Mother Nature’s Playground
Finding Family Fun in the Great Outdoors
Written by Kathleen Stevens Moore
April showers bring May flowers across the country, but in Georgia, daffodils have already blossomed and so has the sun. Mother Nature conjures springtime afternoons so deliciously warm that staying inside seems like a cardinal sin for a Southerner.
Cast and Blast
Less than two hours north of Atlanta, the town of Blue Ridge is hands-down adorable. Its lake of the same name plays no second fiddle – it’s righteously beautiful. Then there’s the nearby Toccoa River with robust waters that have helped earn Fannin County the bona fide title of Trout Capital of Georgia. Perhaps you already know that.
What may be news is the area’s off-the-beaten-path Noontootla Creek Farms. Tucked into the southern pocket of Fannin County, this 1,500-acre property offers thrills byway of three main activities: guided fly fishing, a sporting-clay course and a 3-D archery course packed with plenty of life-size targets to challenge your skills. Plan ahead, as there’s no such thing as walk-ins.
All three species of Georgia trout — rainbow, brown and brook — can be caught in challenging Noontootla Creek, where guests sans equipment worry not. Guides will outfit each member of your party with waders, boots, rods, reels and flies. Save your cash for a tip instead of shelling out a small fortune at the sporting goods store.
“This is no trout pond,” Rob Kaser, marketing manager of Noontootla Creek Farms said. “We’re one of the best small stream fly-fishing experiences in the country.”
“What about Montana?” I asked. “They’re pretty good.”
“When I say one of the best,” Kaser answered quietly, “I’m being humble. Many guides have said we’re the best. Period.”
Well, then – I want to go. So do you.
Visitors may stay on property in a four-bedroom farmhouse sleeping eight. The accommodations can serve as your family’s home base for any and all Blue Ridge area activities.
If the farmhouse is booked on your desired dates, don’t fret. Rent one of the many beautiful cabins Blue Ridge has to offer, then make plans to “cast and blast” back at the farm. In other words, fish in the morning and shoot your way through the afternoon. Kaser referred to the 12-station sporting-clay course as golfing with a shotgun, cart included. Unlike golf, highest score wins.
Even if rods and rifles aren’t your life’s burning passion, it’s fun to learn. Kaser reported girls’ get-away weekends have become amazingly popular. Sleepy mountain views across the valley are worth the trip alone, but the folks at Noontootla Creek Farms work hard to create unique experiences guests never forget.
Thrills for All
Venture north across the Georgia border and discover white water rafting on the Ocoee River. At Raft One, brothers Brent and Dusty Rogers have taken their passion for the great outdoors and turned it into a thriving business. Looking for rafting, zip lining and mountain biking excursions?
Look no more. Raft One is aptly named. In the beginning, the outfit would happily take a single passenger down the river if that’s who showed up. It’s a marked contrast from most rafting companies that wouldn’t dream of spending an afternoon with a lone paying customer. That is rarely the case these days.
“Our biggest group to date [numbered] 600 people,” Brent reported proudly.
Families make up a hearty percentage of their client base, but oversized groups plow through regularly. Everyone from youth groups to bachelorette parties have wielded themselves down the class I to IV rapids under Raft One’s careful guidance. Safety comes first, but clients are expected to help float the boat. Everyone becomes part of the crew, paddling for all his or her worth and getting wet.
On-property lodging includes a log cabin style bunkhouse holding up to 44 people in single-person bunk beds. Pack a sleeping bag, pillow, towels and, most importantly, your inner Indiana Jones.
If you can get your crew to Athens, do yourself a favor and drift a little farther east. Nestled in the rolling countryside is Eagle Rock Plantation — a place low on cotton, but high in praise from avid hunters across the nation who return annually to this highly sought-after 1,400-acre hunting preserve.
Owned and operated by the Slay family for 11 years, they’ve diligently overseen careful land management and exhilarating private hunts.
“This is my art piece,” patriarch and owner Mitch Slay said of the property. “I’m the painter.”
This spring consider one of their combo wild boar and turkey hunts. Never seen a wild boar, let alone shoot one That’s okay. The Slay family works with both experienced hunters and newbies.
