Friday, November 27, 2009

Apple Heaven

Why the North Georgia Mountains are Special
Peace and quiet. Reconnect with nature. Stock your pantry with all things apple and fill your tummy with homemade apple pies. I visited the area of Blue Ridge, GA this past fall and decided that this journey made for a great annual rejuvenation trip. By next year, I'm sure my apple supplies will be depleted and my spirit will want to return to the woods. Picture an afternoon of hiking followed by an evening with a blanket and a good book while the rain hits the tin roof above you. Yes, this is my idea of "camping".

Where to Stay
I highly recommend renting a cabin from Sliding Rock Cabins ( The accommodations are very comfortable and well maintained. This company is the most pet friendly of any that I have dealt with. There are no pet fees, deposits or weight limits. Cabins come with a large dog bed, bowls and toys. My three pups felt right at home here. Most cabins have hot tubs. The one we rented turned out to be within walking distance of one of the area hiking trails. The website has detailed descriptions of each cabin. Some are more secluded than others. I will ask for information about the driveway entrance and parking next time. The cabin we chose had a very steep drive and only room to park one vehicle. If we had traveled with friends, that would have been an obstacle.

Local Eats
If you stay in a cabin with a fully equipped kitchen, you might choose to grab groceries on the way in and never have to think about dining out (very conducive to hibernating). I actually cheated and made a long pitstop in Asheville, NC (three hours north of this destination, and on my path) to collect food from several of my favorite restaurants. Yes, there will be a future Asheville post.

Toccoa Riverside Restaurant: It is worth the drive to this joint. It's always interesting to find a restaurant out in the middle of nowhere, and this place sits right on an impressive river. The specialty is trout and it is very local; never frozen. Please don't order steak here. It would insult the fisherman and the chef. The outdoor seating area is nice; but only if you've shown up covered with mosquito repellant.

Mercier Orchards: I asked a local for advice on where to buy some apples, while imagining a simple roadside stand. He sent me to Mercier Orchards and as soon as I stepped into the large building, I was surrounded by what I now refer to as "Apple Heaven". When in season, you can pick your own on the weekends. But you could spend hours in the store. Apple cider, apple butter, apple cider vinegar, dried apples, apple pies, applesauce. You can sample ciders from different apples from the bar before you buy (winery style). They make all of their products on site, so these goodies have little to no carbon footprint. Plus, this turned out to be a great place to eat lunch. The deli serves salads and sandwiches. Next year, I'll know to go there on the first day to buy a box of apple pies to last the week (well, maybe they'll last that long). And next year, I'll have to take pictures. I was so much in awe on the first visit that I forgot to make use of my camera.

Things to Do

  •  Burt's Farm: Take some great pictures and enjoy hugging pumpkins as big as you are. Tiny, huge, orange, blue, bumpy or smooth, you'll see every variety. This place also sells fried apple pies, but they're not as good as Mercier's. However, it is fun to drive from one stand to another trying everyone's version of the dessert. Find the pumpkin patch on Hwy 52 on the way to Amicalola Falls.

  • Hiking: There are so many trails to choose from in this area. You can explore a new one each day of your trip. The trails in Georgia are well marked, so there's no guessing about which path is the trail and there's a sign at the entrance that tells you the amount of mileage you're in for (something I really appreciate). A must see trail can be found at Amicalola State Park ( Stop at the information center for helpful information about your options (one route involves 604 stairs, which might not be your idea of a good time). The Appalachian Trail starts from this park (look for the rock marker), so obviously you can make your hike as long as you want from this point. $ Budget tip: parking is free on Wednesdays.

  •  One of the other long trails is the Benton MacKaye. This is the trail    we were able to pick up just around the corner from our cabin door. The entire trail is 80 miles and takes you to the Tennessee state line. We hiked part of the 25 mile Duncan Ridge Trail and enjoyed the seclusion since the route is far from highways or populated parks. We only saw two other hikers in three hours.

  •  Water Activities: There are several rivers in this area, so kayaking and white water rafting are very accessible options. I have rafting plans for my next trip, but I don't have an outfitter reference for you for this post. I did talk to a store owner in Blue Ridge who personally knows some expert guides, so I'd start there. I would prefer to encounter white water on a float with someone who knows what they're doing.

  • Shopping: Downtown Blue Ridge is a quaint area to explore. You can find hand crafted items, antiques and clothing. Seek out turqoise jewlry made by Native Americans and sold at very reasonable prices. Take the scenic train tour from downtown on the weekends.

 Side Bars
  • October is probably the best month to visit, when apples are ripe and the weather begins to cool.
  • Read the guest book in the cabin on the first day. Previous visitors may give helpful tourist advice. Or, they may mention bear sightings in the back yard.
  • The most important packing item is mosquito repellant.

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