Mountain Flora & Blue Ridge Fauna



The Blue Ridge mountains are an ideal habitat for both vegetation and animal life due to several factors including rainfall, climate, and soil types. In just Blue Ridge alone, 40% of our county’s land is located in and protected by the Chattahoochee National Forest which creates a safe environment for abundant flora and fauna to thrive.

Our mountain ranges are covered in over 140 species of trees and is notably one of the most extensive broad-leaved deciduous forests still flourishing in the world. The combination of southern plant growth known as the Appalachian Forests put on quite the dramatic show throughout the year making fall one of the most popular times to visit and experience all the changing colors of fall. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular plants and animals that inhabit this special region.

Mountain Laurel

Photo Courtesy of bbg.org

The evergreen Mountain Laurel is a staple plant in the hills of the Appalachian Mountains. Tolerant to shade, these North American shrubs produce gorgeous flowers in the late spring and early summer. The spectacular blooms range in color from white to pink to deep rose and have distinctive and symmetrical purple dots or streaks. Mountain Laurel is slow growing, but average 6-15 feet in height. You will often see mountain furniture and home accents made out of the bark of the Mountain Laurel. Of Note: These plants are poisonous if ingested.

Rhododendron

Photo Courtesy of Gardening Know How

The evergreen Rhododendron come in many shapes and sizes, but they are most known for their spectacular blossoms that appear in the early spring to mid-summer in a variety of colors. The blossoms can be pure white, soft pink, yellow, red, purple and blue! Of Note: These plants are poisonous if ingested.

Azaleas

Photo Courtesy of Old Farmer’s Almanac

Azaleas were designated, in Georgia, as the official state wildflower in 1979. A relative to the Rhododendron, and in fact a part of the Rhododendron genus, but as all azaleas are rhododendrons, not all rhododendrons are azaleas. Similarly, azaleas bloom in brilliant colors like scarlet, crimson, orange and more. The main difference between the rhodies and the azaleas is the leaf size, quantity of stamen, and azaleas are deciduous as opposed to its evergreen cousins. Of Note: These plants are poisonous if ingested.

Fun Fact

Photo Courtesy of Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge

Close by in Hiawassee, there are rhododendron gardens filled with azaleas, mountain laurels, and many other native Georgia plants. Plan to visit The Hamilton Gardens at Lake Chatuge and learn more about area flora. Admission is a suggested $5 donation.

Cherokee Rose

Photo Courtesy of petals from the past

The official state flower of Georgia is also found thriving in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Cherokee Rose is both beautiful and interesting. Rooted in Cherokee legend, the Cherokee Rose is said to have been created from the tears of Native American mothers crying for their children journeying on the Trail of Tears. The fragrant rose is white for their tears, a gold center represents the gold taken from Cherokee lands, and 7 leaves for the 7 Cherokee clans. The evergreen Cherokee Rose plant is a climbing shrub that has antibacterial properties.

Whitetail Deer

Photo Courtesy of My Canyon Lake

Probably the most common and most exciting animal to see grazing in the woods. These beautiful animals are the smallest of the North American deer population and graze on leaves, corn, fruits, and acorns. Male deer are called bucks and are easily recognizable by their antlers which grow each year and fall off in the winter! The female deer are called does and they give birth to 1-3 fawns a year. The best time to spot deer are at dawn and at dusk since deer are primarily nocturnal animals.

Wild Turkey

Photo Courtesy of CTpost

You might see wild turkeys on the side of the road on your drive up to the mountains or out in a field foraging with their flock. Turkey are a large game bird with a long neck and long legs. Male turkeys are distinguished by their unfeathered heads and large red throat known as a “gobble”. Turkeys can fly short distances and often roost in trees or under shrubs.

Black Bear

Photo Courtesy of Scott Michael Anna

The Black Bear is the smallest of the North American bears. These bears are ominivores which means they eat both plants and meat. Bears are also nocturnal which means they sleep during the day and come out to hunt at night. While we are intrigued by them, it is best for black bears to meander through the woods without human interaction.

Bird is the Word

Male Rose Breasted Grosbeak Photo Courtesy of Scott M Anna

Birding is a popular pastime for nature lovers and there are more than 80 species of migratory birds and 200 species of  native x to spot in the mountains! The Georgia State bird, the Brown Thrasher, can be seen here along with the Ruffed Grouse, Owls, Ravens, Wrens, Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and many varieties of Warblers and Hawks including Bald Eagles.

