Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Shopping in North Georgia

If you are not fond of chain stores, cavernous malls and large crowds...the north Georgia mountains can provide some refreshing alternatives. I live in the north metro Atlanta area and have been doing 90% of my shopping in the mountains for years now. I find some great gifts while enjoying some fantastic scenery and a much more laid back atmosphere than I did fighting mall traffic in the past.
What surprises most people about mountain shopping is the incredible variety of unique gifts. Some of my favorites are the hand carved wooden bowls at Turning Leaf Wood Art in downtown Blue Ridge, and mosaic pottery at Fishbone just a block off the square...the unique jewelry and myriad of unusual items at Shapiro's in Sautee Nacoochee..the potters that dot scenic Hwy 197 in the Batesville-Lake Burton area..I could go on and on, but I think you will enjoy exploring on your own and finding things that suit your tastes much like I have over the years.
Christmas is a great time for shopping in the mountains. Many retailers mark down items for the holiday season. This is the "off" season in the mountains, yet many small retailers depend on this time of year for the bulk of their winter business. It is not unusual for shops to offer their wares at 40-50% discounts compared to summer prices. Dealers in the antique and craft malls are generally more than willing to negotiate to get a sale-don't be afraid to make an offer on something you want, there is usually a middle ground that will leave you both happy. Try doing that at Macy's! I've found that friends and relatives love gifts of food from the mountains...Apple products from Ellijay, Fudge from Helen and Dahlonega, and jams, jellies and honey from shops all over the area have been big hits as gifts. A "must stop" for me every year is Nora Mills Granary just south of Helen to get some of their great products for friends and myself!
My best advice is to make any trip to the mountains more than just a shopping trip. There are great little restaurants and cafes in all the downtown square areas-try Grapes and Beans in Clayton or the Corkscrew Cafe in Dahlonega. Check out the historical old courthouses in the squares all decked out with Christmas decorations. In Helen you can even use a horse drawn carriage for transportation. Make a relaxing day of it and you may just swear off the malls just like I have!

Contributed by Jenny McIntire-Hoschton, GA

Logan Turnpike Mill

Strategically located just south of Blairsville on heavily traveled US 19/129, The Logan Turnpike Mill Store offers stone ground goodness in many forms. Corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat grown both locally and from sources across the country are milled on site with a vintage 1916 blue granite grist mill.
I had stopped at the mill a few months ago on my way home from North Carolina and purchased some of the buckwheat pancake mix they sell up front. The resulting pancakes at home were light, fluffy and about 3/4" thick - I knew I had found a favorite destination in the north Georgia mountains. On my most recent trip last month I came home with more of the pancake mix and a bag of stone ground yellow grits (pictured below).

The grits are good too! You just can't beat fresh stone ground products made with high quality grains. Some of the other offerings include biscuit and bread mixes. porridge mix and various syrups and condiments. All can be found at the store or online through their website: Logan Turnpike Mill

Rib Country

No Brunswick Stew. A proper BBQ joint in Georgia should have Brunswick Stew on the menu..I'm sorry, but I think this is written on a sacred tablet right below the law stating that tea sweetened with sugar must be offered.
Other than that, I enjoyed my recent Saturday lunch at Rib Country in Blairsville. The Blairsville location is one of four Rib Country restaurants. They can also be found in Hayesville and Murphy, North Carolina and the newest store in Cleveland, Georgia. This comes very close to qualifying for my bias against "chain" BBQ restaurants... but judging from the crowd lined up and the 20 minute wait for a table, it doesn't seem to bother anyone else, nor should it.

I ordered a pulled pork and chicken combo (pictured above) with slaw and fries. The pork was excellent-moist and loosely pulled with little bits of the bark mixed in, which I love. I tried the sauce offerings and made good use of the hot sauce in the bright red bottle. The other sauces were a little bland and the hot sauce was just about perfect. The chicken wasn't quite as impressive as the pork, I suspect it had been reheated before serving. Unlike the pork, the chicken comes with a sauce already applied. I would have liked the same sauce option I had with the pork, but overall it was better than average. Slaw, fries and Texas toast were all decent compliments considering that STEW was not available. The sweet tea was fantastic though.
I must comment positively on the service. You can tell these folks are well trained and used to doing a brisk business. Everyone I dealt with was courteous and helpful to a fault. I will look forward to returning to Rib Country in the future.

Rib Country Website including Menu

Ruffed Grouse in the North GA Mountains

The north Georgia mountains are the southernmost range of one of our country's popular upland game birds, the Ruffed Grouse. While not nearly as plentiful as they are in northern areas, there is a stable and huntable population of grouse in our national forests and WMAs.

The Georgia Ruffed Grouse season runs from October 15, 2008 - February 28, 2009 with a limit of 3 birds per day. Dogs, especially Spaniels and Setters, are often used in the pursuit of these elusive birds who would often rather run than fly away from danger. Habitat changes have taken place over the past couple of decades for Ruffed Grouse in north Georgia. Environmental regulations that have reduced the amount of clear cutting in the forests have limited the amount of food and cover available. You are most likely to find the birds near a food source..and these days that consists mostly of acorns, wild herbs and their seeds, blueberries and dogwood berries. Cover is often provided by rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets close to springs and streams.
All of north Georgia's Wildlife Management Areas with good elevation can harbor populations of Ruffed Grouse, with some of the best habitat and availability found in the Cohutta, Chattahoochee, and Cooper Creek WMAs. The terrain requires both hunters and dogs to be in decent physical condition and good knowledge of the outdoors and safety practices. The effort is considered worth it by hard core bird hunters, a Ruffed Grouse bagged in Georgia is considered a coveted trophy-hunters average flushing or seeing less than three birds per trip.

For more information about Georgia Wildlife Management Areas and hunting regulations, click on the link below:

Georgia DNR

Short Hike To Minnehaha Falls

Last time I had attempted to visit Minnehaha Falls I was frustrated by bridge construction. The bridge crossing the Tallulah River just below the Seed Lake Dam was being rebuilt and closed during the construction. The bridge is open for travel now and makes a trip to see the beautiful 60' falls much easier for folks visiting the Lake Rabun/Lake Seed area. The falls can be approached from the opposite direction via Bear Gap Road but that requires a pretty long trip over gravel roads from a starting point well south of the area.
Minnehaha Falls is a beautiful cascade even in these times of chronically low water (see photo above). It is more even more outstanding when freshly charged by a good rain. The short .4 mile trail can be navigated by anyone in moderately good health, the steepest section at the beginning of the trail has stairs to aid the climb.

It takes about a 10 minute walk to reach the falls from the parking area on Bear Gap Road, which is really just a wide spot in the road shoulder. The trail winds through rhododendron and mountain laurel thickets before reaching the falls, which seem to appear rather abruptly as you enter a wide mountain cove. There are a couple of natural stone sitting benches where you can sit and enjoy the scene at close range, but care should be taken when walking on the worn rock which stays moist all the time and can be icy in winter.

From the bridge at Seed Lake Dam, proceed south till you come to the fork in the road with the sign for Glen Ella Lodge...veer left onto Bear Gap Road and proceed for 1.6 miles. The beginning of the trail (shown in the photo above) will be on your right and parking will be on your left. This is a great little side trip any time of the year for visitors heading to the Clayton-Lakemont-Tallulah Falls area and well worth the time.

