When temperatures teeter at the triple digits in the middle of the summer, it’s a clear cue to ditch the city and make a run for the border. But not just any border. The awe-inspiring oasis of mountains, forest and water famously known as Blue Ridge. With the GPS pointed north, three hours later your adventure to cool off begins. Would you choose to lounge on the deck of a lake-front cabin, hike along a babbling brook, float down the river rapids on a raft or wind your way along bluffs and pastures dotted with native animals? The choices for coolness are indeed many.
The North Georgia mountains create a palette of blues and grays for those visiting the cool and charming town of Blue Ridge. In 1886, the railroad was built as a means to transport gold, copper and timber from the mountains down to a central site, soon to be founded as the town of Blue Ridge. The historic Blue Ridge Depot, rebuilt in 1906 after a fire, is now the home of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad. It offers a pleasant ride along the banks of the beautiful Toccoa River to McCaysville, before returning to its historical depot to pick up more passengers.
The town of Blue Ridge is the perfect place for shopping, dining or just people-watching. You can find shops specializing in sporting goods and souvenirs, to quaint restaurants and bars. For a cool treat, savor an ice cream cone and people watch on a park bench. Up for a frothy beverage? Say no more! Enter the Grumpy Old Men Brewing micro-brewery in town. The IPAs, including a wheat-based beer of white chocolate, have quenched the thirst of many mouths. If you’re seeking the coolness of the indoors, try a performance at The Community Theater. This 10,000 square foot house premieres about 100 shows a year, performed by local artists and musicians.
A few miles outside of town, the quest for cool adventure continues. Visit Mercier Orchards, a family-owned and operated apple orchard whose homegrown berries and peaches are turned into delicious refreshing ciders. From dry to semi-sweet to crisp. The menu even includes a dessert wine made from strawberries and apples. To tantalize your taste buds further, try Bearclaw Vineyards, a local vineyard that specializes in growing and bottling its own white wines. The wine selection includes the signature Treehouse Chardonnay. After an afternoon of wine tasting, choose to stay overnight in their authentic treehouse overlooking a working vineyard and a creek that runs through the land.
Georgia’s tallest waterfall is the 729-foot cascading Amicalola Falls that lies in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest. It is one of the dozen falls in the surrounding area, including Long Creek Falls. Though there are many trails leading up to the Amicalola Falls, the Amicalola Falls Trail covers just over two miles. Along the way, mist and spray will cool you off through the many twists and turns of your journey. At the top, you’ll be able to catch the most scenic views of the mossy, boulder-filled forest. You can then make your way down a series of winding steps that flank the tumbling waterfall.
The Toccoa River is a water lover’s haven that flows through Fannin County above Lake Blue Ridge. Because of its location, depth and span, the water is perfect for a refreshing ride either kayaking, canoeing, and tubing. Though some areas are privately owned, the ones that belong to the National Forest System are open for camping, hiking, fishing and picnicking.
If you desire a more intense adventure, then brave the Ocoee River, known as "the Toccoa’s wild sibling", for its intense water experiences. White water rafting and kayaking are famous activities on the Ocoee River. In 1996, the river’s world-class rapids became the hot spot for the summer Olympics. Had enough of the wild rides? The lower part of the Ocoee offers a more easygoing activity for canoers. The Blue Hole up the Ocoee River from the White Water Center is also a sweet spot to swim. Don’t want to get wet? Then opt for a cool drive along the Ocoee River Gorge Scenic Byway that offers magnificent views of rock bluffs and mountain peaks including historic sites related to the Civil War and Cherokee Indian culture.
Lake Blue Ridge is part of The Chattahoochee National Forest and was created from the waters of the Toccoa River by the construction of the Blue Ridge Dam near the edge of the town of Blue Ridge in 1930. The lake is an aquatic haven for those desiring boating, jet skiing, kayaking, swimming and fishing. Along the shores of Lake Blue Ridge, rental cabins are available for visitors who choose to extend their stay.
The options to enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of Blue Ridge are as deep as its rivers and as tall as its mountains. You don’t need the city heat as a reason to escape to the border. You just need a red-hot itch for a cool adventure.
Fun Fact: The Blue Ridge Mountains’ bluish color is due to the isoprene released from the surrounding trees into the atmosphere, thereby giving the mountains their characteristic haze and distinctive color.
10 WAYS TO COOL OFF IN BLUE RIDGE
Scenic train ride
Mountain cabin stay
Ice cream treat
A show in town