconnect with the ones you love most, especially the youngest members of your family. One of the benefits of getting away for vacation on an Escape To Blue Ridge you can take the time to enjoy each other’s company, tell stories, and laugh a lot. 

Whether you are playing board games, going on a hiking adventure, or roasting marshmallows by the fire pit, when you make an effort to unplug and spend quality time together, you will make memories to last a lifetime!

Get Adventurous

Long Creek Falls

Getting kids outdoors and into nature is one of the best things you can do for them. Not only is it good for their health, and yours, but it will also help build their confidence. What better feeling is there than to look back at how far you’ve come and be proud of that journey? Whether your taking the stairs at Amicalola State Park, bouncing along the swinging bridge, or taking a hike down to Long Creek Falls, your kids will feel so proud when they get to your destination. The best part? Since cell service rarely works out in the woods, you get to talk and observe nature along your route!

Learn Something Together

Children’s brains are like little sponges. They absorb absolutely everything they can from everywhere they can. One way to help encourage knowledge through learning is taking in a museum or two. Who knows, you might even learn something! For a light hearted and fun afternoon, you and your mini-me’s can try to determine whether the legendary Big Foot is indeed fiction or non-fiction at EXPEDITION: BIGFOOT! The Sasquatch Museum.

Photo Courtesy of Blue Ridge Tourism

For a more classic approach, there is plenty to see and do at the Blue Ridge Mountain Arts Association. Their gallery features a plethora of art pieces in various mediums. Each month a new Artist in Residence is featured, and their art exhibits are switched out every four to six weeks so there is always something new to see. The Arts Center also offers classes for both adults and children alike to encourage your creativity and hone your artistic skills. Like scavenger hunts? The Art Center has been instrumental in creating the one and only Trout Art Trail! Take a stroll around town and find each of the colorful trout placed throughout town. After  you’ve found them all, head to the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center for a prize!

Rainy Day Fun

2nd Story Entertainment

Oh, we know, sometimes rainy days are the most challenging days to be locked up with your kids with nothing to do. Fortunately, there is a great solution right in Downtown Blue Ridge – 2nd Story Entertainment. This kid friendly and fun business is located upstairs, on the second floor, from Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar & Grill. Inside you find a full eighteen holes of challenging putt putt obstacles and fun games to play in between golf rounds. The course is spread out through nine different rooms with each featuring its own theme like a red-carpet room with movie stars, a western room, and a throw back to classic games room.

Channel Your Inner Child

Photo Courtesy of Weird Oh!

The communities of McCaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN have recently seen a great revitalization which means there are some great new shops to explore and restaurant to try. We highly recommend you channeling your inner child and checking out a fun little shop called “Weird Oh!”. So, what exactly is Weird Oh!? Well, it’s a magical emporium of fun! Better known as an unusual place for unusual people, inside you will find peculiar treasures and trinkets. It’s a place where kids can be kids and adults can be kids too! Everything can be touched, moved, and you can even write on the walls and not get in trouble! The only rule that you will encounter is that laughter is a must! No matter what. Laugh, have fun, pick up a toy, purchase a gag gift that will make someone laugh. Giggle a little, chuckle a lot, let out a guffaw if something strikes your funny bone. You won’t be judged, because Weird Oh is all about fun!

What trip is complete without a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth? At Sweet & Southern Sugar Company you will be delighted with all the fun treats from delicious ice cream to decadent desserts. You will definitely feel like a kid again trying to pick out a treat. We highly recommend the Sin Shakes and their to-die-for cinnamon buns! Just across the street, you absolutely MUST take a selfie while standing in two states. That’s right. You can stand in Georgia and Tennessee at the same exact time!

If you really want to feel like a kid again, you should plan your trip to McCaysville via the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. Who doesn’t love a train ride? Come on, admit it, we’ve all played “conductor” with our best sounding “All Aboard” and attempts at a train whistle. This relaxing and enjoyable ride begins in downtown Blue Ridge and the tracks meander through the countryside on a twenty-six-mile round trip journey. There is a two hour layover in McCaysville which gives you plenty of time to check out all the shops and load up on sweets!

