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!

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!