Coyote

Photo Courtesy of WFAE

Resembling a small dog, coyotes are indeed canines, but they are not of domesticated variety. They have keen eyesight, an acute sense of smell, and the ability to quickly adapt to a variety of habitats. In the evenings you may hear distant high pitched cries, shrieks, barking or howling as these animals communicate with each other. Contrary to popular believe, coyotes do not hunt in packs, but are primarily solo hunters and are effective in maintaining a balance in Georgia’s rodent population.

Beer Hunting



There’s no denying it, the craft beer market has grown substantially over the past few years. In 2019 it’s estimated there were over 8,000 independent craft breweries in the United States.  Blue Ridge and the Copper Basin are home to a few of the best!

Taking home a growler to drink while sitting in front of the TV and screaming at the umpire was a favorite pastime for many before the 2020 sports season was pre-empted. Now, visiting craft beer taprooms has become a favorite diversion for many aficionado hopsters. But many more of us barley know the yeast of what goes into a good brew. So before we take you beer hunting in this region, let’s do a very quick primer.

Craft Beer 101

Photo Courtesy of Copperhill Brewery

Where does beer come from?

Barley – mainly used for beer, this is the base ingredient for beer.

Malt – barley by itself won’t make beer.  Barley seeds need to be sprigged to life by malt extract and then roasted and toasted to achieve their distinctive flavors.

Hops – Without hops, beer would be pretty boring.  Hops are the spices of the beer world creating bitter, tropical, and citrus flavors that balance out the sweetness of the beer.  Grown as bines or long vines, you might have passed a hops crop along the roadside and mistaken it for a vineyard.

Yeast – You can’t make beer without yeast, and the yeast plays maybe the biggest part in the whole beer equation.  Pitch too little, your beer is sweet.  If the yeast is not healthy, it will throw off a strange and unpalatable flavor.

Brewing – Oh yeah, that part.  Brewing takes on a lot more than simply boiling the beer.  There is milling the grain to get it just the way you want.  Then there’s the constant cleaning and maintenance of all the equipment, hoses, and fittings to make sure there is no contamination.  Someone must carefully monitor the production to hit all of the right “checkpoints” to ensure that the proper alcohol levels are achieved.  And then there’s carbonating it just right for the style you are brewing.

Beer Styles

Ale – It’s typically fermented warm, using a strain of yeast that rises to the top of the brew. It ferments faster than lager and is more strongly flavored. Esters produced during fermentation lend a slightly fruity and floral taste. Hefeweizen is a wheat beer. IPA stands for India Pale Ale, which long ago was high in hops and alcohol content, to survive a voyage from Britain to India. It still tends to have an intense hop flavor.

Lager – This is another basic type of beer. It’s usually fermented cold, using yeast that sinks to the bottom during fermentation and works slowly. Long, cold fermentation inhibits the production of esters, and lagers have a cleaner, crisper taste than ales.

Hard Cider – Whoa! Where did cider fit into this primer? Well, not everyone likes beer, but they still like the low alcohol content compared to liquor. On a warm summer’s day, hard cider is a great and healthier alternative to beer, especially for those who have to avoid wheat and other grains.

Cliff Notes on Style:

The best ales have intense, complex, and balanced flavors. 

The best lagers are very tasty but they generally aren’t as complex or intense as ales. 

Beer vs Cider – If you are someone who enjoys the distinctive bitterness of beer and enjoys a sugar-free drink made of barley, then beer is the drink for you. If you are looking for a gluten-free, sweeter option, but still want the bubbles and the buzz, look to the craft hard ciders.

You are now ready for our North Georgia Beer Hunt!

Fannin Brewing Company

3758 East First Street, Blue Ridge, GA | 706-258-2762 | Hours: Friday & Saturday 12pm-8pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm

Production at Fannin Brewing Company

This brewing company was founded by someone passionate about starting a winery in Blue Ridge. Plans change. He meets a guy passionate about German beers. They combine their passions and voila! They now have one of the most highly respected craft breweries in the South. Tours of the plant are available on Fridays and Saturdays. BYOP – Bring your own pup. Yes, your canine friends are welcome throughout the brewery.