“Little Buddy Hunts” are specifically geared for parents with children. Thrashing around the preserve, boars can reach a whopping 500 pounds. Hunting them is done from elevated stands, with children never left alone. Parent accompaniment is a must. Whether you’re shooting or gawking at one, an oversized wild hairy hog crashing through brush is something you don’t see every day.
Guests stay on property in the stately plantation home (pictured on previous page), but don’t expect to nab an online reservation – it can’t be done. Slay runs the operation old school, so you’ll have to pick up the phone and talk to a human. When you do, the Southern hospitality oozing from the other end will only encourage you to book at trip without further adieu. Eagle Rock Plantation is also a working cattle ranch of more than 100 Angus.
“Kids need to see where their hamburger comes from,” instructed Slay with a chuckle.
The sheer number of visible wildlife tucked into the landscape will impress all in your party. Children delight in spotting white tail deer, turkey, geese, ducks, hogs, songbirds and perhaps an occasional bald eagle. So, skip the petting zoo and come see the real thing.
“It’s an oasis of wildlife,” Slay guaranteed.
Shutterbugs, have a field day. Many come to hone their photography skills among the acres of pine forests, gurgling creeks and low golden afternoons. Eagle Rock Plantation serves up more than custom-crafted hunts; it’s Georgian countryside at its best.
Not Your Granny’s Cabin
Years ago, my family visited Fort Mountain State Park northwest of Ellijay. The hiking, lake fun, historic stonewall tower and long-range views into Tennessee were stunning. The dated onsite cabin we stayed in? Meh.
Well, that’s all changed and many Georgia State Park cabins now have bragging rights beyond their beautiful backdrops. Renovated interiors feature any variety of fresh bead board walls, polished hardwood floors, handsome ceiling beams, flat screen TVs and industrial-chic light fixtures. Martha Stewart would approve.
If you’ve lugged your crew to a state park cabin in seasons past and left unimpressed, come on back. These remodeled spaces and handsome rooms inspired by their gorgeous settings will put your spring adventure over the top.
“People are amazed by the remodeling,” said Carol Chadwick, office clerk at Fort Mountain State Park. “They’re surprised to find modernized cabins tucked back in the woods.”
Fort Mountain State Park boasts 10 renovated cabins with five more slated for redesign soon. Currently, camper cabins in four other Georgia State Parks – Fort Yargo, Vogel, Don Carter and Fort McAllister – have also been revamped, with F.D. Roosevelt up next. If you find yourself on the reservation hotline and all the cool-kid cabins are taken, remember you have other lodging options. Don’t forget about yurts.
What’s a yurt? We’re glad you asked. Made of wood and canvas, a yurt is a circular cabin several notches sturdier (and much less trouble) than a traditional nylon tent. They boast everything from real furniture, wood floors, ceiling fans and heat in the winter. Laying your pretty little head down in a yurt is like glamour camping. Book one this spring and text all your friends that you’re out “glamping.”
Five state parks across Georgia feature yurt possibilities, with Cloudland Canyon ringing in the clear winner with a total of 10. Interiors feature electrical outlets for your cook stove, electric blankets, curling iron – however you roll. Locking doors and large windows will make your crew feel safe and homey. And snap! You won’t be worn out from toting extra gear, as the only things you need to bring are sleeping bags and chow. Expend precious energy elsewhere instead, like hiking up forest trails and paddling canoes.
By the way, the maximum stay for guests is 14 nights. There has to be a time limit you see, because the things are so stinking fun, you won’t want to leave.
Whether you’ve tossed around ideas of taking the family fishing, rafting, zip lining, shooting or mountain biking, don’t wait. Wild flowers are blooming, rivers running wild and waterfalls gushing. Get your family out into the heart of spring.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
NOONTOOTLA CREEK FARMS
3668 Newport Road
Blue Ridge, GA 30513
4599 Highway 64 West
Ducktown, TN 37326
EAGLE ROCK PLANTATION
300 Arnold Caldwell
Lexington, GA 30648
GEORGIA STATE PARKS
CABIN AND YURT RENTALS