Georgia State parks to Remain Open

But Changes to the System Remain on the Table:

Facing budget shortfalls and increased operating costs, the state of Georgia was considering the closure of up to six of our forty eight state parks earlier this year. While it is unlikely that the heavily used north Georgia mountain parks like Vogel and Unicoi were being considered for the axe, the recent news that there would be no closures induced a huge sigh of relief from Georgians and visitors who take advantage of our nationally renowned park system.
Georgia State Parks will not escape the economic downturn without changes, however. Among the ideas being discussed is privatizing the golf courses and lodges that are now being operated as part of some parks. This would affect the lodges at Amicalola Falls and Unicoi State Parks as well as Smithgall Woods Conservation Area located in the mountains. Also on the table is the closure of some historical sites, or at least reduced hours or staffing at those sites.
Public pressure and feedback has been cited as one of the reasons for the decision not to close any parks. will make every attempt to keep our readers up to date on further developments as we head into the new year - It is our opinion that there are many areas of state government that should be considered for cutbacks before we do away with parts of a system which actually helps pay for itself...and provides so many opportunities for outdoor activities.

Kurt Thomas Packs Em in at Wylie's

I talked to a couple of lovely ladies who had driven all the way from Vinings to see Kurt Thomas do his thing inside the Down Under Bar at Wylie's in Dahlonega. Kurt apparently has quite a following, as I had to gingerly wedge myself into the bar to catch his first set on the day after Thanksgiving.

The crowd seem to be getting what they came for as Kurt and his bandmates played favorite covers of songs from Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Pure Prairie League and more along with a couple of his own. I found myself thinking that he may be overdoing the cover songs a bit, as I have listened to and been impressed with his original country tinged ballads. If anyone else felt the same, we were in the minority as everyone really seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Kurt Thomas plays frequently in the north Georgia mountain area-and you can check out the music calendar here at to see when he has dates scheduled. In the mean time, check out some of his original stuff on his MySpace page:

Kurt Thomas MySpace

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Excellent Delayed Harvest Trout Season Info

We received a link from Aaron Sago last month that has a wealth of information about the Delayed Harvest season that opens up on November 1. I thought I would pass it along since I know we have a lot of die hard trout anglers who check in every month! Just click on this link:

Avery Dylan Project at Loco's in Gainesville

I've now seen the Avery Dylan Project three times this year and they are really coming into their own. Together now for almost a year, the trio is now making it look almost effortless as they run through a mix of some excellent original tunes and blues/rock classics. It was only a matter of time..bassist Clint Swords and drummer Mike Strickland have been playing together for a while, and Avery Dylan is a seasoned and very talented guitarist.
The version of "Little Wing" that these guys played at Loco's was the best live rendition I've heard-and I've probably heard that song played live 20-30 times. Their original tunes are getting more refined and they do a good job of blending them in with the covers.

I spoke with Avery between sets and he is excited about the future of the band-playing some larger gigs from time to time in addition to seeking out the smaller clubs he has a good feel for. These guys stay pretty busy, and you can catch them in the mountains again on November 15 at Bigg Daddy's in Helen...and back at Loco's in Gainesville on November 22.

Check out some of ADP's tunes on their MySpace page:

Avery Dylan Project/MySpace

Plenty of History at Oconee Station

The oldest structure in Oconee County, and one of the oldest remaining in South Carolina, Oconee Station was built in 1792 along the Cherokee trading path as a defensive refuge for settlers in the event of Indian attack. The construction was initiated by General Robert Anderson, who wrote: "I have ordered the people to build blockhouses, where they are exposed and intimidated, to fly to with their families in case of alarm." The small fortification was manned by militia from 1792 to 1799, and I haven't been able to find any documentation of actual Indian attacks that had to be defensed.

In 1805 William Richards, a settler from Ireland, purchased the property from General Andrew Pickens and established a trading post. He built a 2 story house adjacent to the blockhouse that remains on the property today. The trading post operated until 1809 and inventory records recall large quantities of deer skins, bear skins, ginseng and dry goods.

Today, both the blockhouse and the Richards house are part of the Oconee Station State Historic Site operated by the state of South Carolina. The 210 acre site also includes hiking trails, a pond, and access to Station Cove Falls just inside the Sumter National Forest. The two historical structures can be toured, by appointment, on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-5 pm.

Oconee County is very convenient to the north Georgia mountains thru Rabun County (which it borders, separated by the Chattooga River) and Habersham County. From the Atlanta area you would travel north on I-85 and exit at the very 1st South Carolina exit and take Hwy. 11 to Wahalla. For more concise directions and some more information, here is a link to the South Carolina State Parks website page for Oconee Station State Historic Site-

South Carolina State Parks-Oconee Stationn

And a map of the park-

3rd Annual Greg Welch Memorial Car Show

I was excited when Cinda Welch invited me to attend the 3rd annual Greg Welch Memorial Car Show in Clarkesville last month. It was the first car show I had ever attended other than a few that were just displays of classic or antique cars. I brought along my 15 year old son and we had a great time.
A little bit about this particular show- Greg Welch was a competitor on this circuit which now includes his namesake show earlier in this decade, until he was taken suddenly by a heart attack in October of 2005. Greg earned many awards and accolades during his short career, and he also earned the respect of his peers and competitors. This was certainly in evidence at his show. His widow, Cinda, spearheads the production of the show and she gets a lot of help from family and friends in doing so. The number of entrants and prizes has grown every year and Cinda seemed very pleased with this year's turnout. Greg's love of children is the reason that Toys for Tots is the benefactor of this charity event.
I was unprepared for the "sound off" portions of the show-I honestly had no idea that folks put so much time and effort into their sound systems with the goal of reaching 160db or more! It was a fun a good natured competition with some surprising winners. I can't say that I understand exactly what was getting awarded and why, this being my first time, but I did appreciate the nice cars (especially an almost perfect 1972 Karmann Ghia) and the effort and ingenuity involved in preparing them for competition.
The neon glow off and the "drag off" (pictured at top) were also very new to me-these folks really go all out and my son thought both of these events were the best. There were also some specialized vehicles on display, including a huge swamp crawler, a motorized recliner, and a 1940's Buick pulling a camper made from an old manure spreader..that was heated with a wood stove. I'm not sure what or if that setup won-but he deserved something!

Musical entertainment, food and a few vendors were also a part of the show, and the facility at the Habersham County Fairgrounds made a great venue for the event. We will remind our readers to join us next year for the 4th Annual Greg Welch Memorial Car Show, which promises to be even bigger and better.

Georgia Apple Festival 2008 in Ellijay

We visited the Apple Festival for the first time in a few years last month. The crowds were good, the food was good (We had Bodreaux Cajun Food), the apples were good and the day, as evidenced by the photo above, was gorgeous. This is certainly one of the most popular fall festivals in the north Georgia mountains with a great venue-the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds. The festival is well organized with plenty of parking and shuttle service, good variety of food and mountain crafts for sale, and a special emphasis on "stuff to do" for the kids. Oh yeah..Apples are a big part of the day as well. Whole pecks, half pecks, fritters, dumplings, fried pies...north Georgia's apple crop is very well represented.

