Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the town of Dillard was founded in 1794 by Captain John Dillard, who was awarded the land after serving in the American Revolution. The town flourished, and in 1917, John’s grandson, Arthur, and his wife, Carrie, opened a general store and boarding house, which later became the Dillard House inn and family-style restaurant, featuring Carrie’s Southern home cooking. The Dillard House (still operated by the Dillard family) remains a popular spot for travelers because of its award-winning southern cuisine and resort, and the town of Dillard has plenty to offer in its own right.
A two-hour drive north of Atlanta, Dillard is celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2017 with festivities to be announced soon, and the area will be in the Path of Totality for the solar eclipse. With easy access to three state parks, award-winning vineyards, entire blocks of antique stores, historic hotels and attractions, and—of course—great food, it’s an ideal weekend escape. Here are the top 10 reasons to visit Dillard this fall.
Horseback ride in a river.
Dillard House Stables (located just steps from its namesake restaurant) is most popular for its horseback rides, which splash right down the middle of the Little Tennessee River. Beginners through advanced riders enjoy well-maintained trails aboard gentle, well-cared-for horses. Pam Thompson, owner-operator since 1989, along with her crew of experienced wranglers, strive to keep the Dillard House tradition of good old southern hospitality alive. Step back in time, and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the Blue Ridge Mountains at Dillard House Stables.
Stay at a historic inn or bed and breakfast.
The area’s historic inns offer a tranquil respite after exploring the outdoors. At the York House Inn, built in 1846, you’ll find period antiques, a pre-Civil War spring house, verandas with sweeping views of the Little Tennessee River Valley, and homemade cookies from the innkeepers. Rabun Manor, a 186-year-old Southern mansion, offers five well-appointed rooms and the cozy Cooper Cottage, where you can laze in your own porch swing or—if you’re lucky—fall asleep to the sound of rain on the tin roof. Established in 1917, the Dillard House Inn has been visited by notable figures such as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Walt Disney. It features 95 standard and deluxe rooms, a conference center that accommodates up to 500 people for corporate events, church and youth groups, weddings, and family reunions, as well as the original farm-to-table Dillard House restaurant.
Shop forty-thousand square feet of antiques in a two-block radius.
Whether you’re looking for Southern primitive or Victorian, antique quilts or vintage kitchenware, chances are, you’ll find it in Dillard’s antiquing trifecta: First, there’s Dejavu Antiques, which offers an extensive glass collection, including depression glass, Roseville pottery, Royal Daulton, and much more. Next door is Yesterday’s Treasures, an antique mall with 50 veteran dealers offering a wide range of items, including estate jewelry, signed pottery, and Civil War artifacts. And just down the street is Carol’s Back Porch, where you’ll find items such as mid-century furniture, Hossier cabinets, and antique serving tools and tablecloths.
Go whitewater rafting on four rivers.
With the Chattooga, Nantahala, Ocoee, and Pigeon rivers all in easy reach, there’s no shortage of experienced guides to take you out on them: Choose from the experts at Wildwater Ltd., Southeastern Expeditions, Nantahala Outdoor Center, or Wildwood Outfitters to explore Class II-V rapids. Novices will appreciate Southeastern Expedition’s Section III trip on the Chattooga (the river closest to Dillard), while thrill-seekers should check out Nantahala Outdoor Center’s popular Chattooga Section IV trip, which ends with the famous Five Falls—five Class IV rapids unfolding one after the other. Most outfitters offer half-day, full-day, and overnight trips.
The fish are biting.
In Dillard, the question isn’t whether to fish, it’s where. With Lakes Burton, Rabun, and Seed, the Chattooga River, and more than 1,300 miles of streams nearby, there are plenty of options for both fly and lake fishing. For trout, try The Dillard House Inn, which now has a private stream with trophy-size trout only 2.5 miles from the Dillard House Inn and Restaurant, or Andy’s Trout Farm, where they clean your catch. The folks at the Rabun chapter of Trout Unlimited can guide you to the best spots, such as Nacoochee Bend, Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek, the Tallulah River, and Lake Burton, a year-round fishing destination due to its cool temperatures. At Lakes Burton and Rabun, you’ll find plenty of bass, as well as catfish, crappie, bream and walleye.
See breathtaking waterfalls and hike trails galore.
Dillard is home to seventeen waterfalls and hiking trails around almost every corner. Just a couple to see are Just a few to see are Becky Branch Falls, a 20-foot waterfall located five minutes from downtown Clayton and easily accessed by a short trail; and Mud Creek Falls, a gorgeous, gently sloping waterfall located near downtown Dillard and a great spot for picnics—no hiking required. But for those who do want to take to the hills, Dillard has some of the best trails around. Try the 3-mile hike up Bartram Trail to Rabun Bald Summit for breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains, or take the paved 3-mile Shortline Trail in Tallulah Gorge State Park, which traverses a suspension bridge over the Tallulah River. For a kid-friendly hike, take the .4-mile Minnehaha Trail to its namesake waterfall (pictured above).
Sip award-winning local wine.
Create your own tour of several North Georgia vineyards: Start your day at 12 Spies Vineyards, where you can sip their popular Holy Moses red or crisp Temptation Traminette while taking in stunning mountain views from the veranda. Bring a picnic and stay a while! Next on your list: Tiger Mountain Vineyards, where their Petit Manseng was recently named the top wine in Georgia. Another reason to go is acclaimed Atlanta chef David Sweeney, who recently took over the kitchen at Tiger Mountain’s Red Barn Cafe and has created a menu focused on local, seasonal ingredients. At nearby Stonewall Creek Vineyards, also known for its Petite Manseng, you can tour the vineyard as well as Fackler Farm, which provides seasonal produce for Fortify Kitchen & Bar in Clayton.
Play a round of golf with mountain views.
Just 5 miles from Dillard, Sky Valley offers an escape, nestled in the mountains against the backdrop of a beautiful valley setting. It is home to the state’s highest-elevation championship golf course, surrounded by mountain views and—even on the hottest summer days—mountain breezes. The semi-private club also features a golf learning center and practice range, and junior rates are available for family outings. Ask about stay and play packages with area hotels such as The Dillard House Inn.
You can experience Appalachian culture—both past and present.
Inspired by The Foxfire Books, a collection of writing about Southern Appalachia first published by local high school students in 1966, The Foxfire Museum was created in 1974 to preserve Appalachian life as it was 150 years ago. Today, the museum and 106-acre grounds showcase Appalachian culture unlike anywhere else, offering live demonstrations of blacksmithing, woodworking, food preservation, candlemaking, and more. For a look at the modern influence of Appalachia, visit the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, which is known for its pottery, ceramics, fiber arts, and sculpture from regional artists, on display in the Weave Shed Gallery.
Did we mention the food?
Rabun County is the farm-to-table capital of Georgia, and there’s a reason travelers from all over the region plan their vacations to include a stop at The Dillard House Restaurant, the “original” farm-to-table restaurant. The restaurant is the ultimate meat and three (except it’s more like six or seven), serving family-style Southern favorites such as fried chicken, country ham, mashed potatoes, collard greens, cobblers, cornbread, and more. And don’t forget barbecue, celebrated with a yearly festival spotlighting the region’s best. Now in its 20th year, the Dillard Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival is held August 5-6 next to the old Dillard Schoolhouse.