About half of Georgia’s 56 State Parks and Historic Sites are located in the northern-most part of the state.
That fact used to annoy me because it seemed like the state was setting aside more areas for family recreation for those folks living around Atlanta than the rest of the state as a whole.
Then about six years ago, my wife and I stayed at the lodge at Unicoi State Park near Helen. The following year, we stayed at the lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park near Dahlonega.
We continue to return to that part of the state year after year, usually in the fall, because that’s where Georgia stores her most scenic treasure — the mountains.
I’m really a coastal kind of fellow, but I do love a visit to the mountains, especially when they’re all lit up with the green, gold and red leaves of autumn. Georgia’s mountains are a real-life post card. Every picture taken there is suitable for sending to that envious relative with a note saying, “Wish you were here.”
This year, our fall trip to the mountains was delayed a month. My wife had planned for us to go to Dillard this year, but there’s no lodge and the 10 cabins at nearby Black Rock Mountain State Park were all booked up. So, we stayed at one of the chalets owned by the Dillard House.
Our chalet was, in fact, a 100-year-old renovated farm house. The floor design was one I could follow with my eyes closed, as it was identical to the house I lived in as a boy in Pavo, Ga. It was clean and comfortable, but we really didn’t stay there much — except on Saturday, when it was mandatory that we stop exploring the mountains long enough to watch Georgia whip Auburn.
My wife budgeted for two meals a day during our stay with the Dillard House. Meals at their restaurant are served family style. To my disappointment, when we arrived that evening we learned they had discontinued their Friday seafood feast until next spring. The dinner we did have was delicious and plentiful, but I had my heart set on seafood.
The next morning’s breakfast more than made up for supper. Our waitress kept asking the same silly question every time she came to our table with dishes of pork tenderloin, bacon, sausage and country ham. She wanted to know if I wanted more. Of course. Needless to say, we didn’t think about food again until that evening when we visited a local café that specializes in mountain trout.
The day was spent going from park to park. We drove the winding, steep road up to Black Rock Mountain and stood along the overlooks with icy wind beating our faces. Most of the fall colors were gone, but it still was beautiful. During the drive up and back down, my ears popped on regular basis. It takes some getting used to, sort of like flying in a C-130.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the Foxfire Museum and Heritage Center. One of its historic icons is a wooden wagon that was used to transport the Cherokee people to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. One of my ancestors may well have ridden in that old wagon. The thought was more than discomforting. It hurt.
Our next stop was Tallulah Gorge State Park. We’ve been there before, but somehow I had missed seeing Tallulah Falls two years ago. The view and sound of the falls from the overlook was breathtaking. Then again, my breath was already somewhat taken from 2 miles of hiking along the rim of the gorge.
We made several purely tourist stops, including a mountain apple orchard and country store and a place called “Goats on the Roof.” Yep. They had goats on their roof. Inside, they had lots of tourist stuff, all served up with boiled green peanuts and hot apple cider.
Because our chalet was located about two miles from the state line, when we left that morning, we drove up and into North Carolina then began our trip home. After stopping for another giant breakfast, we made a westward turn and drove out to Moccasin Creek State Park, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Lake Burton was extremely low this time of year, but this small park offers seclusion and serenity like no other.
After crossing I-85 in Commerce, we ventured off the road one more time to visit Watson Mill (Covered) Bridge State Park near Comer. It’s also in a secluded area, but you wouldn’t know it. Despite overcast skies and cold winds, visitors came and went. Most stopped only long enough to snap that postcard picture of the covered bridge built in 1885.
The drive to most of Georgia’s mountain parks take five or six hours from our part of the state. With gas prices still relatively “low,” I encourage families to make the drive, stay the night and get in as many parks as you can. After all these years, I learned on this trip that they offer a military discount, and the park pass for one park is good for any state park if used during the same day. Park passes are $5 per vehicle.
For more information about Georgia’s state parks, go to www.gastateparks.org. For more information about Georgia’s real-life postcard, go to www.exploregeorgia.org/region/northeast-georgia-mountains.