For all the well-known cities in Georgia, there are several smaller ones that sparkle brightly—especially among the mountains of North Georgia, home to vast bodies of water and stunning mountain views. The natural elements lend themselves easily to exploration, whether aboard a boat, on foot, or atop a mountain bike. Fruit grows in abundance and contributes to cuisine full of rich local flavors. From European-style accommodations (have you ever stayed in a windmill?) to a stylish resort complete with a spa, there’s a whole host of one-of-a-kind places to stay, whether you’re seeking a romantic retreat for two or a cabin to house the whole family. When it comes to dining, you and your companions can enjoy mornings at independent coffee shops, lunchtime views at rooftop cafes, and fine dining for dinner. Ripe for discovery, North Georgia is unparalleled in any other part of the state.
Award-winning experiences in Dahlonega
An $8.7 billion business, wine travel has been steadily growing over the past decade, thanks to the pleasure of sampling varietals around the globe. But you don’t have to go far to sample nationally recognized wines in Dahlonega (pronounced duh-laa-nuh-guh), an ideal place for an oenophile’s trip.
Start at Montaluce Winery & Restaurant, which offers tastings, free tours, and wine hikes winding through 1.8 miles of nature trails with views of the Etowah River. And you can stay in a Tuscan-style villa for the weekend. If tasting highly decorated wines is essential, then make a stop at Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery, where they also have an onsite cafe boasting delicious brunch. This European-style winery has won more than 200 medals in several major wine competitions throughout the U.S., including Georgia’s first-ever gold medals at the esteemed San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International Wine Competitions.
Located in the Frogtown District in Lumpkin County, known for its gorgeous mountain views with the perfect climate for grapes and the most decorated winery outside the state of California, Frogtown Cellars sits on 44 acres of vineyards. Their farm produces more than 25 different grapes and makes upwards of 30 varieties from the fruit they grow.
Animal lovers will want to stop to sample the wines at Cavender Creek Vineyards & Winery, housed on an old family farm, complete with dogs and donkeys. You can also stay the night while enjoying a bit of fascinating history in the 1820 hand-hewn log cabin, named Cabin-in-the-Vines Guesthouse, which was disassembled and moved from Tennessee to serve as guest accommodations on the property.
Boasting almost 10,000 premium vines on 184 acres, Three Sisters Vineyards & Winery is tucked into the expansive mountains of North Georgia and is surrounded by majestic views. The first family farm winery in the state, they serve a selection of white, red, and muscadine (a grapevine known for its fruit-forward tasting notes and that’s native to the southeastern United States) varietals from the cherrywood bar in their tasting room. While you’re there, do a chocolate pairing to satiate your sweet tooth.
A Bavarian-inspired town
Popular for its outdoor adventure, this region showcases architecture reminiscent of Germany. As you might expect in an alpine-influenced village, one of the highlights of Helen is its over 50-year-old annual Oktoberfest festival, which features German bands from around the world throughout September and October. Be prepared to hear accordion music, eat bratwurst, drink beer, and catch a glimpse of lederhosen. If you prefer wine over a good ale, then plan to visit the family-owned Habersham Winery, which has been producing award-winning varietals in Northern Georgia since 1983.
Towering trees along the river surround the exposed beam structures of Helen, ideal for exploring by tubing. Book a river tubing adventure with Cool River Tubing; folks ages three and up can choose between a short or long ride on the Chattahoochee River. Or head to Anna Ruby Falls. At the height of 150 feet, these towers of moving water are accessible via paved trail, which includes interpretive signs both printed and in braille for the visually impaired. Experience thrills on the only alpine coaster in the state, the Georgia Mountain Coaster: make time to ride twice as your second ride is half price.
To stay and play in the same location, book accommodations at Unicoi State Park & Lodge, offering RV and camping sites to hotel-style rooms and full cabin rentals. Although, staying overnight isn’t necessary to enjoy the park’s amenities like fly fishing, paddle boarding, mountain biking, and 3-D archery. But there’s no better way to experience Helen than to fully immerse yourself in its European ways, and one of the famous windmill suites at The Heidi Motel will do just that. It offers the best of both worlds with the town in walking distance of the Alpine Village, and windmills located on a hillside and boasting mountain views.
For a more secluded feel, head to the gated Valhalla Resort Hotel, complete with a golf course and spa. There, you can enjoy fine dining next to a wall of windows or head to the Sky Bar for cocktails. Either way, you’ll share vast views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In the heart of Helen, Hofer’s of Helen offers delectable Bavarian-inspired sustenance made using family recipes brought from Germany. Start your day with authentic bread, eat knackwurst on a pretzel roll for lunch, and stop by the Biergarten for a tasty brew. You’ll enjoy spectacular views of the river over a pub-style meal at The Troll Tavern, where you can sit at the patio or bar and take advantage of their vast menu, including several delicious options for vegans, vegetarians, and those who are gluten-free.
Ellijay’s opportunities for family bonding
Everyone—from little ones to grandparents—can delight in the city of Ellijay and the surrounding area. Since the railroad’s presence started attracting people in the 1830s, it’s become Georgia’s Apple Capital and is known for family-centric activities, including the Georgia Apple Festival, taking place every October for over 50 years.
To pick your own apples, head to Red Apple Barn, family-owned since 1927, where a market sells products, such as apple fritters, candied apples, and jellies, all made with fruit from the farm. Another highlight are fields blooming with flowers or peppered with orange pumpkins, depending on the season. Or try R&A Orchards, started in 1983 as an FFA school project, which has 60 acres of apples and 10 acres of nectarines and peaches, where you can pick your own fruit or buy vegetables. Older generations will enjoy sipping the fruit of the vine in the Southern Appalachia region at Cartecay Vineyards during a tasting in their 1890 Tasting Barn or while listening to live music on the Chimney Patio.
For active enthusiasts, Ellijay has everything from mountain biking to water activities. Mulberry Gap offers dining and cozy rooms in addition to multiple adventure-based excursions, such as hiking, water sports, and fishing. A true retreat for mountain bikers, the Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Get-A-Way is flanked by several trails, which you can reach via shuttle.
Seize the opportunity to rent a pontoon or houseboat to explore Carters Lake, a 3,200-acre body of water with 62 miles of natural, tree-laden shoreline. Dock your boat or extend your stay by renting a cabin for the entire family. To experience a narrower body of water, rent a kayak or tube from Cartecay River Experience.
Ellijay is also busting with opportunities to dine and stay overnight for a deeper dive into this lovely city. Start your day by getting coffee and scones at Ellijay Coffeehouse, and take lunch at The Roof, a rooftop bar with a fantastic view that you can enjoy year-round with their outdoor heaters. Cartecay River Brewing Co. is the ideal afternoon stop, both pet- and kid-friendly. For dinner, head to Cantaberry Restaurant, located in the heart of the historic downtown, or River Street Tavern, which offers casual fare.
Where sleeping is concerned, Elaste’Yi has highly unique experiences for resting your head—think glamping in a geodesic dome, renting an Airstream, or securing a cabin with an open-air kitchen and outdoor shower. Stay in a boutique cabin surrounded by the North Georgia mountains at Dragonfly Dreams Luxury Cabin Rentals, which prides itself on being family-oriented. Another worthy, award-winning option are The Villas at Coosawattee River Resort, which offers lodge rooms, villas, and cabins of varying sizes, some of which have hot tubs, mountain views, and lofts perfect for children.