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.

Dog Friendly Hikes



Hiking with your dog can be fun for both you and your furry friend. Not only does it provide a great source of exercise for you and your dog, but it’s also one of the best ways to have amazing adventures while creating memories that will last a lifetime. It’s a win-win for everyone!

While we’d all love to be able to take our dogs with us on every trail we venture down, we can’t always do that. Sometimes the trails are too steep or the terrain is too rough for our four-legged friends to maneuver, or sometimes they simply aren’t allowed in that area because of other critters that may be dangerous for our dogs to encounter.

To make things a little easier for you and your furry companion, here’s a list of a few trails around the Blue Ridge area that are sure to bring tons of fun for both and your favorite adventure buddy!

Duncan Ridge Trail

Easily accessible by both the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail, the Duncan Ridge Trail is one of the more difficult trails in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, spanning a total of around 30.1 miles. While the trail is  labeled as moderate to strenuous by most experienced hikers and backpackers out there (mainly because of the low usage and steep climbs), don’t let that discourage you from taking on this gorgeous trek back into the Chattahoochee National Forest! You don’t have to hike the whole 30.1 miles and for those with pups that aren’t too keen on making friends with other hikers/dogs, this trail will let you have the outdoor experience you always wanted without the anxiety of other dogs and hikers.

Lupa on the Duncan Ridge Trail

The Duncan Ridge Trail begins at Three Forks on the Appalachian Trail/Benton MacKaye Trail. Beginning at Three Forks, you’ll hop on the AT and walk the beautiful mile stretch out toward Long Creek Falls, following the soft sounds of the creek that runs alongside the trail. Hiking toward the falls, the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) and the Duncan Ridge Trail veer off to the right less than 0.1 miles after the short path down to the falls begins. There will be markers present that identifies which trail is the BMT and which is the Duncan Ridge Trail but just in case, follow the blue vertical blazes (marks on the trees) for the Duncan Ridge and the white diamond blazes for the BMT.

From there, hikers will follow the trail through a tunnel of laurels and rhododendrons during the spring and summer months deep into the Chattahoochee National Forest before reaching the swinging bridge over the Toccoa River. Hikers can choose to push on and make the climb up Tooni Mountain, or call it a day a hike back toward Three Forks. Regardless of what you decide, just remember to have fun and hike your own hike!

Appalachian Approach Trail

Roughly 75 percent of Appalachian Trail hikers, thru-hikers and sectioners alike, decide to take the Appalachian Approach Trail to begin the trail while the other 25 percent simply take off at the base of Springer Mountain as they start the 2,192 mile (or less) journey. But for those who want to join the majority, the 8-mile trail starts off from Amicalola Falls State Park, beginning the 78-mile Georgia portion of this famous hiking trail to Maine. Not planning on walking to Maine? Then just hop on the Appalachian Approach Trail with your favorite furry pal and enjoy one of the best day hikes in the North Georgia Mountains.


Princess Lupa on the AT Approach

Just above the top of Amicalola Falls (you can hike up the falls or just enjoy the view from the parking lot at the top), the trailhead begins. For the first ⅓ mile, the trail will coincide with the Len Foote Hike Inn. When the trail forks, follow the blue blazes, veer left, and head toward Springer Mountain.

Soon enough the trail will leave Amicalola State Park, climbing its way through the Chattahoochee National Forest and onward toward the Appalachian Trail. Though not strenuous, this trail is rated at moderate, so this might prove a challenge for some at certain parts of the trail. Elevation gain is steady over the eight miles, climbing gradually through the thick Chattahoochee Forest. During the spring and summer months, the trail beams with lush greenery and vibrant native wildflowers. In the fall, the trail is a technicolor of bright orange, yellow, and red. Regardless of the time of year, the trail promises spectacular scenery.

While much of the eight-mile stretch is shaded and covered with thicket, the last 1.5 miles will provide close to 500-ft elevation gain and thinning treeline as you make the final climb up Springer. And once you get to the summit, the blue blazes will fade to white, marking the Southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and a gorgeous view of the rolling mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge.

Stanley Gap Trail

If you’re looking for the typical North Georgia hiking experience for you and your furry friend, look no further than the Stanley Gap Trail. Full of bright red Georgia clay and plenty of white mountain granite and large roots, you’re in for an adventurous afternoon out in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Now, be forewarned, this trail doesn’t offer up any waterfalls or stunning summit views, but it’s great for those who just want to get out and enjoy the beauty of the North Georgia Mountains. Plus, you’ll have plenty of protection from the sun on hot, humid days.

Lupa ready to take on Stanley Gap Trail

Coming in at just under 5 miles — around 4.8 mi — the Stanley Gap Trail is rated at moderated, but those used to hiking easier trails shouldn’t find this one too difficult either. It’s fairly forgiving, with breaks in the upward climb every 50- 100 ft  along the way. The main thing hikers should watch out for are large upturned roots and rocks that can be a bit tricky to manage if you’re not careful. But as long as you are being mindful of them, the hike shouldn’t pose any problems whatsoever.

The highest point on the trail comes around Rocky Mountain, just below the summit, near the trail’s halfway point.  After reaching that point, you’ll have to scamper up one last incline before winding back down for 1,000 ft descent toward Deep Gap. If you’re not wanting to hike all the way back to the trailhead, you can always make arrangements ahead of time for someone to pick you up at the Deep Gap parking lot or even catch a ride with a trail system shuttle driver back to you (and your dog!) back to your car.

Where are your favorite places to hike with your favorite 4-legged family member? Be sure to share your pictures of your journeys with us on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see where your Escape to Blue Ridge takes you!

Destination: Long Creek Falls



If you’re looking for a scenic trail with beautiful falls at the end, and to check off a couple high profile hiking trails while you’re at it, Long Creek Falls in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Blue Ridge, Georgia should make it to the top of your list.

An easy to moderate difficulty rating, Long Creek Falls is a two-mile round trip “out-and-back trail” that sits directly on the Appalachian Trail (AT), with access to both the Benton McKaye Trail and the Duncan Ridge Trail. Uniquely, the Appalachian Trail and Benton McKaye Trail run together as one route during this particular section of the footpath.

With full falls, even in the middle of summer, Long Creek Falls is one of the first attractions along the Appalachian Trail and one of the prettiest you’ll find not only in Fannin County, but also throughout all of the North Georgia Mountains! Exposed rock frames the cascading water, allowing for optimum sitting spots along the bank of the falls and the creek that it feeds. Before tumbling over one large rock face, Long Creek runs over smaller rocks, making the final drop into a shallow pool at the base of the falls even that much more impressive. Since the falls are only a short walk off of the AT, it’s a hot spot for thru-hikers who want a quiet place to rest their feet, take a nap alongside the river, or simply sit and take in the beauty of the falls.

Family & Pet Friendly

Over the years, Long Creek Falls has also become a destination for day hikers, particularly families and those with dogs who want a decent trail to visit on the weekends. In fact, it’s grown so much in popularity that the parking lot at Three Forks (the area you’ll drive to the start of the trail) is always packed, sprawling out down the dirt service road, especially on the weekends. So, if you’re wanting a less crowded view of the falls, going on the weekdays would give you more privacy to enjoy the trail and the falls once you get there.

For those with kids or grandkids, the falls are a huge hit since the shallow pool serves as the best spot to take a refreshing dip in the cool water, especially on those particularly sticky, southern summer days!

Take It Up a Notch

If you’re feeling especially ambitious after hiking Long Creek Falls, you can extend your hike another 8.6 miles and head toward Springer Mountain, the southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail. Though more difficult than Long Creek, the “out-and-back” from the trailhead at Long Creek to the peak of Springer Mountain offers one of the most diverse terrains on all of the Georgia section of the AT. Just follow the 2 x 6-inch white blaze north!

Are We There Yet?

You can hear that soft rustle of water from the start of the trail all the way through.