Our Tasting Room Choice:  Cherry Mitten

Grumpy Old Men Brewing

1315 East Main Street, Blue Ridge, GA | 706-946-2739 | Hours: Monday – Wednesday 12pm-6pm, Thursday – Saturday 12pm-8pm, Sunday 12:30pm-5pm

Beer Selections at Grumpy Old Men Brewing

This is a great hangout for any age brewster. Family friendly, kids will love the GIANT JENGA outside and the games inside, plus there’s craft soda on tap. Open seven days a week. Big screen TV’s throughout. Thursday night is Karoake night and it is well attended and lots of fun. Always 18 different craft beers on tap. On Friday, Saturdays and Sunday’s check out their hot dog stand.  

Our Tasting Room Choice:  Hell’s Holler Porter

Mercier’s Orchards

8660 Blue Ridge Dr., Blue Ridge, GA | 706-632-3411 | Hours: Sunday – Thursday 8am-4pm,  Friday & Saturday 8am-6pm

Blueberry-Apple Sparkling Cider at Mercier Orchards

Mercier’s is the only apple orchard in Georgia that can say they grow, press, ferment, and bottle their product. Their full line of cider seasonally takes advantage of most of the fruits that are grown year-round at the orchard. The tasting room is part of the gigantic market, restaurant, and bakery. You may visit with the intent to pick out your favorite hard cider, but be prepared to spend additional time foraging the whole market.

Our Tasting Room Choice:  Grumpy Granny

Copperhill Brewery

105 Ocoee Street, Copperhill, TN | 423-548-3030 | Hours: Monday 12pm- 6pm,  (Tuesday – Wednesday Closed), Thursday – Saturday 12pm-8pm, Sunday 12pm-5pm

Photo Courtesy of Copperhill Brewery

Visit this brewery and you won’t know if you are in Tennesee or Georgia. Located in Copperhill, just outside their tasting room door, you can have one foot in Tennessee and the other foot in Georgia. It’s very cool to straddle the state line! Sample their brews and you’ll wonder if you haven’t traveled to Scotland or Germany. This brewery takes craft beer way, way serious. It’s not a passion for them. It’s an art form. Some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable staff this side of the Mason Dixon line.

Our Tasting Room Choice:  Ocoee #1 IPA

Buck Bald Brewing

160 Ocoee St, Copperhill, TN | 706-431-7141 | Hours: Monday 2pm-8pm, (Tuesday & Wednesday Closed),  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday 12pm-8pm

Photo Courtesy of Buck Bald Brewing

This brewey is a converted gas station with a great tasting room, but an even better outdoor area that, when the weather permits, is just hopping with folks having fun, listening to great music, and some amazing beer choices. You can join the Mug Club and have your picture painted on a mug that’s yours to keep fillin’up with their vast and ever-changing selections. Great fun for the whole family. It’s where the white water rafting crews call “home”. 

Our Tasting Room Choice: Berry My Heart at the Trailer Park

Food With A Brew

Fightingtown Tavern

511 East Main Street, Blue Ridge, GA | 706-946-2006

The Bar at Fightingtown Tavern

Here you’ll find a chef that makes cheffy dishes all out of locally sourced meats and veggies, rockin’ music, and a great craft beer selection for a cool experience and a taste-bud tripping meal!

Black Bear Bier Garten

500 East Main Street, Blue Ridge, GA | 706-946-4440

Photo Courtesy of @ancole78

Best known as Blue Ridge’s “Husband Day Care Center”, the Black Bear Bier Garten offers great local music and 19 local, craft & imported draft beers. Pare your brewski with one of 9 varieties of wild game sausages and you’ll be pretty happy you stopped in!

Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar and Grill

733 East Main Street, Blue Ridge, Georgia | 706-258-2539

Dinner Special at Chester Brunnenmeyer’s

Set in a historic Blue Ridge building, Chester Brunnenmeyer’s delivers not only an elevated food selection, but their adult beverage menu is most robust with signature cocktails like the ESCAPE TO BLUE RIDGE (Cathead Honeysuckle Vodka, macerated blueberries, lemonade), an impressive wine list, and regionally crafted beer!