From Thanksgiving hikes to Santa train rides to ringing in the new year, find your holiday cheer in the North Georgia Mountains
Warm up this holiday season with these Southern happenings, including fall foliage train rides and, later, rides with the Jolly Man himself. The holiday season marches off to a spirited start in Blue Ridge, about 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate 575. Wrap up touching memories you will talk about for years to come.
Earn your turkey dinner and hit the hills of Blue Ridge to get your heart pounding along the collection of trails which make the destination a true hiker’s paradise. Fannin County includes some of the most notable hiking trails in the United States. Two of the greatest outdoor adventures in the world, the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail, begin in Fannin County at the top of Springer Mountain. The Benton-MacKaye, more remote than the Appalachian, winds through remote areas of Fannin County for approximately 54 miles before it enters Tennessee from Fannin’s Cohutta Wilderness and continues a 286-mile trek along the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains, eventually rejoining the AT in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Choose from trails that range from easy to moderate to difficult to find the right hike for the whole crew. For waterfall-seekers, local trail favorites include Fall Branch Falls, Long Creek Falls and Amicalola Falls. The Aska Trail system, with four points of entry off Aska Road and six interconnecting loops varying in distance for a total of 30 miles of trails, meets up with the Benton-MacKaye Trail at certain points. www.BlueRidgeMountains.com/outdoor_adventure.html
Add seasonal treats to your festive meal with a stop at the 400-acre Mercier Orchards where you can stock up on fried pies, fresh veggies and fruits. Mercier is a family-owned and -operated, primarily apple, orchard. The must-see Blue Ridge attraction rewards senses with bushels of apples, fresh pressed cider, warm fried pies–but, most importantly, memories. Started back in 1943 by Bill and Adele Mercier, Mercier Orchards is now celebrating more than 70 years of fruitful harvests. Beyond apples, their onsite store serves up a variety of farm toys, pet items, kitchen paraphernalia, home decor and is host to a meat and cheese shop. Visit the tasting room, offering hard ciders and wines, including locally-produced varieties. Mercier Orchards is the only apple orchard in Georgia that grows, presses, ferments and bottles their own hard apple cider and farm wines. Mercier Orchards is also the first producer of hard cider in the state. Enjoy a round of tasting; hard ciders include Grumpy Granny, Rock Steady Red, Adele’s Choice, Pearody, Black Bee, Lone Tree, Old #3 and Just Peachy. Their farm wines include Fall Harvest Apple, Blackberry Winter and Summer Sweet Peach wines. Mercier Orchards also offers tastings of regional wines produced in the Georgia Mountains. Open: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week. Hard cider and wine tastings are offered 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 12:30-6 p.m., Sunday; 706-632-3411 or www.Mercier-Orchards.com.
Ride the train
Chugga-chug down the 13-miles of rails comprising the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. The 45-minute (each way) excursion is a generation-bonding adventure that starts at the historic 1905 depot in Downtown. Vintage climate controlled rail cars, along with open-air rail cars, host more than 70,000 passengers each year for a ride that winds alongside the Toccoa River, with a stop in the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. Copperhill/McCaysville is one town with two names because it is split by the GA/TN state line, where visitors have a two hour layover, plenty of time to eat lunch, shop for unique crafts and antiques, snack on ice cream or walk around. Capture the essence of the season and savor the brilliant autumn colors during special Fall Foliage Trail Rides throughout October and early November. You’re sure to be “laughing all the way” aboard the Santa Express Train through the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. While onboard, hear “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” sing Christmas carols and, of course, enjoy a meet and greet with the Jolly Ol’ St. Nick! The train takes off November 24 and rides throughout December. Ring in the New Year with a Wine and Dessert Train Ride, December 31, departing at 10 p.m., returning at 12:30 a.m. and complete with a wine tasting, light hors d’oeuvres and sparkling wine and desserts at midnight.
Save the date for these can’t-miss seasonal events:
Blue Ridge Blues & Barbecue Festival–September 14-16
Downtown Blue Ridge
Blues Crawl Friday night, followed by great blues and barbecue on Saturday.
Ride the Rails Festival–September 16-17
Mineral Bluff Depot
A 2.5-mile, round-trip ride by railroad motor car traveling through the Iron Bridge over the beautiful Toccoa River, then returning over the bridge to the Historic Mineral Bluff Depot. Model railroad display, food vendors and more. www.TSMRI.org
Paws in the Park–Second weekend of October
Downtown Blue Ridge City Park
Enjoy a day with your favorite pet; parade, pet education and demonstrations, costume contest, prizes, photos and more. Sponsored by the Humane Society of Blue Ridge. Paws in the Park
Fall Arts in the Park–October 14-15
Downtown Blue Ridge City Park
Delight in fine art, great food, fall colors on the trees and on the canvases. Enjoy the small town charm of Blue Ridge at Fall Arts in the Park. This fall arts and crafts festival features hundreds of regional artists and craftsmen, special events for the kids and live musical performances. Don’t miss a visit to The Art Center, in the historic Fannin County Courthouse, where you can browse the National Photography Exhibit. Admission is $5 for adults and kids are admitted free. www.BlueRidgeArts.net/arts-in-the-park.html
Holiday Art Show and Sale–November 18-January 6
Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association
Pick out regional art and handmade crafts for the special ones on your list. The Sale runs from November 18-January 6. For more information, call (706) 632-2144.
Light Up Blue Ridge–November 25
Downtown Blue Ridge
Santa and Mrs. Claus will parade through town. Enjoy festivities throughout the day, including live band performances, caroling, refreshments and the lighting of the great Christmas tree in the downtown area. LightUpBlueRidge.info
If you go
Find links to rental companies for mountain cabins with lake-views and room for 20 (hot tub included!) at www.BlueRidgeMountains.com, 1-800-899-MTNS.