Autumn brings out the best of bucolic Blairsville
To those who hail from colder climes, “leaf peeping” is an autumn ritual. Parents, couples and kids pile into cars and head into the mountains to see the fall foliage in its most vivid splendor. While Atlanta isn’t known for its cold weather, it is lucky to be close to a zone where the crisp air turns trees into an artist’s palette of ambers, ochers, coppers and rubies. One of the best places to commune with color is Blairsville, about a two-hour drive north of Buckhead.
The town is strategically positioned for optimal leaf viewing: It sits on the edge of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, a massive spread with about 850 miles of pathways that meander under the tree canopy, including 80 miles that are part of the Appalachian Trail. Within the forests is Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s oldest parks ideal for swimming, fishing, hiking and hanging out in a cabin or campsite around a 22-acre lake. Trek to Helton Creek Falls where two streams converge into a stunning, 100-foot drop. Also inside the forests is the Lake Winfield Scott recreation area and Lake Nottely, both idyllic spots for water sports, walking and watching the local wildlife as well as the leaves.
Not into leaf watching or nature? No worries. Blairsville has other natural wonders in store. A quaint downtown district offers a glimpse into the area’s history at the red-brick Union County Courthouse, built in 1899 and home to the county’s historical society, military museum and dollhouse collection. Log some shopping time with stops at The Wine Shoppe, featuring local wines and craft beers; Sunflowers on the Square antiques; and the Logan Turnpike Mill shop, stocked with the ingredients found in many of Atlanta’s best grits dishes.
A five-minute stroll from the heart of town leads to the Mountain Life Museum, actually an assemblage of several historic buildings including the 1906 Butt-Mock Home, the Civil War-era Payne cabin, a barn and smithy (blacksmith’s workshop). Drive about 5 miles south to Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm, where tours take visitors up-close with the creatures and demonstrate how their wool can be spun into a variety of products.
Georgia’s mountains are also known for their moonshine history, and country music singer and songwriter Tommy Townsend is keeping that history alive at Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine Distillery. Using family recipes, the operation turns out corn whiskeys in a variety of flavors. The place gets most crowded during the summer when it’s a popular site for outdoor concerts.
Though it’s an easy drive back to Atlanta, Blairsville has options for an overnight stay. The Copperhead Lodge offers cabins and rooms. Drop by its Flying Trout Restaurant where casual favorites from chicken and waffles to a trout burger fill the menu. The Paradise Hills Winery Resort and Spa features a full-service spa and one- to four-bedroom cabins, outfitted with fireplaces, spa tubs and spectacular views. The 40 acres of vineyards are planted with six grape varieties, and a tasting room gives visitors a chance to sip before buying. Grab a glass and a seat on the patio or porch, and savor the local flavors as well as the foliage. After months of being cooped up at home, Blairsville provides the perfect place for getting away and “peeping” into nature.
IF YOU GO
Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine Distillery
Mountain Life Museum
Paradise Hills Winery Resort and Spa
Vogel State Park
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.