Georgia Backroad Escapes

Treks and trails

Region Northeast Georgia
Miles 299
You know there’s more to northeast Georgia than tired old Deliverance jokes. But did you know that in 36 hours you can mountain bike beside a thousand-foot gorge, zip line through a canopy, hike on one of the longest trails in the country, and swim in a river that looks like it belongs in the Rocky Mountain West? —Charles Bethea


Georgia Backroad Escapes
Fly 40 miles an hour at North Georgia Canopy Tours

Photograph courtesy of North Georgia Canopy Tours

8 a.m. Push through the Atlanta sprawl until you reach Lula’s North Georgia Canopy Tours. Inspired by zip lines in the Costa Rican jungle, an Atlanta couple installed their own mile-long series of lines (“Flaming Azalea” among them) on a former chicken farm. On the two-hour tour ($69), whiz 40 miles an hour 70 feet high through oaks and poplars.

Noon Back in the car, cross the North Oconee River and drive 11 miles to Baldwin, where Woody’s
Taxidermy (770-778-2593) has been mounting deer, fish, coons, coyotes, and the occasional imported moose for 40 years. Should you feel inclined, a shoulder-­mounted buck will run you $350.

12:30 p.m. Hit up the Johnny Mize Athletic Center and Museum at the baseball Hall of Famer’s alma mater, Piedmont College in Demorest, another six miles up historic 441. The five-time world champion (with the Yankees, unfortunately) known as “the Big Cat” lived in Demorest at both the beginning and end of his life.

1:15 p.m. Have a late brunch at Harvest Habersham (on Sunday only) in Clarkesville, four miles farther on 441. Try the bourbon molasses–glazed pork belly and grab a cream cheese doughnut for the road.

2 p.m. Ride 441 all the way into Tallulah Gorge State Park, around 15 miles from Clarkesville. Pull out your mountain bike and head over to the Stoneplace and High Bluff trails. A five-mile loop on rocky, rooty single and double track, with occasional views into the gorge 900 feet below, will take you an hour with stops. Afterward, grab a smoothie at Skyeburger food truck in a shady corner of the parking lot.

Georgia Backroad Escapes
The serene road down to the Chattooga

Photograph by Peter McIntosh

4 p.m. You’ll want to cool off, so head 19 miles up 441 into Clayton, then east on the more scenic Warwoman and Sandy Ford roads, which pass horse farms and old barns. It’s about a mile hike round-trip down Trail 60 to the confluence of Dick’s Creek Falls and the Chattooga River, which opens up to what feels like a scene from Montana: rocky shoals, wide open water, big sky.

Georgia Backroad Escapes
Restaurant Lorene

Photograph by Jill Wright

6 p.m. Winding through a canopy of green on GA-76 west, you’ll cross the Appalachian Trail at Dick’s Creek Gap, where “thru-hikers” heading to Maine will be carefully crossing in spring. When you reach Young Harris, you’ll find Restaurant Lorene, an ambitious “Appalachian eatery” headed up by an alum of Charleston’s Husk.

7:30 p.m. Head south four miles on Track Rock Gap Road to the Track Rock Gap petroglyph site, where you can pull off to admire one of the most significant examples of Native American rock art in the U.S. Another nine miles and you’ll pass the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center, where there’s a museum and nature trails dedicated to the great poet of the Pulitzer-nominated Bow Down in Jericho. (It’s only open Wednesday through Sunday until 4 p.m., if you want to swing back.) End up at the Hiker Hostel and sleep in elegantly repurposed shipping containers ($55) among red maple, white oak, and hickory trees.

On the road

Listen to
Cat Power’s The Greatest. It’s full of haunting, and often rural, Southern sound. Play it while driving down a dark Appalachian road.

Byron Herbert Reece’s Bow Down in Jericho. Despite being nominated for a Pulitzer back in 1950, it’s now a little-known book of poetry. Read “Roads” while sitting on top of Blood Mountain.


8 a.m. After coffee, French toast, and eggs at the hostel, head 14 miles north for a hike up 4,461-foot Blood Mountain (4.3 miles round-trip). It’s a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded with huge views. Afterward, pop into Mountain Crossings, a shop and inn where the A.T. actually runs right through the building.

11 a.m. In Dahlonega, 22 miles south, re­fuel with a big brunch at the Foothill Grill, home of the four-egg “rubbish truck omelet” with sausage, bacon, ham, and veggies.

Georgia Backroad Escapes
Floating the Chestatee

Photograph courtesy of Appalachian Outfitters

12:30 p.m. From Dahlonega, launch a six-mile float on the Chestatee River with Appalachian Outfitters. In a canoe or kayak ($43 for two), you’ll paddle at your leisure through river birch and tiny rapids, past blue herons and stubbornly persistent gold miners. Spend two hours relaxing on the water, and you can be back in Atlanta by 4:30 p.m.


Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore
Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore

Appalachian Trail mug
At the Mountain Crossings shop, pick up a handmade coffee mug—full of coffee, if desired—inscribed with the famous A.T. insignia. $26,