Bessie Mae's

You have to be looking for it to find Bessie Mae's..or just get lucky. Located in the tiny hamlet of Garland, Georgia about 6 miles east of downtown Dahlonega, Bessie Mae's is an eclectic roadside shop featuring antiques and crafts.
The first thing that attracts you to Bessie Mae's is the building, which was built in 1892 and was known as the Old Dyer Store for many years. The old store has been transformed to suit it's current use, but retains much of it's 100 plus year old charm...including the old Columbus (GA) Iron Works wood stove still used for heat.

I'm not sure where to begin explaining the items offered for sale..every little nook and corner is filled with something. I'm always interested in the antiques and Bessie Mae's has a neat selection-from small advertising and kitchen items to furniture and art. I noticed a varied selection of crafts, folk art, candles and even a fully decorated Christmas tree.
Bessie Mae's is holding their Christmas Open House on two consecutive long weekends in November- Thurs, Fri and Sat the 7th, 8th and 9th, and the 13th, 14th and 15th from 10 am to 6 pm. Check out their website for more information..and many of their items can be purchased online-

Loco's in Gainesville

Last month we started including Gainesville, Georgia into our coverage area for Gainesville is a gateway to the north Georgia mountains and also a dining and entertainment destination for folks living and playing in the mountain area.
My original attraction to Loco's Bar and Grill in Gainesville was as a live music venue, and it still is-the roomy setup is great for musicians and has excellent acoustics. I've travelled to Loco's twice in the last couple of months to see bands and have been very pleased with the music, hospitality, and the food.
I've always felt that when dining in a bar, it's a good idea not to get over-adventurous. There are exceptions to this, and once you become familiar with an establishment it is pretty easy to tell what they do well. My experience with the Loco's chain over the years is that they do the basics very well and that is the ground I continue to tread. The basics at Loco's are burgers and wings, and the Gainesville location does a great job with both.
I generally arrive hungry and order the 6 piece hot wing plate for a starter. The wings are large and freshly cooked, and the heat is not overwhelming. Very tasty. Rumor has it that if you are at Loco's to watch college or NFL football. you get 6 wings with every pitcher of beer you order...but I haven't been for a game yet. My only complaint is the little pre-fab, sealed container of bleu cheese dressing that comes with your wings. The dressing is very average and is more of what you would expect from a fast food joint.
Loco's prepares a fine hamburger ..I have had the Redneck Burger and the Bleu Cheese burger on my last two visits to Gainesville. A big half pound (at least) patty cooked perfectly to order (medium in my case) on a fresh roll with a pickle slice and excellent fries. Not a bad deal for around $8. Definitely one of the better bar food burgers around.
The service at the Gainesville Loco's is friendly and efficient. On both recent trips the manager came by the table to check on things and welcome us..little things like that reflect well on both the staff and the franchise.
Locos's is a little hidden in an older shopping mall next to a Food Lion, but it is only minutes from both downtown Gainesville and I-985 off Jesse Jewell Parkway. Great way to finish off a day trip to the mountains or head over for a nice evening of live local music.

601 S. Enota Dr. NE
Gainesville, GA 30501

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Currently on

Loco's in Gainesville
Bessie Mae's in Garland
Arthur Woody-GA Mountain Legend
Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing
Avery Dylan Project
Thanksgiving Dinner in the North Georgia Mountains
Oconee Station in Upstate SC
Upcoming Christmas-New Year's Events

Much more-

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sautee Jamboree 2008

What a great time and great show! This was my first year to attend the Sautee Jamboree on the SCNA grounds and it was a real treat. It is a very family friendly event with a special vibe and some special music. I missed the all bluegrass Friday session but was able to attend a good deal of the Saturday lineup, which included Scott Baston & the News Architects from the Macon area, the world famous Tommy Talton and his band, Sol Driven Train from the South Carolina low country, the enigmatic Col. Bruce Hampton and the Quark Alliance, and Sautee native sons, Big City Sunrise.

I was greeted upon arriving by the soulful sounds of Scott Baston and his band, the News Architects. Kind of a dreamy, funky way to get started. The Tommy Talton Band took the stage next and all I can say is that the man is a seamless professional. He co-founded the Macon group Cowboy back in the 1970s, and signed with Capricorn records at the urging of Duane Allman. He's been a revered studio player, band leader and word traveler in a career that spans more than 4 decades-and every facet of his experience shows in his playing. He has some great players with him in this band this go around and their southern tinged R & B is like comfort food on a pretty day in the mountains.

Next up on stage was Sol Driven Train. These guys are amazing and very talented as well. I was talking to a friend yesterday about the Jamboree and was asked how I might describe them, I pondered for a moment then responded "Calypso Bluegrass"...that may not be the best description, but Sol Driven Train definitely draws from a number of genres and the result is inarguably original. This is a fun band I will make an extra effort to see again. They have been at all three Jamborees to this point and I hope they come back in 2009.

I had to leave about halfway through the Big City Sunrise set due to a prior engagement, but they were obviously primed for this event and showed why they are the crowd favorite and have been one of the most popular local bands in North Georgia for the past 5 years. BCS "gives 110%" every time they hit the stage and I look forward to seeing them back together before too much time passes.

I really regret missing Col Bruce Hampton and his band, the Quark Alliance. Col. Bruce, as most everyone knows, has been a fixture in the Georgia music scene for a loooong time. The last time I have seen him was with The Aquarium Rescue Unit many moons ago, so it was time...I do find some solace in knowing he will be back in the North Georgia Mountains next month for the Hemlockfest in Dahlonega..and I plan on being there for

The Sautee Jamboree got bigger this year..a couple of Jamboree veterans I spoke with said it might have gotten better as well. I just know I have next year marked on the calendar already. A bonus in addition to the fine music and idyllic setting is that the Jamboree is a fundraising event that raises money for the Sautee Nacoochee Community Center, particularly the renovation of the property which is a treasure in it's own right. Expect to start banging the drums early next year in anticipation.

Fall Foliage Drives in North Carolina

One of our readers from North Carolina sent me a list of her favorite drives for taking in the spectacular displays of fall color during October. The leaves reach their peak color a little earlier at the higher elevations of western North Carolina than they do in Georgia, and there are some great vistas for viewing. A great way to spend a weekend not too far from home.

1. From Interstate 40, take exit 53 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Take the Parkway north to Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak in the Blue Ridge (5,946 ft).

2. Hendersonville to Franklin on Hwy. 64. 83 miles of varied elevations and beautiful river valleys.

3. Franklin to Highlands on Hwy. 64 following the Cullesaja River. For Georgians, once you reach Highlands you can make your way back to Sky Valley on Hwy 106. This will take you over Scaly Mountain and offers some great views to the south and east.

4. From Shelby, NC...take US Hwy 221 to Linville Falls (78 miles).

5. Cherohala Skyway- With 8 overlooks at elevations over 4000 ft, the Cherohala Skyway is one of the prettiest drives anywhere, especially in the fall. From Robbinsville, NC- Take Hwy 129 N to Hwy 142 W...Continue on 143 west to the Cherohala Skyway sign on the left.

