Road trip to a long weekend of adventure in Blue Ridge

  • Eric Champlin
  • For the AJC
8:29 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 Things to Do in Atlanta
Beautiful foliage adorns the hills surrounding the Blue Ridge Parkway near Alligator Back, in Cranberry, N.C. Chris Reynolds/Los Angeles Times/TNS

Nestled in the rolling Appalachians of north Georgia, Blue Ridge is a great destination for a weekend of outdoor adventure.

In this historic railroad town turned vacation destination, train tracks bisect a small mountain city with big-city-quality restaurants, outdoor outfitters and specialty shops. Bordering Blue Ridge, orchards and farms burst with seasonal local produce. Nearby cabins offer a quick escape from metro Atlanta, with rocking porches and mountain views, wood burning fireplaces and a cozy change of pace from urban life.

For the adventure-bound, Blue Ridge offers close access to a multitude of outdoor activities. Book a long weekend in Blue Ridge to hike, paddle and bike some of north Georgia's most scenic landscapes, unwind in a cozy cabin and nosh on some seriously delicious local fare.

On the trail

Blue Ridge offers convenient access to some of north Georgia's best hiking trails. For a quick, scenic hike with the family, hike the Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) to Fall Branch Falls, a spilling waterfall set in a shady forest of rhododendron. Or hike the BMT to the Toccoa River Swinging Bridge, a swaying, 270-foot suspension bridge over the scenic Toccoa River.

Hike a small slice of the legendary Appalachian Trail (AT) at Springer Mountain, the official southernmost end of the epic length trail that spans from Georgia to Maine. Journey from a beautifully scenic valley at Three Forks, following the Appalachian Trail to the gorgeous cascades of Long Creek Falls. Or for a longer journey, hike an eight mile round trip on the Appalachian Trail from Three Forks to Springer Mountain, climbing through a shady creek valley before summitingSpringer and visiting the southernmost blaze on the AT.

For the more seasoned hiker, the nearby Cohutta Wilderness is remote, serene and exceptionally beautiful. It's the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River, and it's bisected by two clear flowing rivers that wind through a densely forested, mountainous landscape. Hike the Beech Bottom Trail to Jacks River Falls, a towering, rocky waterfall that's the most popular in the Cohutta Wilderness (and one of the most beautiful in Georgia). Or for a wet, splashy adventure, hike the Conasauga River Trail's lower half, a 13 mile adventure that fords 36 river crossings from Betty Gap to Bray Field.

Prefer to pedal the trail? Blue Ridge offers some great nearby mountain biking trails, too. Pedal 17 miles of forested trails at the popular Aska Adventure Trail area, with trails ranging from two to five miles and moderate to difficult. Bike Bear Creek, a lush creek valley that's filled with towering trees, on the Pinhoti Trail, a long range trail that winds through Alabama and Georgia. Or pedal a few of the more than 60 mountain biking trails near Blue Ridge through some seriously beautiful singletrack.

On the water

A few miles from the historic downtown area, Lake Blue Ridge is nestled in north Georgia's rolling, green-covered mountains. With US Forest Service land lining the majority of its shoreline, the lake is especially scenic. Explore the lake on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP): Surf Blue Ridge offers paddleboard lessons, sales and tours. Or float the lake by kayak, canoe or SUP with a rental from Lake Blue Ridge Marina, which also offers full and half day pontoon boat rentals.

On the rail

Need a break between your on-trail or on-water workouts? Depart from Blue Ridge's historic 1905 railway depot and ride along the Toccoa River on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. A four hour journey winds through scenic landscapes in your choice of vintage open air rail cars or enclosed, climate controlled cars.

Dine

Work up an appetite on the trail or on the water, and then head back to town for some seriously delicious eats.

Blue Ridge Grocery serves up artfully crafted breakfast and lunch fare, made from scratch baked goods and high quality coffee, lattes and espresso drinks from the coffee bar. The grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwich is outstanding, as are the sourdough egg sandwich and the granola topped Atlanta Fresh Greek Yogurt. Grab breakfast or lunch to go to enjoy on the trail.

Dine trackside on the railway at Masseria Kitchen and Bar, a casual joint that offers handmade pizza, pasta, sandwiches and incredible desserts. A Masseria menu favorite, the grilled Caesar salad is exceptionally delicious: grilled romaine leaves are piled with hickory smoked ricotta, tomatoes, olives, cheese and a garlic Caesar dressing.

Head to Harvest on Main for some of Blue Ridge's most upscale fare in a rustic lodge atmosphere. The cuisine is a global and southern fusion, the menu brims with locally sourced and seasonal ingredients and the flavor profiles and textures from the kitchen are akin to upscale big-city fare. Harvest on Main's daily plates are delicious, but the menu's sampling of small plates, salads and soups are equally tasty and dinner worthy.

For a celebratory pint in town, visit Fightingtown Tavern on Main St., a casual eatery and bar that features local draft beer, dart boards, shuffleboard tables, a billiard room and a vibrant, fun atmosphere. Or for drinks and dessert with a scenic view, head to Toccoa Riverside Restaurant, located near the Aska Adventure Trails on the banks of the Toccoa River.

Stay

The Blue Ridge area offers a wide variety of rental cabins for a cozy stay. Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals offers creekside and mountaintop cabins near downtown Blue Ridge and in more remote locales. If you're traveling with your four legged hiking friend, Southern Comfort offers a number of pet friendly options, too.

For a more remote cabin experience, and some exceptional mountaintop sunrises, stay at Wilderness View Cabins, located on a mountain ridge near Fort Mountain State Park southeast of Blue Ridge. Or stay in Wilderness View's newest cabin, Take a Breath, located in the gated Coosawattee River Resort.

More nearby outdoor adventures

Hike these five beginner friendly waterfall trails to view some beautiful, picture worthy waterfalls. Catch some adrenaline, and raft the nearby Upper Ocoee River on the 1996 Olympic whitewater course. Or chase waterfalls and scale mountain summits on these great hikes near Blue Ridge.

Eric Champlin is an outdoor enthusiast, and the editor of AtlantaTrails.com and AshevilleTrails.com, online magazines that highlight the south's best outdoor adventures.

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