As far as getting to the trailhead goes, it isn’t a hard one to find. In fact, you can even plug the location into your GPS and it’ll take you right to the parking lot. From Blue Ridge, you’ll take Old Highway 76 and hop on Aska Road until it dead-ends into Newport Road. Take Newport Road until it ends and turn left onto Doublehead Gap Road. Doublehead Gap will turn into a dirt road, which you’ll follow until the three-way split. On the split, follow Forest Service Road 58 until you reach Three Forks, which is just over five miles.

Once you’ve made it, park your car, follow the trail across the road from the footbridge, and take in all the wonder and beauty of Long Creek Falls!

Be sure to share your pictures of your journeys with us on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see where your Escape to Blue Ridge takes you!

Winter Hiking in Blue Ridge



There are few better places to hike than on the hundreds and hundreds of miles of trails that crisscross the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia. Not only is this an area that speaks to the hiker in familiar terms – Appalachian Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, Hike Inn, Amicalola Falls – but it’s the wide variety of experiences, from the casual to the challenging, that make these hikes some of the most popular in America. You can come prepared and packed to the hilt or just carry a water bottle and be perfectly pleased with the result.

Every year thousands of hikers start the Appalachian Trail journey – north–to-south, south-to-north, or a split blend of both – and roughly one-quarter of those who start with intentions of a thru-hike manage to complete the 2,000-mile plus trek. Those are usually serious hikers with high aspirations, deep determination, and a lot of time.

Many, many more hikers take a day (or two), or just a morning or an afternoon to enjoy the beauty of nature, 50-mile views, and the peace and solitude of a recreational hike. For those, and the more determined and dedicated both, there’s no better place to start than Blue Ridge, Georgia and Fannin County.

What draws hikers to Blue Ridge in the first place is the variety of terrain and the landscape that surrounds it. This region has been called the “hinge of botany” for its unique ability to sustain the widest variety of plant life on the East Coast – a robust mixture of northern and southern species.

Constant surprises greet those who look for unusual trees, shrubs and ground cover. You may end up in the midst of mountain laurel, rhododendron and hemlock trees all at the same time – an experience not at all common in any other part of the country.

So, where to go to discover all this?  Well, it doesn’t take more than 10-20 miles, and 30 minutes or less to get you to where you want to go.  You can avail yourself of guide services like Blue Ridge Mountain Outfitters, ready willing and able to chime in on suggestions, or to lead the hike itself.

Springer Mountain

Just minutes from downtown Blue Ridge, Springer Mountain is best known as the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It’s the southern equivalent of Maine’s Katahdin Mountain – where hundreds per year start or finish their AT thru-hike adventures. A thru-hike isn’t a necessity to enjoy the beauty, tranquility and sense of camaraderie on the country’s most famous hiking trail. Sections of the 2,181-mile AT starting at Springer are at times both challenging and peaceful, so it’s best to consult the proper guide to determine a section of trail that suits your level of ability.

 

The Benton MacKaye Trail

Named for Benton MacKaye, the originator of the Appalachian Trail, crosses the AT about 15 miles south of Blue Ridge and features a 260-foot suspension bridge across the Toccoa River known as the Swinging Bridge. The Benton MacKaye is great option for day hikers, or you can warm up for a thru hike by doing the entire 300 miles ending in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

 

Grassy Mountain Tower Trail at Lake Conasauga

A couple of special things are going on here with this 4-mile trail – all at once. 1) The location of Grassy Mountain Tower Trail begins and ends with gorgeous views of Fort Mountain and the Cohutta Wilderness.  2) Lake Conasauga is a small, crystal clear mountaintop lake with remarkable beauty; and 3) The historic Grassy Mountain fire tower provides a perch from which to view the length and breadth of this shimmering mountain lake.

 

Emery Creek Falls Trail

This trail follows lushly forested creek banks to a pair of stunning, beautiful, remote waterfalls. The trail is refreshing, and especially fun in the summer months.  The Emery Creek Falls Trail splashes through 20 creek crossings to the pinnacle, cascading Emery Creek Falls.

 

The Jacks River Trail

If you are looking for and adventure, Jacks River ia a 14.8 mile trail located within the Cohutta Wilderness Area. This trail is slightly more advanced and parts of it crosses moving water. Forest service guidance is strongly recommended. However, if a crystal-clear river and a series of waterfalls gets you excited, then you really need to add this hike to your list.

 

The Hemp Top Trail

About 10 miles from Blue Ridge, The Hemp Top Trail is a hike of about 30 minutes, but well worth the trek. This hike accesses peaks that are among the tallest in Georgia — and the views are breathtaking.

 

Hiking anywhere in close proximity to Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Ellijay and Dahlonega in the North Georgia Mountains is an experience not to be forgotten. The exercise, exhilaration and discovery of true companionship along the way always makes for memorable moments. Most of these trails are pet friendly as well, so don’t leave Roscoe at home. Be sure to share your pictures of your journeys with us on Facebook or Instagram. We’d love to see where your Escape to Blue Ridge takes you!

Blue Ridge Area Waterfalls



It’s hard to imagine anything more tranquil, peaceful, powerful and appealing than a waterfall. And if one is good, many are better. Fortunately, in Blue Ridge and Fannin County, there is an abundance of rushing water, and impressive elevations – and, thanks to gravity, it all inevitably leads to waterfalls in various forms or fashion – all about 30 minutes’ drive from town.

Long Creek Falls

Starting with waterfalls closest to downtown Blue Ridge, Long Creek Falls provides easy access and an impressive view of a 50-foot drop in two sections. The bonus here is that the falls are at the intersection of the Appalachian and the Benton MacKaye trails, both of which offer a reasonable, but not daunting hike in.

Fall Branch Falls

Also nearby, is the upper part of Fall Branch Falls, which is a series of cascading waterfalls leading to a single drop of about 30 feet into a deep pool at the base of the falls. Fall Branch is a slightly less dramatic drop, but the hike is more challenging and the sound of cascading falls along the trail can be heard before it’s seen.

Sea Creek Falls

Just north of Blue Ridge, close to Morganton, Sea Creek Falls rewards a hiker’s driving indulgence with a short walk to a series of steep cascades. Like Long Falls, Sea Creek drops in two sections, and at high water times of the year (usually later winter and early spring) these cascading waterfalls are enormously impressive.

Amicalola Falls

It’s not a well-known fact that the Blue Ridge Mountains are older than the Rockies, but it explains the softer and relatively less severe ridge lines, thanks to centuries of weather wearing away the rough edges. Still, there are areas in these mountains that feature geological fissures affording deep drops and in the case of Amicalola Falls, just south of Ellijay, the result is a 729-foot cascading waterfall, the steepest east of the Mississippi.

Amicalola can be accessed by way an arduous hike from Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, or by car through Amicalola State Park. If you choose the State Park route, there are a few viewing options – 1) drive to the top of the falls and look down; 2) walk up the meandering staircase, which features switchbacks and landing platforms; or 3) hike up the backside of the falls to the top and have drinks or lunch at Amicalola Falls Resort. Any and all are good options.

Whatever you choice in waterfall hunting, you can’t go wrong. From pastoral to pounding waterfalls, they are a great destination and a rich reward after a drive, hike, walk or run. Additionally, they are a great way to experience family fun together, build camaraderie among buddies, or add a bit of romance to a relationship. Get out and explore. You’ll be glad you did.

We love to see your Blue Ridge adventures! Please share your favorite waterfall photos with us on our Facebook page or tag us on Instagram @escapetobr. We can’t wait to see!

Top 5 Blue Ridge Adventure Cabins



Sometimes it’s challenging to motivate for outdoor fun when it is so chilly outside. However, being active outdoors is a great way to enjoy the mountains in a whole new way. Not only is it less crowded, but there are no bugs to contend with! To make the most of your outdoor adventure and not be cold and uncomfortable, layer your clothing so you don’t wimp out and head back for the cabin. Here are a few inspiring North Georgia cabin rentals to keep you active in and around Blue Ridge.

A River Runs Through It

The Aska Adventure Lodge is located in the much sought after Aska Adventure area. Did you know Aska is the Cherokee Native American word for “winter retreat”? However, this cabin is perfect in every season. The Lodge has three bedrooms and three bathrooms and can easily accommodate ten people with king beds in the two master suits, a queen bed in the guest room, and two futons in the loft and game room.

