I’m stressed, driving in gruesome holiday traffic on Roswell road, trying to keep my nostrils from flaring. I cannot believe that I locked myself outta the house! Somewhere between leaving a key for my visiting guests and numerous wardrobe and purse changes over the last couple of days, I managed to leave both my spare and my regular house key inside the house. Now I’m driving across town to pick up the spare spare when I should be headed out of town for my relaxing weekend vacation in the mountains. GRRRRR!!
Heading up to the Georgia mountains is something I’ve done at least once a year since my senior year in college. Of course the Georgia mountains are nothing like those out west, they’re more like impressively large hills by comparison. But I always relish the opportunity to leave the smog and traffic of the city behind and immerse myself in nature and a much slower pace of existence for a few days. I try to focus on this idea instead of on the cuss-words I’d like to hurl at this guy tap-dancing on his brake pedal in front of me. My inner voice pipes up, “Be easy. In only a few hours, you’ll be practicing zazen from a rocking chair on the front porch of a charming cabin”. It’s enough to keep me sane for a bit longer.
Here’s a few tips should you need an escape to sanity as well.
Finding the Perfect Spot
Whenever I head north, I stay in one of many available rental cabins in the area. Most require at least a 2-night stay, and several only rent by the week. Holiday weekends book fast, so even though there are lots of choices in the area, you’d be wise to plan ahead if you want to snag something for a holiday or in late October when the fall colors are at their peak.
A quick Google search for North Georgia mountain cabins will give you plenty to choose from. You can narrow the results by focusing on specific regions or cities. Some of my favorites areas are: Nantahala (which is actually in Tennessee / North Carolina but not much further than the others), Blue Ridge, Dahlonega, and Helen. If you want more of that ‘redneck Riviera’ feel (though, dear God, I can’t imagine why), check out Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville – there’s a main drag running through both of those that hosts a slew of carnival-like attractions. Craigslist is another viable option.
Expect to pay at least $100 / night for an average cabin with standard amenities – grill, washer/dryer, kitchen with all the supplies, TV / DVD / CD player. Larger cabins, or those with more plush offerings (e.g., wireless internet, wood-burning fireplace, ping pong or pool table, hot tubs, in-cabin massages), will be a little more, with some exceeding $200 / night. But if you recruit a few friends to go on the trip with you, it can still be very affordable.
Another thing to consider is the location of the cabin itself and what that will mean for the type of vehicle you’re driving. If you’ve got a four-cylinder sedan, you might not want a cabin that’s on a secluded mountain pass – a quick call to the rental office will let you know if you can make it.
You can reach your mountain getaway in a little more than an hour drive from Atlanta. Just head north on I-75 and take I-575 east until you reach the Blue Ridge area. Keep the camera handy, as there are some scenic views where you can pull over and catch some good photos. If you have time to spare, turn off on one of the many back roads (most are marked with ‘scenic drive’ signs) and go for a ride. You’ll pass dilapidated old farmhouses, huge pastures with sleepy looking cows and some of the prettiest horses you’ve ever seen. The long curving roads are great for bikers, too.
What to Bring
First and foremost, be sure to bring a friendly attitude. Everyone in the area either lives in the country by choice, or is like you – temporarily escaping the city for a reason. Be prepared to wave at pretty much every person that passes you by in a vehicle or on foot.
Also pack some comfy hiking shoes; camera; cash / small bills for parking or entrance fees at some of the natural attractions. Bring a collection of CDs or your MP3 player, and something to read as you while away the afternoons on the porch. It might also be a good idea to bring bug spray and a flashlight in case you arrive in the evening or
What to Do
If you’re determined to get out of the cabin for some sightseeing, there’s lots to choose from – horseback riding, fishing, boating, hiking, dining and shopping are all minutes away. If nostalgia is your thing, there’s a drive-in movie theater in Blue Ridge that shows first-run flicks. Also, the downtown areas of the surrounding cities have some cute, affordable arts / craft shops and charming cafes – perfect opportunities to get some unique souvenirs and engage in casual conversation with the locals.
On this particular trip, it was all about the falls for me. On the drive in, we stopped to see Amicalola Falls – one of the more popular ones on the area due to its impressive height.
After entering the state park, it’s a short drive and a small parking fee to pay to gain access to the top of the falls. You can enjoy the view from the top, or walk down the stairs to a bridge that’s right in front of the falls for some close-up photo opps. But be sure you’re really committed before you descend those stairs. With a total of 425 steps, it’s a piece of cake on the way down, but it’s absolutely no joke on the way back up. My calves were still sore the next day.
Another falls I visited on this trip was Long Creek Falls. Though not as visually impressive as Amicalola, I liked this one better. Mainly because you can really get up close and personal. Instead of just taking pictures from a bridge, you can actually stick your toes into the icy cold water, climb out onto the rocks and lay out listening to the rushing waters rinse all your troubles away.
Here’s some links to other activities in the area:
Self-Guided Tours: http://www.blueridgemountains.com/selfguidedtours.html
Sample Itineraries: http://www.blueridgemountains.com/itineraries.html
N. Georgia Falls: http://www.n-georgia.com/waterfal.htm
Fishing Sites: http://www.theblueridgehighlander.com/fishing/
Of course, there are plenty of BBQ restaurants in the area – most of which are better than what you can find anywhere in the city of Atlantis. But I honestly can’t recommend any, as I usually bring my own food since – in case you haven’t noticed – I actually like to cook.If you decide to bring your own as well…keep it simple. There are grocery stores in the towns you’ll pass: think Food Lion and Super WalMart; not Kroger / Publix / Whole Foods. Bring only the food items and kitchen tools that are absolutely essential or might not be available at the aforementioned grocery chains or in the kitchen of the cabin you’ve rented.
It’s also a good idea to stock up on the sauce – not béarnaise, I’m talking the chest-warming kind. There are some major liquor depots on the way in, but many of the counties in the area are dry, so make sure you’re prepared for whatever cocktails you might wanna sip on.And speaking of cocktails…what mountain getaway would be complete without a signature cocktail? Here’s a quick recipe for the drink that was inspired by (and copiously consumed on) this trip. I’ve named it, The Appalachian Sarong, since my sarong was the primary component of my wardrobe for the entire weekend.The Appalachian Sarong
1 part Ketel One vodka
2 parts pineapple juice
Wedge of lime, juiced
Splash of tonic water or club sodacheers,