6. From Gastonia, take US Hwy. 321 north through Hickory and into Blowing Rock.

7. Hickory Nut Gorge to Black Mountain- From Asheville: Take I-26 S to US 64 E to Bat Cave and NC Hwy 9, which has great views of Lake Lure and will take you to Black Mountain. Chimney Rock Park is in this area and makes a great side trip.

8. US 19 from Maggie Valley to Cherokee- Many great leaf viewing sites and overlooks.

Many thanks to Laura Mitchell for this List!

Helton Creek Falls

Just a mile south of Vogel State Park on Hwy. 19/129, there is a small green and white sign pointing to Helton Creek Falls. If you see it, turn. These are some of the prettiest and most easily accessed falls in the North Georgia Mountains. Helton Creek Rd. is a gravel road that leaves the highway at the road sign and eventually winds it's way over to the Richard Russell Scenic Highway near Hogpen Gap. The parking area for the falls is about .7 miles from the turn off from Hwy. 19/129 and it's easy to spot. A well maintained trail leaves the parking area and gives you the option of taking stairs to either the lower falls (pictured below) or the main, upper falls shown above. The total length of the trail is about 300 yards-very easy-but the area around the lower falls can be a little slick and dangerous.
The stairs to the upper falls will take you to a wooden observation deck that gives you a great view. A lot of folks leave the deck to cool off in the pool below the falls-there are signs warning against this however, and there is some damage to the flora in the area from foot traffic. The photos in this article where taken with pretty low water conditions in September. I'm sure you can imagine how impressive the falls are when freshly charged with some good rains!

Deep Hole Recreation Area

Just north of Suches and south of Blue Ridge just off of GA Hwy 60, Deep Hole Recreation Area is situated on the banks of the Toccoa River in the Chattahoochee National Forest in the north Georgia mountains.
Deep Hole is the put in point on the Toccoa River Canoe Trail, a popular trout and bass fishing spot, and a small but nice nice camping area with restrooms and drinking water for 8 campsites (no electricity/showers). I've noticed it is also popular with bicyclists coming up on weekends to ride and explore.
One unique aspect of this area is the improvements included for folks with disabilities. Restrooms, the canoe launch, and a special deck made for fishing are all handicapped accessible. A few of the campsites are accessible as well.
Deep Hole is open all year and is open 24 hours a day for campers. A fee ($12) is required for camping. Campsites have gravel tent pads, grills and picnic tables. The Toccoa River Canoe Trail runs from Deep Hole to Sandy Bottoms, 13.8 miles downstream. This is a calm to moderate canoe run with some class I and II rapids. Fishing on the Toccoa is seasonal for trout, but rock and smallmouth bass can be caught year round.

For More Information, Contact:
USDA Forest Service
Toccoa Ranger District

9th Annual Wildlife & Nature Art Festival and Expo

The annual Wildlife & Nature Art Festival and Expo took place on September 20-21 in downtown Blue Ridge, Ga. Blue Ridge was bustling as visitors descended on the art exhibits and downtown merchants. The festival features fine art with a wildlife or nature theme, and there were some really nice pieces and displays. I'm no expert by any means, but the prices looked pretty reasonable as well.
Art is not the only attraction. The Expo included an appearance by the legendary Okefenokee Joe, herding dog and fly casting demonstrations, bluegrass music and booths for outfitters and food. We had a good time just looking around and spending the day in downtown Blue Ridge.
The festival is organized by the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association. They also sponsor the Arts in the Park Festival on Memorial Day weekend in Blue Ridge and Heritage Days in August. Blue Ridge is a great little downtown area, find a parking spot and the entire business district, park and depot areas can be easily walked and enjoyed. We will have more about the neat shopping spots in Blue Ridge on this page as we get a little closer to Christmas.
Put the Wildlife & Nature Art Festival on your to do list for next September-it's a great way to spend a day in the North Georgia Mountains.

Angelina's in Blue Ridge

Angelina's was quite a surprise for my son and I on a recent trip to Blue Ridge. Located a block off the main drag, I may not have found this very neat market/deli had it not been for a recommendation from a reader. Angelina's is a testament to the continuing evolution of the culinary offerings available in the north Georgia mountains. A nice selection of imported and domestic wines, cheeses, pastas and meats are available for shoppers in addition to a great selection of prepared items to eat in or take out.

The menu is dominated by hot and cold sandwiches along with a decent selection of salads and soups. I ordered the Italian Classic Hero, featuring Sweet Cappicola, Proscuitto Di Parma, Genoa Salami and Provalone Cheese. It was very simply one of the best "subs" I've had anywhere. The meats are high quality (Boar's Head)and the white spiral roll was perfect. My son decided on the Cajun Pannini sandwich on Ciabatta bread. We traded bites and his sandwich was equally as good as the Hero. The Cajun style roast beef with horseradish sauce and cheese made for a great hot sandwich. We had chips, but potato salad, olive salad or green salads are also available as a side.

I will definitely return to Angelina's. There are many more offerings on the menu that looked tempting. Add good, friendly service and reasonable prices (sandwiches run between $6-7) to the equation and Angelina's Italian Market & Delicatessen is hard to beat.

Angelina's Italian Gourmet Market & Deli

3640 East First Street
Blue Ridge, Georgia

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mountainfreak Review-Smokestack & The Foothill Fury

I wandered a little south of my normal coverage area this month to Loco's in Gainesville for some music by a fellow whose sound I had heard labeled "Punk-Country-Blues". Hard for me to miss something with a handle like that.

"Smokestack" is a one man band with enough energy for a quartet. Armed with a small arsenal of guitars, his foot driven rhythm section, and a knack for telling a story..he puts on a good show that is a little different but highly entertaining.
Folks in north Georgia can catch Smokestack & the Foothill Fury at the Hemlockfest near Dahlonega coming up in November.

To see his full show schedule and listen to a sampling of his music, check out his MySpace page-

Smokestack & the Foothill Fury

Wildcat Creek Has A Lot To Offer

Generations of families and visitors to the north Georgia mountains have spent their summer days cooling off at the rock slide at Wildcat Creek pictured above. Located between Helen and Clayton in the Lake Burton area, Wildcat Creek is a popular destination for outdoor fun and adventure. Access to Wildcat Creek is gained by following the stream on USFS 26 within the Lake Burton Wildlife Management Area to the two camping areas and eventually to Addis Gap.

When trout season opens in the spring, fishermen descend on the creek in droves, as Wildcat is heavily stocked before and during the season with rainbow and brown trout from the nearby Lake Burton Fish Hatchery.

When I took the photo above I was able to talk with the fellow from the Georgia DNR who was catapulting 9-12" rainbow trout from tanks on the back of his truck into the creek. He told me that Wildcat Creek receives additional "bonus" stockings in the heat of summer because the water temperature remains cold enough to keep the trout healthy-which is good news for both the trout and the folks using the creek to cool off. I see trout fishermen on the creek just about every time I visit it during the season, but once the first couple of weeks of the season has passed the crowd does tend to dwindle and it becomes easier to find a fishing spot that offers some solitude.

