The small town of Ellijay, Georgia, with a population of just 1,800, is surrounded by the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Waterfalls, clear mountain creeks and expansive views make it a popular spot among hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers, especially in the fall, when the hardwoods put on a copper-colored show. Anglers like it for bream- and bass-fishing in the Cartecay River, and Georgia's trout-stocking program has made the river a good spot for fly-fishing.
It's also a great place to find crisp autumn apples — along with apple doughnuts, apple cider, apple butter and even apple wine. In fact, Ellijay is known as the "Apple Capital of Georgia" and hosts an apple festival that stretches over two weekends in October.
"Fall is one of the best times you can possibly come and visit Ellijay," said Caitlin Neal, marketing director for Pick Ellijay, which is part of the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce. "The mountains are beautiful, the fall color is beautiful — waves of yellow and auburn and red."
Neal said Ellijay, which she described as "that quintessential, Hallmark-ish small town with a square," is a good base for exploring the outdoors.
Fall and early winter are also the best times to get on trails, she said
"It's not too cool and not too hot," Neal said. "The temperature is great."
Where to hike
* Fort Mountain State Park sits 2,850 feet above sea level near the Cohutta Wilderness. The park has a 17-acre lake, 60 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, plus some dramatic overlooks, a stone fire tower and an ancient rock wall that is shrouded in mystery.
There is debate over how this zigzagging 855-foot-long wall came to be. Some think it was built by early Native Americans as fortification or for ancient ceremonies, according to the Georgia State Parks website. One legend says it was built by a Welsh explorer named Madoc, atlasobscura.com reports, while others believe it originated with the "moon people" mentioned in Cherokee mythology. At one time, some thought Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto had built it.
* The Gahuti Trail in the park (Gahuti is Cherokee for "mother mountain") loops over 8 miles of the park's backcountry. There are some steep climbs, but you'll be rewarded with sweeping views at overlooks and some small but pretty waterfalls.
* Bear Creek Trail is a 6.4-mile loop trail that follows Bear Creek through forests of ferns, hemlock and rhododendron to the Gennett Poplar, the second-largest living tree in Georgia. The trail is popular among hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers.
"Bear Creek Trail has long been one of our favorite hikes in North Georgia," a review by Atlanta Trails declared. "Bear Creek spills and splashes over rounded boulders covered in vibrant green moss, tumbling in shallow whitewater pools as it cascades in small waterfalls."
* Tumbling Waters Trail at Carter's Lake makes for a short, easy hike. This out-and-back trail takes you over a towering bridge and through a forest of fern and pine.
Atlanta Trails describes the trail this way: "Sweet-scented forest air. A towering bridge with great views of Carters Lake, and a set of spilling waterfalls."
* The Cartecay River Trail offers views of the mountains, the river and Clear Creek Falls. For hikers, there's a 3.5-mile loop, while mountain bikers can go a different route for 6 miles that is mostly single-track.
Where to eat
* Cantaberry Restaurant — This place has a comfy patio on which to eat quality salads, sandwiches and burgers. Try the Cuban with beer-braised pork butt.
* The Shack — An Asian fusion restaurant that serves poke, noodle bowls and bubble tea. Try the barria ramen (yes, you read that right).
* Bev's Diner — A 50s-style diner with smash burgers, hand-cut fries, milkshakes and malts.
* The Roof — This restaurant has rooftop dining that offers a view of the mountains. Try the bologna sliders appetizer, served with truffle dijonnaise on a brioche bun. For an entree, try the Appalachian trout with jalapeño cheddar grits and topped with bourbon brown sugar.
* Back Porch Bistro — This restaurant, which is tucked behind the North Star Emporium antique store, has an inside dining area and a back deck and serves sandwiches, wraps, bowls and salads. Try the "cran turkey" sandwich — turkey breast with cranberry-orange spread — or one of the many vegan options.
* Bavarian Chocolatier — Serves artisan-made chocolates and truffles plus fudge and creative desserts.
What to sip
* Georgia has a burgeoning wine industry, and Ellijay has several wineries that grow a variety of grapes that include some that may not be familiar: Chardonel, Seyval Blanc, Viognier and Cabernet Franc. To try local wines, visit Engelheim Vineyards, Ellijay River Vineyards, Buckley Vineyards, Roo Mountain Vineyards or Ott Farms and Vineyards.
* Cartecay River Brewing is a good place to sit outside along the river that runs through Ellijay and sample one of the brewery's craft beers.
* White Path Distillery, the first licensed and operational distillery in Ellijay, offers apple brandy and peach brandy.
Where to find apples
* The Georgia Apple Festival is October 14-15 and 21-22. It features apples, crafts and live music, along with apple fritters, apple doughnuts, apple cider, apple pies...
* To pick your own apples, visit one of these orchards: B.J. Reece Orchards, Hillcrest Orchards and Farms, R & A Orchards, Red Apple Barn, Aaron Family Orchards, Panorama Orchards & Farm Market or Penland's Apple House. Some of the orchards also offer wagon and tractor rides and "u-pick" flower fields.
Where to stay
* Ellijay River House Bed and Breakfast.
* Blue Sky Cabin rentals.
* Fort Mountain has fully equipped cottages; tent, trailer and RV sites; and pioneer and backcountry campsites.
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