Be Nostalgic

Swan Drive-In

If you haven’t been to a drive-in movie since you were a kid, we encourage you to make plans to go to the Swan Drive In Theater and take in a show or a double feature! A throwback to yesteryears, there is just something so fun about watching a movie outdoors. Plan to arrive early and have a little picnic while you wait on the movie to begin. Trust us, it fills up fast, so you’ll want to be there early! There is a grassy knoll to throw a football, play some corn hole, or just enjoy an old-fashioned game of tag. Whether you choose to watch the show in camp chairs behind your car or on blankets in the bed of your truck, there will be no shortage of smiles from every member of the family. Local tip – bring a portable radio/boombox. You don’t want to be the one who’s battery dies from running the radio!

Keep It Simple

Photo Courtesy of Huck’s General Store

Kids don’t need anything to entertain them except for your attention. Well, maybe a little ice cream! Seriously though, keep it simple, unplug, and give them your undivided attention. Take a stroll through downtown Blue Ridge. There are some adorable shops that both you and your children will find interesting like Huck’s General Store. There are plenty of places along the strip to stop and grab a scoop or two like The Chocolate Express. At the end of Main Street there is an awesome playground (and restrooms) for the kids to burn off some energy before you decide on a fabulous restaurant for dinner.

Back at the cabin go on a family stick hunt to get kindling for the fire. Once the sun sets, and the fire is lit, break out the marshmallows and show them how to roast them. Do you like your marshmallows burnt too? Better yet, add graham crackers and chocolate for some campfire s’mores! The firepit is a good time to tell stories about when you were young or when your kids were young. This writer must have told her child the story of her birth no less than a million times! Break out the guitar, sing some songs, make wishes on stars, and enjoy every moment you have together. Regardless how you spend your time in Blue Ridge, be content in knowing that you are creating memories your children will hold on to and cherish forever. After all, that’s what life is all about.

Shining the Spotlight on Mercier Orchards



Farmers in the state of Georgia produce more than 26 million pounds of apples annually with nearly all the orchards concentrated in the North Georgia Mountains. Distinguishing oneself from the other apple orchards might be a large task for some. But Adele Mercier was never easily daunted by the business challenges of competition presented to her and her husband Bill and their 27-acre family orchard they started together in 1943. She had big plans for this little orchard in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Little did she know that it would take her to the dawn of the next century to execute her plan.

In 1999, Adele presented her vision for the Mercier Orchards to the regional tourism association. She shared with them her dream that Mercier’s was going to become an international tourist attraction, right along with her friends from the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway who had just started running scenic excursions to McCaysville and back. That afternoon, the tourism professionals chuckled at the naiveté of this eighty-year-old with such outlandish pipe dreams. Over the past two decades since, many of those in attendance that day have eaten their fair share of humble pie (or maybe apple fried pies?).

Mercier Orchards has grown ten times its original size, with 300 acres of apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. The farm market that once boasted just bins of apples from July till December is now open seven days a week from 7 am till 6 pm, 361 days a year.  The Market Store has enlarged to several thousand square feet with outstanding food products, fresh, frozen and canned, with the majority locally sourced. If you are planning on preparing meals during your cabin stay with us, you must visit Merciers. Don’t bother with a shopping list. Every item will take you on a new culinary journey.

The Market has also grown to include a bakery boasting several varieties of fried pies, as well as apple cider donuts, and a large variety of bread, cookies and many other delectable baked goods.  The bakery also supplies the recently enlarged Market Café (open 7am-6pm daily) with award-winning biscuits, bread and rolls served at breakfast each day till 11 am. Breakfast buffet on Saturdays and Sundays is a great place to gather with family and friends, with buffet hours extended to noon.  After a morning in the orchards, picking your own fruit, lunch at the Market is the best place to hydrate, chill and nourish.

Yes, part of Adele’s dream was to bring multi-generational families in to enjoy the seasonal harvests of the orchards. Adults of all ages will enjoy the memories of their childhood days while picking apples, and the children will enjoy every moment, from the wagon ride out to the u-pick them area to delighting as they fill their buckets with berries, peaches or over 30 varieties of apples. U-Pick is subject to availability and the weather. For current picking dates, click here.

Maybe choosing your fruit at the Market is more to your liking than picking your own in the field. That doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the Orchard experience. From 10 am till 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays, indulge yourself with a $5 tractor ride and tour of the 300-acre orchard. The Mercier family loves to share all there is to see and know about their orchard with their guests.

