(Editor’s note: The Weekender is a regular travel feature about trips to locations less than four hours from Augusta)
While Augusta was painting the town green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, my husband and I headed north to take in the last weekend of winter in the Georgia mountains.
A couple of years ago, we’d discovered a spot on the border of Lumpkin and Union counties along the Appalachian Trail called Blood Mountain Cabins. Nestled atop the winding road between Blairsville and Cleveland, the cabins are a haven for hikers.
Blood Mountain is about 33 miles into the Appalachian Trail from its southern start, and it’s the highest point in Georgia on the trail. The busiest times for the through-hikers (those who plan to traverse the entire 2,100-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail) are February through April and October-November. Hikers taking the Georgia to Maine route stop in the winter and early spring while hikers from Maine to Georgia show up in the fall.
They aren’t five-star retreats. They are cozy and rustic, and for the hikers passing on their way from the Southernmost part of the trail, they are a haven from the elements. As we were checking in, we met two hikers soaked from the rain, who ate an inexpensive meal of chili in the country store and tried to get warm prior to heading to their cabin.
We stayed in Fox cabin — a one-bedroom unit with a loft and a fireplace. The aroma from fires long burned still lingered in the cabin as we arrived. The view off the back deck was worth gorgeous as it overlooked a tangle of trees and a meandering stream. Had the temperatures been warmer it would’ve been the perfect place for a quiet cup of tea.
A trail behind the cabins leads to the Mountain Crossings outdoor retailer located in a stone building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Directly across the street from Mountain Crossings is a marker dedicated to the Appalachian Trail and access to the trail.
Mountain Crossing is more than a stop on the trail. For some, it’s the finish line. That initial 33 miles from outside Atlanta to Blood Mountain can be too much, and many a hiker has literally hung it up there. Numerous pairs of hiking boots decorate the trees outside the shop in a sign of surrender.
On our first night in the Georgia mountains, we ventured into Blairsville for groceries for the weekend and ate at Dan’s Grill, a restaurant with a Cuban flair.
When Bret and I take road trips, I feel like Food Network’s Guy Fieri looking for the best local, hole-in-the-walls, and Dan’s didn’t disappoint. I had the snapper, and my husband had the pork. We also tried the papas rellenos (fried mashed potato balls). The food was flavorful and different.
He topped it off with a slice of mango cheesecake.
On Saturday, we woke up to winter.
We didn’t have a lot planned except to find some waterfalls and go to Brasstown Bald, which is the highest point in Georgia, rising 4,784 feet above sea level.
The last time we traveled to Brasstown Bald it was so foggy at the top of the mountain that we could barely see a few feet in front of us. On this trip, we could see a wintry landscape for many frosty miles over three states – Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. It was a chilly 30 degrees once we reached the top. That was up from the 22 degrees my husband’s truck thermometer said when we parked.
The walk up the steep half-mile path was breathtaking in more ways than the obvious. The winter blanket draped beautifully across the trees, and an icy lace trimmed the edges of the fresh leaves that had sprouted after being lulled into thinking spring had arrived.
The visitors center and gift shop were still closed for the season so we couldn’t head inside from the frigid wind. The center will open April 1.
Helton Creek Falls
After the coldest picnic lunch I think I’ve ever eaten, we decided to chase waterfalls as the temperatures started to slightly rise. Helton Creek Falls isn’t too far from Brasstown Bald on U.S. Highway 129. Once we turned off the highway, the sign said two miles, but it’s a slow two miles as a single lane twists and turns until a parking lot comes into view.
The walk from the parking area to the falls is a short one, easy to take with small children. We met one couple with a 2-year-old who walked to take in the beauty of the double falls.
A highlight for my husband came as we left Helton Creek. We didn’t leave the same way we came. At one point, the road meets the waterway. It would’ve been a dead end had we driven my car, but we were in his Ford truck. He’d planned it for that very reason. He got a little too excited as we crossed the shallow stream with ease.
From there we headed back to the main roadway and found a second waterfall.
For a closer look of the Trahlyta Falls, you can drive into Vogel State Park, which was built in 1931 and is the second oldest state park in Georgia. It’s 2,500 feet above sea level.
We pulled over at a cutout on the highway and took photos from the road. The falls are about 60 feet tall, and there’s an observation deck inside the state park.
Another spot we took in was Pappy’s Trading Post, which has several gifts shops and plenty of ways to satisfy a sweet tooth. Homemade fudge is on one side of the post while ice cream is on the other. And for the grown-ups, there’s a distillery on the site as well.
During the warmer months, it’s also the place where the family can tube on the Nottely River.
We spent the rest of the evening thawing out in front of a roaring fire.
Cabbage Patch Kids
The next morning, we drove home and passed through Cleveland, Ga. home of the Cabbage Patch Kids and Babyland General. Even after the craze 40 years ago, they are still popular.
I don’t remember when we took our kids to Cleveland, but it was definitely prior to 2009 when a new Babyland General was built.
Our eldest daughter, Jessica, still has Lucinda her Cabbage Patch doll from all those years ago. On this trip, we adopted Maisie Addelyn, and she flew to Texas to be with her new family — my granddaughter who will be 2 in June. I asked my daughter-in-law if our granddaughter had a favorite name. She said it was Maisie so that’s what we put on the Cabbage Patch doll’s birth certificate.
Babyland General doesn’t have just dolls, but there’s a menagerie of stuffed animals and other creatures including dinosaurs. My 3-year-old grandson is into dinosaurs. His favorite is a brachiosaurus, and they had a multi-colored one.
Both Maisie and the brachiosaurus made it to Texas safely and were a hit.
While at Babyland, we had the opportunity to watch Mrs. Cabbage give birth to a bouncing baby girl.
Admission to Babyland is free.
Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org