I had rented a cabin near Blue Ridge in North Georgia more than once, but never ventured out into Blue Ridge. Big mistake. There are so many things to do in Blue Ridge area, and downtown Blue Ridge is packed with fabulous restaurants, cute shops and art galleries.
In between eating at amazing restaurants, I hiked to waterfalls, took a scenic train ride, got a treatment at a first-class spa, explored Lake Blue Ridge and toured a gorgeous golf course community in a golf cart. Plus a guy in a restaurant bought us a $300 bottle of wine, but I can’t guarantee that will happen to you.
In the Appalachian foothills, 90 miles north of Atlanta, Blue Ridge has been attracting tourists since the 1800s when the railway was complete and was once called “the Switzerland of the South.” It is still attracting tourists drawn to its natural beauty and a chance to ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
Here are some of our favorite things to do in Blue Ridge.
Hike to a waterfall
I love hiking through the woods with no particular agenda, but if there’s a killer view or a waterfall along the way, that’s more incentive to hit the trails.
We took a short hike on the Falls Branch Trail, part of the 282-mile Benton MacKaye Trail, to see the double cascades of Fall Branch Falls. It was an enjoyable, easy hike suitable for just about anyone.
If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you’ll find 300 miles of trails of all levels to choose from, including access to the Appalachian Trail.
Take a scenic train ride to another state
Trains first came to Blue Ridge in 1896, the depot was built in 1905 and trains ran through the town until 1987. A group of enterprising locals wanted to restore the railway and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway opened in 1998. It is credited with reviving tourism in Blue Ridge and has been a huge economic boost to the town.
We joined the crowds of people lining up to board the train one weekday morning, grabbed our seats and waited for our journey to begin. The 540-seat train regularly sells out and today was no exception. The ride lives up to its name as we slowly passed beautiful scenery that included farms, homes and views of the Toccoa River.
The train takes an hour to get to McCaysville, where you stay for two hours, then hop back on for the one-hour return trip.
After getting off the train in McCaysville, we ate lunch by the river at Burra Burra on the River, which specializes in classic American fare and craft beer. After lunch we strolled through the streets of the town, passing over into Copperhill, Tennessee. Be sure to stop and grab a treat at the Rum Cake Lady then stand in two states at once by straddling the markings of the state line on the sidewalk.
If time allows, head to The Folk Collaborative, a 39-acre combination bakery, apple orchard and apothecary. Owners Amanda and Luke Dilbeck share duties here. Amanda is the baker while Luke makes all the shampoos and candles and teaches herbalist classes.
The trains are especially popular in the fall for viewing the fall foliage as are the Santa Trains during the holidays.
Pamper yourself at an amazing spa
Of course I perk up whenever I hear a trip to a spa is on the agenda, but considering Blue Ridge is a small town, I expected a converted house with 2-3 treatment rooms. I was really in for a treat with Serenity in the Mountains, a 36,000-square-foot spa with 30 treatment rooms and 11 suites that provides 1,000 services a week. A dining room, café and coffee shop are opening soon.
I was lucky enough to meet the dynamo owner who is in her 70s but has the energy of a teenage boy popping his second Red Bull. After a fabulous massage and rest in the gorgeous quiet room, Lynda Cole led us on a tour and regaled us with stories of her many expansions and the 165 trees she decorates for Christmas every year.
Take a boat ride on Lake Blue Ridge
We had the most perfect summer day to explore Lake Blue Ridge, taking in the mountain views, gorgeous lake houses, camping grounds, beach and the Lake Blue Ridge Dam. The lake was formed in 1930 when the dam was built on the Toccoa River and 80 percent of the shoreline of the 3,300-acre lake is National US Forest Service land.
We boarded our boat at Lake Blue Ridge Marina, where you can grab a bite to eat at the Boat Dock Bar & Grill, load up on supplies and rent a pontoon boat, canoe, kayak or paddle board.
Go tubing on the Toccoa River
Floating on a cold river on a brightly colored inner tube is a great way to beat the Georgia heat in the summer. We visited Toccoa Valley Campground and met Gina Golden who co-owns the tubing and camping company with her husband, Ray. It’s a family-run business that opened in the 1960s.
You can take a two-hour tube, kayak or raft trip from Memorial Day to Labor Day and be picked up at the end. Time didn’t allow for us to take a lazy float, but I’d put it at the top of my agenda when I return in the summer.
Stroll around the shops in downtown Blue Ridge
So many cute shops, so little time! I need to go back to check out more of them as we ran out of time, but for a good reason. We were strolling through town one afternoon, but didn’t make it far before we met a fascinating artist who demonstrated his unique process of burning images into wood.
We stepped into 4 Elements gallery and met the owner, George Charriez, who showed us around, then shared his process of how he creates images with wet sand and a small torch on a piece of wood.
Georgia Bulldog fans will want to check out his painting of Uga, the mascot of the team, that is signed by every member of the 1980 National Championship team and appraised at $324,000.
Make your own custom bamboo fly fishing rod
Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods is another gorgeous shop in downtown Blue Ridge where you can shop for all your fly fishing needs. If you’ve got six days, you can take their class in making your own bamboo fly fishing rod, then test it out here in Blue Ridge, the Trout Capital of Georgia. Plan ahead because these classes sell out fast.