The two campgrounds situated along the creek are popular destinations during the summer. The first campground, after you cross the second bridge on USFS 26, is used a bit more and can fill up on the weekends. Campground #2, located a mile past the first, is used a little less and can be worth the extra distance back into the forest. These campgrounds do not have showers or available drinking water. Sanitary pit toilet facilities are located at each campground.

Campsites are first come/first serve, no reservations can be made. The $8 per night camping fee is deposited in collection boxes inside the campground-so correct change is a good idea (I never seem to remember this). I talked to some of the campers on my last visit and they told me the August nights had been getting down into the 50s and the fishing was fantastic.

For hikers, the Appalachian Trail can be accessed at Addis Gap, a mile past Campground #2. The trail runs through the Tray Mountain Wilderness from there and access to numerous other trails in the area.

Wildcat Creek does indeed offer much in the way of outdoor activities, and the stream and the forest it runs through are among the most scenic in the north Georgia mountains. If relaxing is your top priority, this is a prime spot for that as well. The sounds from the tumbling water never seem too far away and it isn't hard to find great spots to take some photos or read a good book. Wildcat Creek is not hard to find-Forest Road 26 (also known as W. Wildcat Rd) leaves Ga Hwy 197 to the west 22 miles north of Clarkesville, just north of LaPrade's Marina..and not far south of Moccasin Creek State Park and the Lake Burton Fish Hatchery.

Downtown Asheville
Sunday, September 7th

Co-written by Torva Logan, Erin Scholze, and Jay Sanders

In the wee hours of the morning on the first Sunday of September, trucks and cars are bustling in and out of Lexington Avenue dropping off funky painted signs, fabulous wares and fresh food. The activity goes virtually unnoticed until it's time to open the gates and invite the crowds into Asheville's largest independent street festival: the Lexington Avenue Arts and Fun Festival (LAAFF).

Now in its seventh year, LAAFF's three stages, two courtyards, and city streets will play host to the biggest bands, dancers, and performers Asheville has to offer; even the sponsors are all local. Lexington Avenue will overflow with tons of interactive art stations and teem with local artists demonstrating their inimitable talents. This is a day that everyone can feel free to dress in costume, dance, celebrate Asheville's true colors.

By 11 AM, when the first performers take the stage, eager masses will flood the streets dressed in their funkiest attire. This is a day of all-local entertainment, shopping, food, and drinks, showcasing why Asheville has long been considered the Freak capitol of Western North Carolina. You can paint an art car, build a giant squid out of recycled material, hula hoop, weave baskets, dip your feet in paint and dance on a canvas, parade, get a henna tattoo, sew your own art clothes at the Honey Pot, make puppets, experience live painting, tour the fabulous Emerge-and-See Art Ambulance and Gallery or learn how to spin fire, dance, and drum.

There will be a "Get Your Freak On" photo booth, located in Bobo Gallery located at 22 Lexington Ave., where you can try on tons of freaky fun costumes donated by the wonderful Costume Shoppe. Jen Bowen, Director of the Faces of Asheville Portrait Documentary, will snap your shot, and within minutes you'll have the best fun and freaky memento ever! All monies raised will go to the final completion of the Faces of Asheville Portrait Documentary Project. This project will also host community forums throughout the year to discuss diversity, artist resources, green living, the local economy, and more in Asheville.

Local Graffiti Artists will be performing live painting between 1-4pm on the I-240 overpass support columns to celebrate the conclusion of the first quarter of The Asheville Mural Project. This expansive mural portrays original images of local characters and uniquely Asheville scenes focusing on Sustainability, Arts and Culture, Community, and Asheville Saints. AMP is adding value to the community with the support of the City of Asheville. Team members consist of 5 local artists and several auxiliary painters. Much of the proceeds from LAAFF's past have been directed toward AMP.

Be sure to see Asheville's own Tall Bike Freak, Michael Mooney, attempt to set a world record by riding the World's Tallest Bike, mountable only by crane! This is one show during LAAFF that you will just not want to miss. Michael is ready for a second attempt at the Guinness world record for riding the world's tallest bike (over 43 feet!) for 100 meters. The preshow to the Tall Bike Experience is the Bicycle Circus, commandeered by Ringmaster Bill Glasscock and set to Circus Music played through a giant Gramophone. Featured performances will also include Clown skits, Blue Ridge Rollergirl action, BMX fun, unicyclists and jugglers.

LAAFF is a festival where the music never stops, and the music at LAAFF is all local and all original. Every year, LAAFF's lineup changes, but always represents the musical diversity that makes Asheville's music scene great. This year there are over fifty performance acts including Josh Phillips Folk Festival, Snake Oil Medicine Show, Shannon Whitworth, the Asheville Horns, Jar-E, the Firecracker Jazz Band, The Plowshares, the Hunab Kru B-boys, and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo. Old-time and bluegrass pickers are invited to join in The Shady Grove Courtyard Jam from 1-6pm. If your taste tends more towards the electronic scene, head for the Freaky Tiki DJ Lounge in the old Vincent's Ear Courtyard to hear some tribal rhythms, house, funk, soul. Performer merchandise will be sold at Static Age Records, located at 82-A N. Lexington Ave, and all proceeds will go directly to the performers.

While you will be able to purchase a great CD, this is one festival where you will not be able to buy a bottle of water. Free water is what LAAFF is all about. There will be three stations set up where you can fill up your own reusable water bottle or compostable cup; no more wasted plastic! You can support the festival, and the environment by purchasing a LAAFF reusable water bottle or souvenir beer mug. All compostable items will be carted away to the Long Branch Environmental Education Center.

Sustained by widespread community support, LAAFF is a volunteer driven event that serves as a celebration of Asheville's unique personality and as a fundraiser for Arts 2 People, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting the role of the arts as an integral part of our culture. Arts 2 People serves the entire community through arts outreach, bringing the arts to those in need, supporting the careers of artists, and through community cultural development. Projects of Arts 2 People include The Pritchard Park Cultural Arts Program, The REACH Educational series, Moving Women, The Asheville Mural Project, Faces of Asheville and more. These projects support Asheville's thriving eclectic cultural values and all will have representation at LAAFF.

The Lexington Ave Arts and Fun Festival is chock-full of exciting activities until 10 PM. Come dressed in your wildest clothes, or as you are. LAAFF is free and fun for everyone. Sunday, September 7th; 11 AM – 10 PM; Lexington Avenue in downtown Asheville, NC. Come join in the festivities! For more information visit and

Roadside Find in Dillard

Once in a while you run across a real culinary jewel where you least expect it. I was driving down Hwy. 441 heading towards Clayton, and I was hungry. I wasn't really in the mood for fast food, or a heavy meat & 3 lunch, or something I would have to wait long as I approached Dillard I was on the lookout for something different. I found it just off 441 in the row of stores and shops that line the downtown area when I pulled up in front of the Java Mama Cafe.

A menu in the front window looked enticing so I decided to give it a try. The cafe was bigger than it looked from the outside, with ample seating and even a nice couch up front that would be a good spot to enjoy your coffee and read the paper. The menu is not huge but not limited either. Choices include whole or half sandwiches accompanied by tortilla chips and homemade peach salsa, soup of the day, salads and snacks. The "liquid" menu includes smoothies,frappes and an extensive selection of coffees, teas and espresso drinks.

