Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! And at the same time, we understand that hiking and backpacking in cold weather isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. This is a neat idea for spending a day off in the mountains that is much more cold weather friendly. You owe it to your sanity to break free of that cabin fever and we’ve got just the trek you need! Here is the first of two driving routes up into the mountains and out of Atlanta that can help you escape and offer fun things to do along the way! Stay tuned for Route 2 next week!
The Western Route: I-75/I-575/GA-515
This route takes you out of Atlanta through the North Atlanta suburbs. It is the most direct route for anyone in West or South Atlanta and suburbs such as Canton, Marietta, Kennesaw, Dallas, Douglasville, Newnan and McDonough. This route covers approximately 190 miles of road and takes just about 4 hours of drive time (from Atlanta). Of course, you will want to jump out of the car every now and then and check out some cool little mountain towns, neat country stores, beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous mountain views! They’re all along this route!
Step One: Get out of the City
Get to I-75 and go North! Follow Signs for I-575N after passing Marietta and continue on as I-575N turns from a limited access interstate to state highway GA-515. The drive from Atlanta to Blue Ridge takes approximately 1hr and 3omin and gets progressively more beautiful after you get past Canton. By the time you make it to blue ridge, you may want to stretch your legs. Blue Ridge has an excellent little down town area for shopping and eating.
Step Two: Start Seeing Cool Things
As said before, Blue Ridge is a great little mountain town for shopping and eating. There are tons of mom ‘n’ pop shops and restaurants to choose from, all within an easy walking distance from one another. If you want to see something a little bit more unique in the area, head over to Mercier’s Orchards. Just a few minutes ride up GA-5, out of Blue Ridge, this place is hopping during the Fall when people flock to the mountains to buy apples but this time of year you can leisurely take your time to stroll this large country store and pick up all manner of wonderful fruits, pastries, baking mixes, ciders, wines and much, much more.
Backtrack south on GA-5 from Mercier’s down to Blue Ridge again and take a left on GA-76 E towards Blairsville. This will take you to another mountain town of great shops and dining options. Take the ramp off of GA-76 towards downtown and grab a Cup o’ Joe at the Cabin Coffee Company in the town square or try out a few hard to find brews at Bearding Bottle Shop.
From the center of town, take the roundabout and follow signs for Cleveland, GA and GA-129 S/US-19 S. In just a few miles, as you begin to wind up into the mountains, you will see Sunrise Grocery on your right. This little family owned country store has been a staple of this region since the 1920’s. You can find all manner of local goods and camp needs.
Continue on up into the mountains and down GA-129 S/US-19 S and be on the look out for a road sign on your left called Helton Creek Rd. For the more adventurous, this will lead you to a great surprise. The road will take you through a little cabin community and turn into a dirt path. Keep following this road until you find yourself at a parking lot. A sign will direct you to Helton Creek Falls, one of the best in the area. You can see the falls well enough from the car, but even if it is a chilly day, the walk to the bottom of the falls for an up and close look is very short.
After checking out Helton Creek Falls or opting out of adventure, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S until you hit the peak of the roadway. Here you will find the historic old building that houses Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi. It sits at Neel Gap along the Appalachian Trail and is an outfitter and gift shop. Stop and stretch your legs again and check out the view from the over look of the building’s patio. If you’re ready to brave the weather, take a hike up to Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the AT in the state of Georgia.
After getting your dose of fresh Mountain air, hop back into the car and keep heading south. In approximately 2 miles you will come to another waterfall viewing possibility, though this one requires more of a hike to reach than Helton Creek Falls. Take a right into DeSoto Falls Recreation Area off of GA-129 S/US-19 S and you can choose wether to go to the upper or lower DeSoto Falls or both!
If you’re over waterfalls, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S and take a right onto GA-60. You will soon come to the aptly named Stone Pile Gap. Be sure to veer right to continue on GA-60. In about 5 miles you will cross back over the Appalachian Trail at Woody Gap. If you park on the left side of the road you will have great views down from the mountains out into Dahlonega. If you park on the right side of the road, you can take the one mile, relatively easy hike up to Preacher’s Rock, which offers a beautiful vista out over the mountain scape.
By the time you get back to the car, you may be a bit beat. If you took advantage of all the area has to offer, you’ve done a lot in one day!! Keep on heading north of GA-60 and enjoy one of the prettiest stretches of highway in the great state on Georgia! This will roll you right back into Blue Ridge, a perfect spot for dinner if you didn’t eat earlier. From there, take US-76 W/GA-515 S and follow signs for Atlanta.
All it takes is a day off and a little bit of gas money to get you out of the city and into the mountains for an enjoyable day of experiencing a quieter side of life and getting out into the vast openness of the wilderness. Be mindful of weather conditions and come prepared. Check the weather in Blairsville or Blue Ridge and then add 5 degrees for your mountain temps. Snow may also be a possibility if the right mix of low temperatures and precipitation happen at the right time. Bring an extra layer and if you come across snow, either drive carefully or pull over and enjoy something that doesn’t happen as much further south at lower elevations!
Stay tuned for another route coming out of Atlanta from the East side of the city!