Reveling In Small-town Charm and Outdoor Adventures in Blue Ridge
written by Sam Boykin | photos courtesy of Black Sheep; Christy Lee’s; Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals
The best seat in the town of Blue Ridge, Ga., is arguably on the expansive second-floor balcony of the Mustard Seed Trading Company building. Here you can kick back with your favorite beverage and soak up the sights and sounds of the bustling Main Street below. But don’t get too comfortable. During your visit, you’ll also want to explore the bounty of outdoor adventures and family-fun activities for a wonderful mountain getaway that’s only about 100 miles north of Atlanta.
The town of Blue Ridge was founded in the 1880s, after the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad built a line along the Toccoa River Valley to transport cotton and other crops. Today, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway runs on the tracks — the 1905 depot is in downtown Blue Ridge — and offers visitors a 26-mile round trip, with layovers in McCaysville, Ga., and Copperhill, Tenn.
The railway is a beloved part of the town’s historic charm, and Blue Ridge’s beating heart can be found in its downtown. Southern Comfort Cabin Rentals has dozens of cabins, as well as several luxury one- and two-bedroom suites at the Mustard Seed building outfitted with jetted tubs, gas fireplaces, full kitchens and dining areas, perfect for those who want to stay in the middle of the action.
Directly below the second-floor suite’s balcony is a cozy courtyard with several topnotch restaurants. At Harvest on Main, located inside a gorgeous stone building with cedar roof shingles, noted chef/owner Danny Mellman uses local ingredients to create an international, Southern-inspired menu. Highlights include cornmeal-dusted trout and oven-roasted turkey topped with crabmeat.
Next door is Christy Lee’s Courtyard Grille. This elegant but laid-back spot has a mouthwatering selection of steaks, seafood and pasta, along with a lively outdoor bar and patio where you can enjoy live music. For delectable desserts, be sure to stop in The Sweet Shoppe, which is noted for winning Food Network’s “-Cupcake Wars” in 2014.
Elsewhere downtown, you’ll find an eclectic lineup of boutiques, galleries, restaurants, bars and a spa. For a little bit of everything, grab a bucket at the old-fashioned Huck’s General Store and fill it with such varied goodies as candy, clothes, toys, books, soaps and other gifts.
A favorite hangout among the locals is Blue Ridge Brewery, which has six house craft beers, munchies such as burgers, pizzas and salads, live music and an -outdoor patio.
For fine dining, look no further than Black Sheep, located inside a beautifully restored 1914 house that was built by Colonel William Butt, a former Blue Ridge mayor. Black Sheep specializes in upscale Southern comfort food, such as shrimp and grits, BBQ pulled pork, steaks and meatloaf. To really embrace your historic mountain surroundings, imbibe in the restaurant’s own brand of moonshine, including apple pie, peach and chocolate cherry flavors.
Just outside downtown is Mercier Orchards, a fourth-generation orchard where visitors can pick their own strawberries, blueberries and apples. Guests can also take tractor tours of the 300-acre property and peruse the gift shops, gourmet pantry, winery and tasting room. Mercier Orchards is a popular destination for breakfast, with biscuits, omelets, waffles, pancakes and, of course, the “apple orchard delight” — apple cinnamon French toast served with warm cinnamon apples.
Good Times on the Toccoa
As irresistible and charming as downtown is, a trip to Blue Ridge isn’t complete without visiting some of the attractions that showcase the area’s natural beauty. Many of these attractions can be found along the Toccoa River, which flows north through Georgia for nearly 60 miles before turning into the Ocoee as it snakes into Tennessee.
At Toccoa Valley Campground, located about 12 miles from downtown Blue Ridge, you can rent a tube or raft for a leisurely 6-mile float. There are several sandy beach areas along the way, where you can stop and play and soak in the beautiful mountain surroundings. A shuttle will bring you back to the campground at the end of the three-hour trip.
A short drive from the campground is The Lilly Pad Village, a great place for some laid-back family fun. Grab a fishing pole and cast a line in the half-acre pond, which is regularly stocked with bass, bream and catfish. There’s also a nine-hole miniature golf course and a gem mining area where you can search for emeralds, sapphire rubies and other treasures.
For something a little more adventurous, explore the vast Chattahoochee National Forest with nearly 750,000 acres in northern Georgia alone and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails that wind through rugged woodlands and past scenic rivers and streams. Some of the forest’s not-to-miss destinations include the 50-foot Long Creek Falls, and the 270-foot swinging bridge – the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi River – that covers the expanse of the Toccoa River along the Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail.
Fed by the upper Toccoa, the 3,290-acre Lake Blue Ridge is another must-see attraction in the Chattahoochee National Forest. There’s a convenient access point (including a boat ramp) near the intersection of Hwy. 76 and Aska Road. Lake Blue Ridge Outfitters, in nearby Morganton, Ga., offers kayak and SUP (stand-up paddleboard) rentals as well as guided fishing trips on the lake.
To really get your adrenaline pumping, continue traveling north along the Toccoa as it flows out of Lake Blue Ridge. Once the river crosses into Tennessee and becomes the Ocoee, the gentle waters give way to roaring Class III-IV rapids, including the 5-mile Upper Ocoee section where whitewater athletes competed in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Local outfitters include Ocoee Adventure Center in Ducktown, Tenn., and Rolling Thunder River Company in McCaysville, Ga.
Having undoubtedly worked up an appetite, a great place to end the day and enjoy a hearty meal is the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant, a favorite spot among locals and newcomers alike. Be sure to ask for a table on the expansive deck that overlooks the slow-moving river — it rivals the second-floor balcony back in downtown as the best seat in Blue Ridge.
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