The roast beef sandwich with Muenster cheese and horseradish sauce looked good to me, along with a half garden salad with a homemade vinagrette dressing. My sandwich was very good and the peach salsa was fantastic. I'm not sure tortilla chips were the perfect side for this particular sandwich, but they were good as well. The salad was very fresh and I would have liked some of the dressing to take home. I browsed a menu while I was eating and decided that I would try the cranberry-walnut chicken salad on my next visit along with a green apple smoothie-so I do plan to return and would certainly recommend the Java Mama Cafe to our readers!

Java Mama Cafe
6818 Hwy 441N
Dillard, GA 30537

Best Biscuit in Batesville

Approaching Batesville from any direction, you will see a sign advertising the Batesville General Store and "The Best Biscuit in Batesville". I think that might be just a little modest, the biscuits are the best I've had from Helen to Clayton at least. The store (pictured above) is a well preserved 104 year old landmark located on Ga. Hwy 197 near Lake Burton. A few knick-nacks are still sold inside the store, but the main business these days is breakfast and lunch.

I've had a couple of sandwiches for lunch at the store over the years, and they were good..but the special thing to me at the Batesville General Store is breakfast..even if it is lunch time. A generous breakfast menu is available-eggs, bacon, sausage,grits, etc..but the stars of the show here are the freshly baked biscuits just like your (if you are from the south like me) Grandma used to make. These are big, fat laden biscuits begging for sausage and an egg or a big dollop of sorghum syrup to encase... the perfect energy food to prepare for you for a day of hiking or fishing in the mountains surrounding the Batesville area.

Plenty of room is available for inside dining, or you can pull in and pick up your breakfast or lunch to take with you. Service has always been prompt and friendly on my visits, and the folks are more than willing to answer questions you might have about the store or area attractions. Dinner is served on Friday and Saturday nights and from the reports I've heard it is very good, though I haven't sampled dinner at the store myself. Batesville General Store is located at 11801 Hwy. 197 N...12 miles from both Helen and Clarkesville. Their phone number is 706.947.3434

Greenstone Soap Company

When I first launched back in January, I asked new readers to send me links to their favorite places in the north Georgia mountains for the page we have devoted to those links. One of the first responses was from a reader who raved about the Greenstone Soap Co. in the Sautee village. I added the link and honestly didn't think much more about it. On a recent trip to Sautee I was doing some shopping and noticed the store, pictured above.

I'm a guy. Soap is a pretty high priority in my life, but the kind of soap has never been. I usually go for the cheapest 12 bar pack at the discount store that has brand name I might recognize. Despite my lack of soap sophistication, I decided to check Greenstone Soap Co. out and introduce myself-since they were one of our first links on the site-and see this part of the soap world that had eluded me up till that point.

I fully expected to open the door to air laden with the floral perfumes I had come to know as a young child going into people's bathrooms where they kept those little round soaps you were warned to never wash your hands with, but that wasn't the case. It smelled good and fresh, not overpowering at all. I was immediately drawn to the "Shampoochie" dog soap, advertised to help dogs with itchy skin. Bob the Mountainfreak Dog (pictured below) has such problems so I bought a seems to have helped. I also got a bar of human soap, "Appalachian Wilderness", which I have tried and really enjoy. It has a fragrance like spruce mixed with herbs and is very refreshing.

It would take a lot of space to list all the offerings available at the Greenstone Soap Co., but there are lotions, bath salts and a wide variety of other handmade, organic products available. If you are in the Sautee area, stop by and check them out for yourself-if you can't make it up any time soon you can browse their website online - The Greenstone Soap Company.

Ghost Town with a Golden Past

Not much is left of Auraria. If you blink twice you might miss the remains of what was once a gold rush boom town. Woody's Store and the crumbling remains of what was once the Graham Hotel, both built around 1830, are most of what is left now.

Gold was discovered in Lumpkin County in 1828 by a fellow named Benjamin Parks while hunting in what was then the domain of the Cherokee Indians. Word soon spread of the discovery and over 1000 miners converged on the area in search of their fortunes. Two separate towns emerged from this influx of citizens, Dahlonega and Auraria. Auraria was the county seat of Lumpkin County for four years beginning in 1828. The main street in Auraria was lined with saloons, dry good stores and other businesses that catered to the needs of the miners.

Dahlonega became the county seat in 1832. Gold production was heavy for the first few years, leading to the establishment of the Dahlonega Federal Mint. Over $20 million in gold was mined in Lumpkin County between 1828 and 1849, when most of the mining and miners mover to California to join the famous west coast gold rush.

Auraria remained a viable town as hydraulic mining was introduced in the late nineteenth century, but the lack of a railroad and the growth of Dahlonega caused Auraria to become less important and a shadow of it's former importance. The old store last known as Woody's continued to operate until the 1980s, when the last vestige of commerce ceased to exist in Auraria.

Today, people pass Auraria on ther way from the nice subdivisions and homes north of Dawsonville to Dahlonega. A mile from the old store, Castleberry Bridge Rd. crosses the Etowah River which is popular with canoeists, fishermen and kayakers. Subtle remnants of the gold days are evident along the river but go unobserved for the most part.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Jordano's Pizza on the River in Helen

Jordano's is a fixture in downtown Helen...serving New York style pizza, sandwiches, salads and beer daily to both visitors and residents alike. It sits in a prime location alongside the Chattahoochee River with a nice, covered outdoor dining deck- a great spot to grab a bite or a brew and enjoy the sights and sounds of Helen.
We stopped in for lunch on a recent Saturday prior to tubing down the river. I had eaten Jordano's pizza in the past and considered it fairly average, so we went with the Caesar Salads and Chicken Parmesan sandwiches this go around. The salad was excellent with a very authentic tasting Caesar dressing and some kitchen-made croutons. The sandwiches were good as well..tasty, yet not overwhelmed with the sauce and cheese as I've found elsewhere. Also available on the menu are Calzones and Stromboli, chicken wings, burgers and an assortment of appetizers.
A lot of folks were sitting outside watching the stream of tubers that we would soon join floating down the river and the deck was comfortable even in the mid day sun of July. Prices at Jordano's are reasonable..a rarity in Helen where "tourist" prices seem to dominate the restaurants. Service is efficient and friendly....major credit cards are accepted. I think Jordano's is one of the better places in downtown Helen to grab lunch and enjoy a comfortable and scenic setting.

