- Dacey Orr For the AJC
It doesn't take thousands of miles or a state line to escape the trials and traffic of city living in Atlanta.
Just two hours in the car will earn vacationers a weekend of rustic sights and adventurous outdoor activity in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
The hiking trails and natural landmarks in the area alone are enough to make a newcomer's head spin, so take a peek at these tried-and-true tips for your next trip to this North Georgia town.
Pack in layers (and don't forget a rain jacket)
Blue Ridge is at its most colorful in the summer and fall, but with scattered showers all year and brisker evenings in the mountain air, visitors will want to pack for a wide range of weather if they want to take full advantage of the variety of outdoor adventures. Temperatures can get up to into the 90s during the day and still sink into the 50s at night and early in the morning, so be sure to toss in at least one sweatshirt and pair of long pants to stay comfortable throughout the trip.
Catch a flick at Swan Drive In(651 Summit St, Blue Ridge, GA 30513)
Established in 1955, Swan is one of just four drive-in theatres in Georgia that are still up and running. With $8 admission to double features, patrons' wallets can travel back in time with them as they enjoy modern movies from the comfort of their cars or rent chairs and sit outside for $3/each. Even those who pack their refreshments will want to bring cash for concessions; with deep-fried oreos, funnel cakes and killer burgers, Swan Drive In is a sweet place to break a diet, too.
It's hard to imagine fresher produce than what you pick yourself, and visitors at Mercier Orchards (8660 Blue Ridge Dr, Blue Ridge, GA 30513) can taste the difference between the orchards fruits and their local grocer. Pick your own fruit or enjoy one of the orchard's delectable baked goods to take advantage of the farm's fresh offerings, and be sure to sample the spot's hard ciders and wine for a little extra spirit. For additional activities, call the orchard (800-361-7731) or keep an eye on their website for special events like tractor rides, live music and more.
Drink local, too Georgia may still be working on becoming a welcoming place for brewers, but that doesn't mean the breweries aren't welcoming hubs for the state's visitors. Blue Ridge itself has multiple spots for hop heads, offering tours and tastings for IPA fans and fruity beer lovers alike. Head over to Grumpy Old Men Brewing (1315 E Main St, Blue Ridge, GA 30513) and try one of as many as seven beers they have on tap, enjoying the yard games and distinctly un-grumpy atmosphere. Just down the road lies Fanning Brewing (3758 East First Street, Blue Ridge, GA 30513) where beer geeks can get six tastings and a tour for $15. Be sure to check the breweries' websites before planning an outing, though—they're only open for tastings at select times during the week.
Explore the revitalized downtown Whether it's cravable food, buzz-worthy coffee or a series of eclectic boutiques, Downtown Blue Ridge has become quite an attraction for those looking to leave their cabins behind for a few hours. Fuel up at L & L Beanery (260 W Main St), a restaurant and coffee joint in a converted old bank and a favorite of Reese Witherspoon (whose clothing line sources their denim from Blue Ridge). From there, duck into Blue Ridge Cotton Company (544 E. Main St., Ste 2) for affordably priced clothing and gifts or check Huck's General Store (500 E Main St) for hand-cut soap, novelty items or locally-made preserves and treats. And a trip downtown wouldn't be complete without a gluttonous visit to Joe's BBQ (3365 E 1st St), which serves up classic barbecue fare with homemade sauces.
Enjoy the outdoors The attractions of Blue Ridge may be bustling, but a visit to the mountains is rarely planned with the intention of sticking with civilization. Just 10 miles from Downtown Blue Ridge, outdoorsy types can enjoy over 17 miles of hiking and biking paths on the Aska Trail System, open year round with multiple access points. Try the Ocoee Whitewater Center for whitewater sports or a shorter hike, with a route that clocks in at one mile and includes a stint over a beautiful bridge. In the summer, take a dip and have a picnic at the Morganton Recreation Center (475 Lake Dr, Morganton Point, GA 30560), a boat-friendly site on Lake Blue Ridge popular for swimming and camping. Those who plan to swim should make sure to pack water shoes—the ground underfoot can be rocky.