Bed down in an historic inn
If you want to stay downtown to be able to walk everywhere, check into the Blue Ridge Inn Bed & Breakfast housed in a Victorian home built in 1890 that was one of the first residences in Blue Ridge.
Innkeeper John Lavin purchased the inn in 2021 and showed us around, letting us take a peek at a few of the 10 rooms in the charming inn. “I was a history major and love old homes. I owned a few in New Orleans but was ready to get back to the mountains,” he said. “I really enjoyed bringing this home back to its Victorian roots.”
Relax in a coffee shop
I loved the fireplace and the mountains painted on the walls of Mountain Mama’s Coffee Lounge, which shares space with the Blue Ridge Inn. The visibly pregnant owner, Morgan Stephens, told us, “I accidentally over manifested the name by calling it Mountain Mamas.”
I enjoyed a delicious coffee and tomato pepper frittata. Everything served here is made from scratch with fresh ingredients and the baked goods come from The Folk Collaborative. This is definitely the place to hang out, drink a brew and chill. And make sure to check out the peach wallpaper in the restroom.
Stay in a fabulous cabin
I fell in love with our cabin as soon as I walked in and saw the amazing view of the mountains. We had four primary bedrooms (so need to jockey for the best bedroom), two decks, fire pit, hot tub and game room. Plus, we were less than 10 minutes from downtown Blue Ridge.
Cloud Top Cabin is rented by Escape From Blue Ridge, one of several rental companies with cabin inventory. Whether you’re looking for rustic or full-on luxury, you can find a cabin that suits your needs.
Hire a private chef for a dinner at home
I don’t mind cooking but it’s not my passion. So having someone else cook me a fabulous meal and clean up is a delightful treat. And yes, it’s completely sexist, but it’s even more enjoyable when it’s a man in the kitchen and I’m the one chilling at the table waiting for my next course.
What a joy it was to have Jeff Severns with Fine Dining Chefs come to our cabin and serve us a gourmet five-course meal. Each dish was beautifully presented and we could relax in the privacy of our cabin while watching the sun set over the mountains.
We dined on the most delicious charcuterie board, Roma and garlic bisque, green salad, beef tenderloin with potatoes and asparagus, and a gorgeous slice of cheesecake with berry coulis and caramel drizzle. Plus we enjoyed one of the most expensive bottles of wine I’ve ever had – more on that story below.
Play golf, dine or stay at a golf and river community
I’m not a golfer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love tooling around in a golf cart while enjoying an adult beverage. Lucky for me, I got to do both at Old Toccoa Farm, a 428-acre golf and river community with 400 feet of riverfront about five miles from town.
I recommend visiting the Tavern Restaurant and taking a seat outside on the huge wraparound deck to enjoy views of the Toccoa River Valley and Blue Ridge mountains. (Please note: there is a gate at the property and you need a reservation to get inside.)
After grabbing an adult beverage at the Tavern, we hopped into a golf cart for a grand tour with Founder and Managing Partner Peter Knutzen who showed us the beautiful homes, with several more under construction.
For overnight stays, there are 15 500-square-foot Appalachian-style cottages with 16 more being built. The adorable cottages were tastefully decorated and had a full kitchen. There are 3.5 miles of hiking trails with pickleball and tennis courts coming soon.
Fill a cart, taste ciders, pick your own fruit and try a fried pie at a 4th-generation apple orchard
Mercier Orchards has been selling apples for 80 years but sells a whole lot more since its founding in 1943. In addition to its huge retail store, its operation includes making and selling hard cider, hosting seasonal u-pick events and a bakery where you can get the best fried pies.
Tim Mercier told us they supply all the fried pies for The Varsity and Dwarf Houses, with the capacity to produce 13,000 in a 5-hour shift. I couldn’t turn down the offer of a peach pie and bought several more to take home.
Dine at a fabulous restaurant
From a sophisticated steakhouse where you can get a 45-day bourbon-aged Tomahawk Ribeye to a riverside restaurant known for its fresh trout, you can find just about anything when it comes to the dining scene in Blue Ridge.
We ended up chatting with a man seated by us at the bar and when he heard us discussing the need to get another bottle of wine for our dinner at home with the private chef, offered to buy us a bottle. At his insistence we took him up on his offer and gladly said a toast to his generosity with the $300 bottle he bought us. Yes, we knew the price because we had to have the receipt to take it home with us.
Housed in the historic 1914 Butt House where Margaret Mitchell was a frequent guest, Black Sheep serves steaks, seafood, fried chicken and rack of lamb. I loved my pan-seared sea bass on udon noodles. This is also the place to go for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Weather permitting, sit outside under the 200-year-old oak tree.
I loved sitting in the vault room of the former bank at General Ledger. Menu items include filet, pecan crusted trout and fried chicken paillard. The corn bread with green chilis and cheddar cheese was a standout, cooked and served in a cast iron skillet as God intended.
I had been to the Toccoa Riverside Restaurant years ago on a company retreat and was excited to dig into their fresh trout once again. For the best views, take a seat on the Pooch Patio.
I recommend you stop by the Blue Ridge GA Visitor Center to pick up information for your stay, including brochures and postcards. You can find just about anything you’re looking for on one of the 18 maps they have that include driving tours, walking tours, bike routes, hiking trails, waterfalls, shopping and breweries. You can also download the Blue Ridge app that will help you find just about anything. It’s available for Apple and on Google Play. For more information, visit BlueRidgeMountains.com
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief