A tranquil mountain retreat awaits in Blue Ridge, Georgia

By Jeff Louderback

Relaxing on the deck of a creekside cabin nestled along a remote pathway outside of Mineral Bluff, I stare at the night sky – my dog, Boston, at my side.

The aptly named Singing Creek ripples, crickets chirp and a gentle breeze rustles the leaves of towering trees that define the dark silhouette of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A beaming full moon and the glistening stars provide the only light at this haven that is six miles away from the nearest town and tucked away in a mountain valley.

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Singing Creek Cabin is one of 17 pet-friendly cabins and cottages managed by Enchanted Mountain Retreats (www.georgiaemr.com) and situated in the north Georgia mountains near the rustic resort town of Blue Ridge. There was a time when trains roared down the tracks across Singing Creek. Though the railroad made its last trip on this stretch in the late 1980s, remnants of the trestle that once spanned the creek are still visible, and the former railway bed is now a starting point for a hiking adventure.

Exuding casual elegance, the cabin has a master bedroom, a full kitchen, a dining area and a spacious living room enlivened by a crackling fireplace on the lower level. Once an open back porch, the enclosed sun room is like a third bedroom or an office, where a writing desk and chairs overlook the creek, and a dog bed rests in a corner.

On a comfortably cool night, drifting off to sleep with the harmony of the soothing creek is comforting. The second floor features a loft area with a full bathroom and a bedroom with windows that also overlook the creek, which is teeming with trout and inviting for fly fishing.

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Singing Creek Cabin comfortably houses eight, but larger parties can be accommodated by booking Little Singing Creek, a tiny cabin that is located a stone’s throw away, sleeps four and has one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen area and a living room.

Situated near the Georgia-North Carolina border, Singing Creek is a scenic six-mile drive from the historic haven of Blue Ridge. Established in 1886 as a railroad town, Blue Ridge was once a health resort in the 19th century because of its pure mineral waters. Today, the town draws weary Atlantans looking for an escape from the frenetic pace of urban life as well as guests from across the Southeast. They peruse the eclectic antique stores, art galleries, specialty shops and restaurants amid the streets that surround the Blue Ridge Depot, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and Blue Ridge City Park, where resident roosters roam.

After the original Blue Ridge Depot burned down, the current building was constructed in 1906. It is the home of the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and serves as the central focus of downtown.

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce and Welcome Center’s website (www.blueridgemountains.com) is a must-visit destination before arriving in the region. The site lists an array of self-guided tours, including themed adventures like Blue Ridge area waterfalls, remote mountain and backcountry sites, Toccoa River and Cohutta Wilderness excursions and walking tours for Blue Ridge and McCaysville, Ga. and Copperhill, Tn., which represent the stopping point on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

Embarking from the depot, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway takes travelers on a four-hour, 26-mile journey aboard vintage rail cars through the mountains along the Toccoa River. The trip leads to a two-hour layover in the sister towns of McCaysville and Copperhill.

Chartered in 1904, McCaysville is located on the Georgia-Tennessee state line adjacent to Copperhill. Inside the IGA store, a blue line separates Georgia from Tennessee. Here, at the state line, Toccoa Avenue (Georgia) turns into Ocoee Street (Tennessee) while the Toccoa River becomes the Ocoee River under an old iron bridge built in 1911. Horseshoe Bend Park on the Toccoa is a short walk away and is a tranquil place for a picnic. Toccoa Ave./Ocoee St. is lined with antique and specialty shops, art galleries and eateries.

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Following the layover, the train odyssey returns to the Blue Ridge Depot in the heart of downtown Blue Ridge. The town has an impressive assortment of dining destinations mixed between the shops and galleries.  Blue Ridge Brewery on Depot St. boasts a full menu of burgers, pizzas and entrees like pan seared salmon, lightly breaded trout, grilled rack of lamb and a grilled rib-eye steak. The food is savory, and any meal is accentuated by trying one of the microbrewery’s selections. A flight of four brews is an option for beer enthusiasts who have trouble deciding.

Regardless of size, most towns have a must-experience restaurant. In downtown Blue Ridge, the foodie’s requirement is Harvest on Main, which serves a menu created from locally produced ingredients. Chef and owner Danny Mellman, and his wife Michelle, even created The Cook’s Farm in Blue Ridge to supply the restaurant with organic produce, honey, eggs and smoked meats (via the smokehouse).  The farm hosts farm-to-table dinners for families, farm-to-table camps for children and cooking lessons from culinary artists among other special events.

As for the restaurant, which occupies a cedar cabin, the menu includes favorites like a small plate of pimento cheese and pickles, a house-smoked curry chicken salad, cornmeal dusted Bramlett Farms trout, house-baked macaroni and cheese, and the Blue Ridge Hot Brown (oven-roasted turkey topped with crabmeat, creamy mornay sauce made with parmesan and Swiss cheese) and Swiss cheese placed atop toasted garlic bread and warmed until golden brown. Decadent desserts (try the Appalachian cobbler), craft beers and carefully curated wines round out the menu.

The north Georgia mountains are known for their wineries and orchards. The largest orchard in the Southeast, which also has a winery, is in Blue Ridge.

Family operated since Bill and Adele Mercier planted the first apple trees in 1943, Mercier Orchards now consists of 350 sprawling acres. The Apple House, which started as a small roadside stand that sold fruits and vegetables when Blue Ridge was a sleepy mountain town, is now a bustling store.

Visitors flock here to savor delicacies like apples and fruits, cider, preserves, deli items and baked goods that include fritters and the signature fried pies. Peach, sweet potato and, of course, apple are the favorite selections. Mercier’s grows 20 varieties of apples along with blueberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums and strawberries. In season, customers can pick apples and strawberries.

Mercier’s sells and ship products nationwide from its website at www.mercier-orchards.com, but an afternoon at the destination where the ingredients are born is a memorable experience itself.

Blue Ridge is a sanctuary for outdoor recreation enthusiasts, especially fans of whitewater rafting, tubing and ziplining.

Zipline Canopy Tours of Blue Ridge is six miles from downtown Blue Ridge and contains a course on 165 acres that allows daredevils to see the Blue Ridge Mountains with a different perspective – soaring through them on a zipline.

Flowing from Lake Blue Ridge, the Toccoa River becomes the Ocoee River at the Georgia-Tennessee border. Located on Hwy. 64 north of McCaysville, the Ocoee Whitewater Center was constructed by the U.S. Forest Service. Typically, rafting season runs from June to September, when releases from Lake Blue Ridge dam increase the flow of the water on the Toccoa/Ocoee River.

Class III and IV rapids highlight the river just west of Ducktown, Tn. Rafting excursions include the Upper Ocoee, which has the Olympic kayaking course created for the 1996 Olympic Games at the Ocoee Whitewater Center; the Middle Ocoee, a five-mile stretch of Class III and IV whitewater; and a full river trip which includes both upper and middle sections.

Due to the ferocity of the whitewater on the Ocoee, rafting trips are limited to adults and kids 12 and older. Floating and tubing trips on the Toccoa River in Blue Ridge and McCaysville are more suitable families with smaller kids. Tubing is available on the upper Toccoa in Blue Ridge above the Lake Blue Ridge Dam and the lower Toccoa in McCaysville.

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Ocoee Whitewater Center is not solely for rafting. Scenic U. S. Highway 64 cuts through the gorge and offers multiple photographic opportunities.  The center’s grounds are home to hiking and biking trails for families, including a one-mile path which crosses a 330-foot suspension bridge and circles the center. The trail is entirely accessible for people who are physically challenged.

An additional 20 miles of trails wind through the center for hikers and mountain bikers, including the Bear Paw Trail and the Chestnut Mountain Trail, both of which are loops. The Old Copper Road Historic Trail gives hikers and bikers an easier paced adventure along a restored path that once transported copper by wagon before railroad arrived.

Two exhilarating outdoor adventures begin at the southern border of Fannin County. The Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail start at the top of Springer Mountain.

Stretching more than 2,000 miles, the Appalachian Trail follows the eastern ridge of the Appalachian Mountains as it passes through 14 states before ending at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. The more remote Benton MacKaye Trail covers 286 miles and winds along the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains before rejoining the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

North of where the Benton MacKaye begins, at 14.4 miles it crosses the pristine Toccoa River on a structure known simply known as the Swinging Bridge, which is the longest suspension bridge east of the Mississippi.

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To plan themed hikes that pass through spots like the Swinging Bridge, visit www.blueridgemountains.com and click on the Outdoor Adventure link. The Enchanted Mountain Retreats’ website (www.georgiaemr.com) also lists a multitude of activities.

After a full day of adventure, relaxing perks await at the Singing Creek Cabin. A fire pit near the creek is a tranquil spot for roasting marshmallows. The hot tub on the deck is inviting year-round. If the weather is warm enough, opening the windows of the sun room and the sliding glass door off the master bedroom, and listening to the calming harmony of Singing Creek, is the perfect end to one day and a welcoming start to another.

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