One of central North Georgia's many great mountain towns, Ellijay has long been the center of activity in the region, providing visitors with a soothing blend of fun in the quaint small town and surrounding hills.
Following its time as a Cherokee Nation village until the Trail of Tears removal, Ellijay became a marketplace for those living in the mountains. The people would come, bringing their woodworking, their quilts and their whiskey.
Ellijay, located in a secluded stretch of Georgia about 70 miles southeast of Chattanooga on the edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest, is home to great sites, both in high altitude and at street level.
The town is known for its apple farms, but you can also enjoy a scenic hike, bicycle ride or fishing expedition. And, of course, camping is always an option.
Ellijay's events include the Georgia Apple Festival and holiday events for St. Patrick's Day, July Fourth and Christmas.
So whether you want a nice, quiet getaway or a chance to take in the festivities of a small town, Ellijay is a great place to spend the day.
Sources: Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, National Park Service, U.S. Census data
If you’ve ever wondered where the apple capital of Georgia is, look no further. In 1903, John W. Clayton brought apples to the area. Until then the town had relied on the cotton industry. Today, Ellijay farmers sell about 250,000 bushels of apples a year. People call Highway 52E “Apple Alley.” Simply put, this is the spot for ripe apple picking. Some farmers will sell you baskets of the fruit; others offer tours and wagon rides all year. Some to look out for are:
* R & A Orchards: Open all year. It sells crops of the season and offers wagon rides if you’re interested. (5505 Highway 52 E; 706-273-3821; randaorchards.com)
* Panorama Orchards & Farm Market: Open year-round. In addition to seasonal crops, baked goods and cider made on-site are available. (63 Talona Mountain Road; 706-276-3813; panoramaorchards.com)
* Red Apple Barn: Open seasonally, August through Dec. 23. Pick your own apples or flowers or peruse the seasonal crop offerings. Wagon rides and a seasonal pumpkin patch are also available. (3379 Tails Creek Road; 706-635-5898; redapplebarn.com)
* Population: 1,952 as of 2015
* Landmarks and geographic features: Springer Mountain, the southern entrance to the Appalachian Trail
* Founded: 1834
* History: Historians believe the Cherokee were the first to settle here. Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto also came through here on expeditions. There is much debate about what the word “Ellijay” actually means, but linguists have concluded that this word is an Anglicized form of a Cherokee word that means either “place of green things” or “many waters.” The latter makes sense because Ellijay sits near the headwaters of the Coosawattee River, where the Cartecay and Ellijay rivers meet.
* Most famous resident: Cherokee Chief Whitepath. With Chief John Ross, he stole the canoes of the Creek Indians prior to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, helping Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Army win a key part of the War of 1812.
* Fun fact: Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle plays acoustic guitar in a traveling bluegrass band called The Hoyle Family.
* Georgia Apple Festival: Running for more than 45 years, the Georgia Apple Festival offers food, arts, crafts and more. The festival features about 300 vendors hawking their handmade items — and their foods, both fried and baked. There is also a car show, a parade and arts in the town square. Admission is $5 for adults and kids under 10 get in free.
The festival occurs the second and third weekends of October to celebrate the apple harvest. Festival dates this year are Oct. 11-12 and 18-19. (Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds, 1729 S. Main St.; 706-636-4500; georgiaapplefestival.org)
* Georgia Apple Blossom Festival: In May, the city of East Ellijay hosts another apple festival, this one celebrating the blooming of the apple trees. The crops aren’t ready yet, but this festival is home to more than 50 select regional vendors. They bring with them plenty of arts and crafts, as well as homemade baked treats.
The Apple Blossom Festival is held in East Ellijay at the beginning of May. Admission is free. (706-635-7400; www.georgiaappleblossomfestival.com)
GRAB SOME GRUB
* Lee’s on Riverstreet at The 1907: A new addition to Ellijay, Lee’s features a rotating menu with the seasons. They boast of their “uncomplicated but imaginative food,” like the shrimp and grits, shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash. Opened by Ellijay natives, the restaurant was envisioned as a source of comfort food in a cozy atmosphere. (24 River St.; 706-635-1907; the1907.com)
> Poole’s Real Pit BBQ: A local legend, Poole’s BBQ is exactly what it sounds like. Col. Poole, purveyor of the “Pig Hall of Fame,” serves up some of the best Southern, rib-sticking barbecue in Georgia. (164 Craig St.; 706-635-4100; www.poolesbarbq.com)
> MooBears Ice Cream & Hotdogs: A more recent addition to the Ellijay eats scene, MooBears brings a sweet touch to downtown dining. The ice cream parlor offers 20 flavors of hand-dipped ice cream, candy and saltwater taffy. (40 River St.; 706-276-2611; moobearsicecream.com)
Ellijay is more than an apple town. It offers plenty of outdoor options for the adventurous, from Springer Mountain to Carters Lake to a trio of rivers. Here are some great hiking opportunities regardless of whether you’re looking for a leisurely stroll or a strenuous workout.
* Springer Mountain: The southern entrance of the Appalachian Trail, Springer Mountain is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, which offers a plethora of day hikes. And the mountain, standing at 3,780 feet high, offers some challenging routes.
* Fort Mountain State Park: A 3,712-acre state park centered on an 855-foot-long wall believed to be the work of early Native Americans. The park offers cottages, camping, swimming, hiking, biking, fishing, boat rental, horseback riding and geocaching.
* Cohutta Wilderness & Chattanooga National Forest: Comprising thousands of acres of protected wilderness, the forest offers hunting, fishing, camping, biking and more.
* Amicalola Falls State Park: Home of the tallest waterfall in Georgia, this 829-acre park has a hotel, restaurant, conference center, cabins and cabin amenities. Hiking, picnicking, fishing and geocaching are available.
* Carters Lake: The deepest lake in Georgia, reaching 400 feet at one point, Carters Lake offers 3,200 acres of reservoir water in the southwest corner of Gilmer County. The lake offers a full-service marina, boat ramps, day-use areas, hiking, biking, backpacking, camping, picnicking and hunting.
* Bear Creek Trail: A popular multi-use trail that takes hikers or bikers up to the Gennett Poplar, the Georgia state record tulip poplar tree. On clear days, folks on Bear Creek Trail can see up to 70 miles.
* Kayak and inner-tube rentals: Brave the waters of the Cartecay’s Class I and II whitewater in one of these rented units if hiking and biking are not your cup of tea.
(Cartecay River Experience Kayak and Tube Rentals, 2400 Highway 52 E; 706-531-4746; cartecayriverexperience.com)
(Ellijay River Outfitters, 88 Holt Bridge Road; 706-889-8697; tubeellijay.com)