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 second 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!
The Eastern Route: I-85/GA-400/US-19
This route takes you out of Atlanta through the North Atlanta suburbs. It is the most direct route for anyone in East or South Atlanta and suburbs such as Conyers, Covington, Lawrenceville, Buford, Cumming, Roswell and Alpharetta. This route covers approximately 150 miles of road and takes just about 3.5 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
If you live in or south of the center of Atlanta, get to I-85 and go North! Follow signs for GA-400 N and US-19 N. Alternatively, if you live North or further West of Downtown Atlanta, work your way to GA-400 N. After a while, the city will begin to fade away and GA-400 will loose its limited access and become US-19. Follow Signs for Dahlonega and join up with GA-60 N into town. Dahlonega is a great town to top off the gas tank and grab some lunch if you need.
Step Two: Start Seeing Cool Things
As noted before, Dahlonega is isa great place to stop and get acclimated to the mountains. Grab lunch at the Picnic Cafe, also known as the Dahlonega Dessertery, or at The Crimson Moon (which has live music on weekends if you want to shop by for dinner and tunes on the way home) and walk around the square for a while. Check out the General Store for some old time candy and ready yourself for a day of fun!
Follow signs out of town for US-19 N and stay right at Stone Pile Gap, splitting ways with GA-60N. When the road T’s at Turner’s Corner, take a left on US-129N. As you crest the top of the winding mountains, you will see Mountain Crossings on your right. This stone building houses a gear outfitter and gift shop and the view off of the overlook is incredible. Take some time to stretch your legs or even go for a hike up Blood Mountain, 2.2 miles up the Appalachian Trail.
Take a right out of the Mountain Crossings’ parking lot and start heading down the mountain. Five miles down the way, you will come across Vogel State Park on your left. Swing into the park for some great views over Lake Trahlyta. You can hike around the lake and on the far end check out the falls.
After leaving Vogel, take a left out of the park onto US-19N/US-129N. In a few miles, take a right on GA-180 and follow signs for Brasstown Bald Visitor’s Center. Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia and offer spectacular views. It is advisable to check in with the Visitor’s Center before committing to the drive up to the peak if it is wintertime. The road up to Brasstown Bald, GA-180 spur, is incredible steep and is the first road in all of Georgia to be shut down during inclement weather. But, if the weather during your visit allows, the crystal clear winter views from the top of Brasstown Bald on the tower are breath taking.
Backtrack down the steep GA-180 Spur and take a right to retrace your steps on GA-180 until you see GA-348 on your left and turn left. This is the second most likely road to be closed in Georgia during inclement weather but as you will see with Brasstown Bald, this also means it offers the best views in Georgia. This road will criss cross you over the Appalachian Trail in two places. The first will be Tesnatee Gap on your right. If you pull off into this parking area and begin walking on the AT to your right, it will bring you to Cow Rock in 1 mile. It is a steep climb, but a great hike to warm you up, get your blood flowing and give your some great views of the mountains. If you aren’t in the mood for a hike, continue driving a short ways to Hog Pen Gap. You may see people Ice Climbing if it is the middle of Winter and you can catch from great views without having to leave the car. The third pull over (the first of them to be on your right and the one that is past the AT) will provide you with the ability to swoop through in your car and snap some grandiose photos.
If you continue down GA-348 you will soon come across several chances to view waterfalls. Once you have descended from the high mountains, on your right you will seen signs for the Dukes Creek Falls Recreation Area nearly immediately followed by Raven Cliff Falls Recreation Area. Dukes Creek is approximately 1 mile out and 1 mile back to view the falls and Raven Cliff is 3.5 miles out and 3.5 miles back but both hikes are relatively east. Raven Cliff in particular has little to no elevation gain.
After getting your fill of the falls, keep on GA-348 until it T’s into GA-75A. Turn right onto GA-75 Alternate and follow it to GA-129 N, taking another right. In no time this will loop you back to Turner’s Corner, where you will take a left back onto US-19S towards Dahlonega. Retrace your steps back to town for dinner or to get back to 400 and head home. This is a great little route to show you some new places to have fun in the mountains, even in the winter!