Jordano's Pizza
11 River Street
Helen, GA 706.878.7732

Horsetrough Falls in North Georgia

I often get asked about waterfalls to visit in the north Georgia mountains. My answer usually depends on how much effort I feel the person asking wants to take in finding the falls. Amicalola Falls, Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls are all splendid and easy to get to-so those generally top my list...but I also like to include my personal favorite, Horsetrough Falls.
Located near the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River about 12 miles north of Helen (by road-a little closer as the crow flies), Horsetrough Falls carries Horsetrough Creek down a series of rocky cascades on it's way to join the fledgling Chattahoochee about 200 yards below the falls. The setting at the base of the falls is cathedral-like due to the density of the forest in the summertime, which allows the sun to only break through completely in the opening created by the tumbling creek.
Horsetrough Falls can be accessed through the Upper Chattahoochee Campground, which is located on FS44, a gravel track that runs from Unicoi Gap to just north of Robertstown. For the more adventurous I would suggest approaching from Robertstown. To travel this route, take GA Hwy 75 north from Helen to alt 75 (left just past the flea market). As soon as you cross over the bridge take an immediate right onto Poplar Stump Rd. This road follows the Chattahoochee for about a mile before the pavement ends and it becomes FS44. FS44 is well maintained gravel. Follow FS44 to Low Gap Creek then follow the signs to the Upper Chattahoochee Campground. The 800' trail to the falls begins at the very back of the campground. An alternate route is to take GA 75 north of Helen approx. 8 miles to Unicoi Gap, then turn left onto FS44. Upper Chattahoochee Campground is 5 miles away from this point.
The trip is well worth it no matter which route you take-and this is also a beautiful drive in the fall when the leaves change, which won't be long now.

Cullasaja River Drive-Highlands to Franklin NC

The 12 mile drive between Franklin and Highlands, NC on US Hwy 64 is sometimes a little treacherous, occasionally a little crowded, but always worth the time. This stretch of Hwy 64 runs alongside the beautiful Cullasaja River for most of the trip, allowing nice views of the tumbling waters and waterfalls along the way. Since I am usually coming from Georgia, I like to travel up Hwy 441 from Clayton to Franklin...take Hwy 64 east to Highlands, then work my way back down to Clayton on Hwy 106 over Scaly Mountain and through Sky Valley. The entire loop takes about two hours driving time, but there are a few stops you are likely to make.
Leaving Franklin, Hwy 64 soon enters the Cullasaja Gorge and, if you can find a parking spot on the narrow shoulder, offers a great views of Cullasaja Falls to the south. Heading further east there are a few pull offs and picnic areas offering access to the river. The next big waterfall is Dry Falls which has it's own parking area-but on a recent trip that area was closed with a lot of construction going on. It looks like the entire park area around the falls is undergoing renovation. I suspect they are aiming to have it open by fall leaf season if not sooner. This is a serious mountain road with a lot of twists and narrow shoulders that can be a little hairy if a 50' RV meets you on a curve, so keep that in mind. As you start leaving the gorge the road opens up a bit and you soon come to Bridal Veil Falls(pictured above), which is a landmark I remember from mountain trips as a child. There is ample parking here and you can even drive under/through the low volume falls.
After leaving Bridal Veil Falls you are on the outskirts of Highlands. If you can time it so that you arrive hungry there are numerous restaurants in Highlands, from small coffee shops to fine dining. The bustling downtown area is a specialty shopping mecca in this area and it's worth getting out and having a look around. There is a lot to see and do in this area of North Carolina and it's only a stone's throw from the north Georgia mountains. We hope to do a lot more on specific places and actvities in western North Carolina on future Borders pages. If you have suggestions about or reports from the area, please share them with us!

Caribbean Fusion in Sylva, NC

Wow, what a surprise! A few friends and I ended up in Sylva, NC after a day of rafting on the Tuckaseegee River tired and hungry. We were not super familiar with the town and were really looking for a "Meat & 3" or a good sandwich shop, what we found really blew us away. The Guadalupe Cafe is located right in downtown Sylva on West Main St. and has a level of funk (the good kind) we were not expecting in this small mountain hamlet. The food is simply fantastic.
My friends and I started out with the Salsa Sampler platter that featured home made tortilla chips and a selection of the house salsas-guacamole, pico de gallo and scotch bonnet. All were good but the scotch bonnet mix is pure heaven (with a healthy dose of hell). From there we decided to each order a different item and share. Our Empanadas, Quesadillas, Tostadas and Falafel were delivered to the table promptly and we dug in. We also got an order of the coconut rice dish, Arrroz de Coco, which is Basmati rice cooked with coconut milk and tumeric. We all agreed that everything was great but the Empanadas were the consensus choice for dish of the day. As we talked to some of the locals we found out that the Guadalupe Cafe is a very popular music venue later in the evening with bands playing nightly-all of this in little Sylva! When I read that had expanded it's scope a little beyond the Georgia borders I had to write and let the world know about this fantastic find.

Jim Bowles
Atlanta, GA

Royal Family @ Prospector Hall

I first listened to Royal Family at the Eco-Music-Fest back in June. They put on a good show there so I wasn't at all surprised to witness the same at Prospector Hall last Saturday.
Held down by some of the best drumming I've seen in a local band, their music is mostly raucous and intense-but they can also take the edge off when they want to which is effective at keeping the crowd involved...and they were, at both shows.
Royal Family is advertised as "Garage Rock", but I think they might be a little more evolved from my perception of that term. There is some melody to the madness and they put on a great show. They play regularly all around Atlanta and north Georgia-for more info and a sample of their tunes check out their MySpace page.

Big City Sunrise @ Bigg Daddy's in Helen

It's no mystery why Big City Sunrise has such a loyal following. They put on a high energy, sweat drenched show at Bigg Daddy's in Helen on 6/12 and I was glad to be a part of the crowd. This was my first experience seeing this band live and I have to say they are unique.
Fronted by Jeff Bynum and his electric violin, Big City Sunrise is like a dream where Led Zeppelin meets Vassar Clements...and the result is loud, rowdy and fun. Excellent musicians having a good time generally leads to a good show and this was one.
Bynum does a lot of the singing and is joined by Kevin Rainwater on drums, Doug Meads (a lot of the vocals as well) and Chris Thacker handle the guitars, Adam Kahn plays an excellent bass and is complimented by percussionist Sam Steele. Chris is especially impressive taking the lead guitar-but this is defintely a band that is the sum of it's parts. They work very well together.
The highlight of the evening ( and their fans were waiting for it) was a medley centered around the Marley classic, "No Woman, No Cry" near the end of the show that gave each member a chance to shine.
For our readers in the Atlanta/Athens area, Big City Sunrise has a CD release party at the Georgia Theater on August 15 where they will be joined by Blueground Undergrass. The will be back at Bigg Daddy's for another show in Helen on August 30. Find out more about BCS on their MySpace page.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Coming up in the September Edition of

Still working on a few things, but here is what to expect:

LexFest 2008 in Asheville
Wildcat Creek Recreation
Fort Mountain Report
Java Mama Cafe in Dillard
Batesville General Store "The Best Biscuit in Batesville"
Greenstone Soap Co in Sautee
Music from Dahlonega
Sautee Jamboree coming up this Month
September Live Music Calendar

and maybe a surprise or two;-)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bigfoot in the North Georgia Mountains?

Yes, we saw the photo. I'm skeptical;-) Might just be an old moonshiner with a steroid problem. There is quite a buzz about the creature, however..and rest assured that is paying attention and will report any facts we come across. I just hope these guys give up the location.