This retreat is conveniently located less than five minutes from the quaint town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Nearby access to the Toccoa River and Lake Blue Ridge is easily accessible. Our friend, Dell Neighbors, at Fly Fishing North Georgia would be happy to take you on a guided fly-fishing trip to the area’s many cold-water streams and rivers. When you return from a great day of fishing, you can throw your freshly caught trout on the grill of your expansive deck and reflect on the successes of the day. Cap off your evening by lighting the outdoor fireplace and relax on the deck as the sun sets behind the expansive Blue Ridge Mountains.

A Gallop and a Trot

Vista Ridge is a distinctive Georgia mountain cabin rental that offers the peaceful get away from your everyday life that you are craving. Named for the spectacular view that overlooks the Toccoa River and stretches all the way to Tennessee and North Carolina, this four-bedroom, three bath home is your perfect base camp to explore the Blue Ridge area.  To get a better feel for the view, saddle up a horse with our friends at Blanche Manor and go on an adventure through the unspoiled beauty of the mountain wilderness.

After a long day on the trails, soothe your sore muscles in the hot tub and watch the sun set behind the mountains. Back inside, turn on the gas fireplace and snuggle into the leather couches. Before your weekend is over, challenge your partner to a game of pool in the game room and make the looser take you out to a fabulous dinner at Harvest on Main.

Fly Like an Eagle

Eagles Landing is as bold, majestic and unique lodge that is the epitome of rustic elegance. This spacious custom home has seven bedrooms to accommodate nineteen guests. Situated directly on Lake Blue Ridge, this spectacular showplace has incomparable views of the surrounding mountains. The hand-carved spiral staircase spans four floors, from the unique loft down to the terrace level where you will find the “grown-ups’ game room”. There are three decks spanning the length of the home, a hot tub, swings, and a picnic table to enjoy views and privacy that cannot be found anywhere else.

Close by you can channel your inner eagle and zip through 165 acres of beautiful North Georgia mountain property with our friends at Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge. Here, you’ll experience the mountains from the treetops, you’ll zip into the valley, soar over pastures, and cross over Fighting Town Creek. From 75’ in the air you can squeal with delight take off on 6,000 feet of cable, crossing thirteen platforms and three walking bridges.

A Walk in the Woods

It’s impossible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time. Fortunately, the mountains are rich with hiking trails to explore and Take a Hike cabin is the perfect home base. Beautifully situated on Mt. Pisgah, this cabin overlooks absolutely fantastic mountain views. It also has three massive decks to enjoy them and from where you’ll be inspired to plan the many and nearby open-air activities that surround you. This home has great sleeping accommodations for up to 7 people and is a perfect set up for two families vacationing together or a good-sized group.

Explore the Cohutta Wilderness just off of your back porch where you can pick from delicious blueberry and blackberry bushes for snacking along your easy hike to a waterfall, cave or to Colonel Magnum’s memorial. A quick ten-minute drive will get you to major hiking trailheads including Dally Gap, Jacks River, Benton Mackaye and Hemptop.  Whichever route you choose, you will find peace and tranquility both in the woods and back at the cabin.

A Winery, Why Not

You have a lot of choices in Blue Ridge cabin rentals, but if you’re looking for comfort, privacy, and great views, Wine Down is the perfect vacation destination. This beautifully appointed mountain retreat is the kind of place that invites you to settle in, wind down and relax with a glass of wine, like its name suggests. The cabin’s four roomy bedrooms beckon you with comfort, but the real appeal is outside. Wine Down’s covered outdoor living room on the main deck has a gas grill, table for eight, plenty of seating, and a 60” TV above the wood burning fireplace.

Wine down is located on Aska Road less than four miles from the shopping and restaurants of downtown Blue Ridge. A short drive will take you to the nearby winery at Serenberry Vineyards.  Sit back, relax, and enjoy a mountain wine tasting. Their Skeenah Red is a perfect Merlot-Cab blend, but if you prefer something sweeter, you should definitely try the Apple-lachian. Fruity and sweet, it’s like a little apple pie in a bottle!