The fruits of the orchard are best enjoyed fresh, but for some, pressed and fermented fruit has as much allure. Mercier’s knows this first hand and would like to invite you to their Tasting Room at the Market. A variety of delicious hard ciders and wines, made with all “Georgia Grown” fruits can be sampled and purchased. “We are currently the only apple orchard in Georgia that can say they grow, press, ferment, and bottle their own product.” avowals their website.

As for Adele’s vision? Late last November, this writer visited the orchard with a friend to purchase a couple of bags of apples. It was late on a Sunday afternoon, three weeks past the high volume tourist season and we expected to be able to run in and out with our fruit purchase. We found the enormous parking lot to be nearly full. Walking into the Market, we discovered every cash register manned and customers were five plus deep waiting in those lines. My friend and I counted six different languages being spoken around us while we patiently waited our turn to pay for our purchases.

Adele Mercier passed away in 2013, leaving her internationally known Market in the very capable hands of second, third and fourth generations of the Mercier Family. They strive to bring to every visitor an experience that they will soon not forget. To learn more about Mercier Orchards and to see their event calendar, visit them at www.mercier-orchards.com.

Finding Bigfoot on a Rainy Day



A vacation usually means a bit of sightseeing and possibly seeking that one celebrity spotting you always associated with your destination. If visiting the Palm Beaches you might be hoping to catch a glimpse of the Presidential motorcade, where on LA’s famous Rodeo Drive, a glimpse of Brad sipping an iced Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks might be your quest. And what (or whom) are some tourists visiting the Northeast Georgia Mountains yearning to see?  Well, Bigfoot, of course!

Photo Courtesy of Patterson-Gimlin Footage

A legend or not?

To many in this neck of the woods, Bigfoot (aka Sasquatch, Yowie and Yedi) isn’t just a 20th-century folk legend. The first recorded sighting of him here in Fannin County was June 26, 1873. Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest has long been known as a hotbed for Bigfoot activity amongst the Bigfoot research community. And if you think that those who have an interest in this mysterious creature are just a little bit left of center, take into consideration that the famed anthropologist and highly regarded scientist Jane Goodall has said of Sasquatch beings, “I’m fascinated by them and would actually love them to exist”.

This reddish-brown hairy creature is reportedly about 8 feet in height and his alleged footprints that have been found all across the globe suggesting he has a 24-inch long foot that measures 8 inches across. To put that into some perspective, NBA giant  Shaquille O’Neal is 7’1” and the length of his foot measures 15 inches.

Photo Courtesy of Expedition: Bigfoot

Blue Ridge Museum

If taking a hike out into the forest after the sun sets, night vision glasses in place, to snap your photo op with Bigfoot is too much effort, don’t let that deter you from finding out all you can about him. While here in Blue Ridge, plan to visit EXPEDITION: BIGFOOT! The Sasquatch Museum, located just east of the city. This museum may have you giggling on the way in the door, but you will leave with a new appreciation for your next walk in the woods. You’ll discover why Bigfooters from around the globe make the pilgrimage to Blue Ridge just to explore this museum and its many relics.

Photo Courtesy of Expedition: Bigfoot

See For Yourself

The quality of the displays and the huge amount of content are most impressive. In addition to the extensive collection of artifacts, the museum has interactive exhibits, lots of scientific analysis making the credible case that there are Sasquatches roaming the earth, and audio-video presentations that captivate even the least likely believers, young and old. Yes, kids are fascinated with this self-guided tour that usually lasts 90 mins to two hours. We highly recommend this as a Plan B family destination when a rainy mountain day messes up your original outdoor intentions.

Photo Courtesy of Expedition: Bigfoot

The museum, located at 1934 GA-515, Cherry Log, GA, is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 am till 5 pm. Admission is $8 for adults and $6 for children age 5 to 12. Kids under 5 and Active Military (with ID) are free! It’s more than a fair price for an educational and entertaining museum of this quality, with such fun opportunities for photo ops that will sure to bring gasps to your friends back home. And though you will be welcomed by a super cool staff that is known for sharing free coffee and cookies to their guests, you might want to be prepared to drop a few bucks on souvenirs at the museum’s bountiful gift shop, where Bigfoot really comes to life.