Saturday, August 2, 2008 quote makes band flyer...

for the Avery Dylan Project..we appreciate it guys!(click on the flyer for larger image you can read;-)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Mountainfreak Borders-The Ocoee in Tennessee

Tennessee Whitewater
A Pair of Reports From the Ocoee River

Middle Ocoee Trip

Contributed by Heath Hair

Last weekend four friends and I went to raft the Upper, and Middle Ocoee River in Benton TN, about 15 miles north of Chatsworth Ga. The weather forecast didn't look favorable with a storm front hovering around Tennessee for the better part of the morning, so we decided to commit only to the Middle Ocoee instead. Normally, we would camp at the Ocoee Outdoors outpost... it's fun and convenient. But since we opted for the shorter trip, we decided to make it a one day affair and leave early for around 7:30 for the 10:00 o'clock put-in (which we barely made by the way), with Sunburst Adventures. They are good people and we have known them a long time. But if you want to do an Upper-Middle trip Ocoee Outdoors is the way to go. Beside being able to camp at the outpost, the people there take really good care of you, and excellent/fun guides. It isn't uncommon for them to cookout with you in the evening, and hang out with you at Grumpy's later that night. It's a seasonal bar, within walking distance, with decent bands. And of course, if you decide to raft with them all day, they will provide a lunch riverside. Of course most of the companies do that as well.

Anyway, back to the rafting experience itself. That day it rained. I haven't rafted in the rain since I was about 14 years old. Let me tell you, the rain shouldn't detour you in anyway whatsoever, at least in the summer months. It was the first time in years that I didn't get a sunburn on my shoulders. Of course the part of the Middle Ocoee where the river calms down and you can get out of the river and float down was relaxing as always, ESPECIALLY in the rain. Ironically, it is seems more serene than on a sunny day. There is a pretty nice place to stop and have a snack around the underpass just before the rapids start back up, with a nice view of a waterfall.

The Middle Ocoee is the most popular white water rafting river in country, and likely the world. It is comprised of 5 miles of constant class 3-4 rapids that just never seem to quit. Boredom will not be an issue. The Middle Ocoee offers more than enough for any hardcore outdoor thrill seeker, at the same time isn't intimidating enough to ruin the good time of a first timer. The Middle Ocoee is enough of a white water crash course to take on the Upper Ocoee's class 4-5 rapids almost immediately. Basically, the Middle Ocoee is the perfect rafting experience. If you are into kayaking, this is the place to be also. the Ocoee River was a 1996 Olympic venue for a reason.

Ocoee Rafting 101

Dr. Chris Haddock
Ringgold, Georgia

Not far across the state line in North Georgia lie several rivers that are extremely popular to whitewater enthusiasts. These include East Tennessee’s Hiawassee and Western North Carolina’s Nantahala. Both are easily accessible and do not require any guide to raft them. Outfitters are plentiful and rent a variety of inflatable contraptions to float the river or small kayaks and other boats if that’s more your style. Children under 12 can safely take these trips.

The centerpiece of this whitewater scene in this area is the Ocoee River in East Tennessee, site of the 1996 Olympic Games Whitewater events. Dammed up in the mid 20th century by TVA, the Ocoee is a river that has it’s origins in the North Carolina mountains but comes into its own once it drops into the foothills of East TN. It’s comprised of three distinct sections; upper, middle, and lower as divided by the three dams. The upper section contains the Olympic Course and has some very challenging water class IV and V rapids.. Water is not released into this section all the time and you should call ahead to an outfitter to determine the release schedule should you wish to give it a go. . The middle section of the Ocoee is the traditional run that has been used since the 70’s by local outfitters and has plenty of big water as well. Water is released into this section daily in the summer peak times and on weekends early or late in season. Both the upper and middle sections can be floated on your own but unless you’re an experienced whitewater enthusiast with a lot of training it should only be undertaken through an outfitter. The lower section is a placid, flat water section leading down into Parksville Lake providing a very nice serene float and simple tubes and sea kayaks are not an uncommon site.

Outfitters are numerous in the area with over twenty in business at any one time. I myself have always used Ocoee Outdoors as they are one of the oldest and most respected groups on the river. Their experience and emphasis on safety was readily apparent on my most recent trip. Another nice feature that they and some other outfitters provide is a camping area that can be used before/after your trip down the river for a nominal fee.. Ocoee Outdoors has several nice camping sites as well as indoor bathhouse and restrooms.

I’ve gone down the middle section numerous times but this year we decided to do an upper/middle combo trip. Both sections take about two to two and half hours and they are traditionally split up by an outfitter supplied lunch between the sections. The upper had some very challenging rapids and once in the Olympic section it was about a half mile of uninterrupted whitewater which was definitely the highlight of the run.. During our recent trip a boater fell out on a rather innocuous appearing rapid called Edge of the World below the Olympic section.. Although minor in appearance it contains a “terminal hydraulic” on its bottom end and this boater was trapped and was continually churned in the hydraulic staying under for 20 seconds at a time and was growing weaker with each subsequent submersion. The guides for Ocoee Outdoors remained calm and continued to throw safety ropes at the boater until she was able to grab hold and be pulled out of the rapid. In fact one of the guides on our trip had been trapped in the same spot the previous year and had lost numerous teeth due to the repeated pounding against the rocks in this rapid. His story and incident that day were excellent examples of why an outfitter should be used to make your trip and why only those over 12 years of age are allowed on these sections.

Sadly, two great Ocoee Institutions that provided excellen pre and post trip entertainment have closed down. Both Duff’s Bar and Grumpy’s Rockhouse featured cheap beer, live music, and a mixed crowd of locals, river guides, and rafters. Both have closed down within the past 12 months but rumors persist that Grumpy’s will reopen soon. There are several small delis and gas stations in the area should you decide not to bring your own food and the nearby town of Cleveland Tn. provides a wide variety of dining options.

A trip down any of these rivers provides some great fun and entertainment and the variety of the water along with their proximity to each other allows for something to please the whole family. Located less than 2 hours from Atlanta up 411 an easy day trip could be planned or a weekend in the mountains camping or in a cabin rental would provide easy access to the river.

Carter's Lake-Georgia's "Other" Mountian Lake

Carter's Lake seen from the Marina

Conveniently located about midway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Carter's Lake is 3500 acres of unspoiled paradise for boaters and fishermen in the north Georgia mountains. Carter's Lake may not have the panache of lakes Burton and Rabun to it's northeast, or the prime location near a bustling town like Lake Blue Ridge or Chatuge..but it certainly deserves mention along with those lakes when watersports, fishing and recreational opportunities are discussed.
There is only one commercial establishment on the shores of the lake, Carter's Lake Marina and Resort. The marina offers full service for boaters along with boat rentals and cabins. The rest of the lake is pretty much operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The visitor's center operated by the Corps is a great first stop for visitors to the lake. Here you will find exhibits explaining the history of the area and construction of the lake and dam, wildlife in and around the lake, and the recreational opportunities provided. Maps of the lake and pamphlets for the various camping areas, hiking trails and the Ridgeway Mountain Bike Trail can be picked up free of charge.
Carter's Lake is a little less crowded than the other lakes mentioned above, and that makes it a prime destination for fishermen pursuing largemouth, striped and smallmouth bass, walleye, catfish and panfish. The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources manages 6,000 acres of public land around the lake which is available to hunters during the season.
Carter's Lake is located near Oakman, GA just south of Chatsworth off of US Hwy 411, and south of Ellijay and north of Jasper off of Hwy 515.