Spending your childhood summers on the lake, enraptured by the little things in life like an afternoon nap in a hammock or a fishing adventure in the early morning fog, isn't just the stuff of idealistic yesteryears.
Those who yearn for simpler times can still find them at Lake Burton, nestled in the wooded mountains of northeast Georgia.
David Dyer would know. He spent his own childhood at Lake Burton, and today he strives to provide a similar atmosphere for guests at his lake house, Shangri-la-an atmosphere marked by personal connections and the area's natural beauty.
"It was just the greatest place to grow up," says Dyer, who met his wife on the lake when they were both teenagers. "I developed close friendships with local families, and I had aunts, uncles and cousins who also lived on the lake, so every weekend was a family get-together." The house was built by Dyer's family on three acres of lakefront property in 1958, when the shores of the electricity-producing lake were sparsely dotted with homes and many of the roads in the area were dirt. Originally, the structure consisted of one room, a screened-in porch and an outhouse. "No running water-it was more like fancy camping," he says. "They saved $800, and they built $800 worth of cabin."
Over the years, improvements were made and additions were added-bedrooms, a modern kitchen, a boathouse, air conditioning-but the charm of the original cabin still exists. Today, the house sleeps six to eight comfortably, and two and a half bathrooms have (thankfully) replaced the outhouse. Guests walk just 25 feet across a level walkway from the house to a 1200-square-foot sundeck and boathouse at the water's edge. And it is the water, despite the charm and ammenities of the house, that truly makes the experience at Shangri-la.
Although Georgia Power flooded the town of Burton to create the lake in 1920, out-of-towners didn't begin to flock to the area for the scenery and some relaxation until well after the Dyers built their cabin. "Atlanta discovered Lake Burton back in the late '70s and it became sort of the country club of Atlanta," Dyer says. Today, the lake hosts a mix of Rabun County natives and vacationers from all over, and together they form the type of fiercely friendly community that can only be found on a southern lake. Despite the increased population, the water quality remains high and a limit on boat size keeps the water calm and uncluttered.
Shangri-la's kayaks, water toys and expansive dock mean that it's not difficult for visitors to kick back and relax on the water, but the more adventurous won't run out of things to do, either. "If you want to go hiking, there are many, many trails nearby," says Dyer. In fact, mile 38 of the Appalachian Trail crosses Highway 76 close to Lake Burton, and Tallulah Gorge State Park, which features a breathtaking canyon, is only a half-hour's drive away.
Birdwatchers are constantly on the lookout for several bald eagles that make their home around Lake Burton, and some of the best whitewater east of the Mississippi River can be found around the nearby Lake Chatuge. Movies ranging from the 1972 cult classic Deliverance to Clint Eastwood's recent Trouble with the Curve have taken advantage of Rabun County's rugged beauty and were filmed in the area.
After a long day on the water or trekking through the woods, a satisfying meal and a cold beer or glass of local wine are well-deserved-and luckily, not difficult to find. Several restaurants in the area have become staples for lakeside eating, as famous for their offerings as for their character and history. One of these, LaPrade's, began as a fishing camp in the 1920s, and the camp's restaurant became renowned for its homestyle cooking. "We would go there for dinner; their fried chicken was something else," remembers Dyer. Now called the Chophouse at LaPrade's, the restaurant has changed hands several times over the years and includes both casual and upscale dining options. Dyer says the food and the atmosphere make it a can't-miss for lunch or dinner, and the marina allows for easy access by boat.
More dining can be found in the charming mountain town of Clayton, Georgia, a twenty-minute drive from the lake. Options range from Grapes & Beans, a vegetarian friendly lunch spot popular for its espressos and wines, to the Stockton House, a low-key steak and seafood restaurant perfect for a romantic evening. A visit would not be complete without a stroll along Main Street, lined with antique stores and art galleries, and perhaps a peek into Clayton's Friday evening farmers market.
For rental information on Shangri-la, visit vrbo.com/161855.
However visitors choose to spend their time at Lake Burton, they are sure to leave with a renewed sense of what it means to truly spend time with their loved ones.
"The house has created so many memories for us, and now it's creating new memories for new families," Dyer says. "I can see, kind of from a distance, the fun they're having. It's real special."
The question is timeless, as applicable today as it was in 1958: What is the essence of Lake Burton?
"Family and friends," Dyer says without hesitation. "Family and friends."