Guide to the North Georgia Road Trip Adventure:
BRING: Water shoes, mountain bike
HIGHLIGHT: Getting thrown from the raft during Five Falls
SOUVENIR: Photos of getting thrown from the raft during Five Falls
Kick off the weekend with a bang by rafting Section IV of the Chattooga River, outside of Clayton, Ga. The Chattooga was the first Wild and Scenic River in the South, cutting a 40-mile gorge through some of the most rugged terrain in Georgia and South Carolina. Section IV offers a full day of class IV-V “drop and pool” whitewater. You’ll remember two things about rafting the Chattooga: Five Falls, where five different waterfalls are sandwiched within a quarter-mile long gorge, and the solitude. The forest service limits the number of rafts on the river and times the guided trips so you won’t see another rafting group.
For dinner, grab a patio table at the Universal Joint in Clayton for a Steinbeck burger with pimento cheese, bacon, and jalapenos. Pitch a tent farther south on US 441 at Tallulah Gorge State Park. Time it right, and you can partake in one of the park’s Full Moon Suspension Bridge Hikes (July 21/22), which will take you across the 1,000-foot deep rock canyon (gastateparks.org).
Travel west for a milder water day at Lake Chatuge, a TVA reservoir on the Hiwassee River with 130 miles of shoreline split between North Carolina and Georgia. The lake spreads into the surrounding mountains in dozens of finger-like coves, making it the ideal scene for SUP exploration. If you have your own board, launch from the Jackrabbit Mountain Recreation Area, on the North Carolina side of the lake. If you’re boardless, book a trip with Southern Water Trails ($80 for 3 hours). Either way, as you are paddling, keep an eye out for some of Chatuge’s 100 different species of bass swimming beneath your board. Grab a site at Jackrabbit Mountain for $15 a night.
Continue west, traveling 55 miles to Ellijay, where the class III Cartecay River offers seven miles of scenic whitewater. It’s an ideal river for kayakers still perfecting their river running skills, thanks to the drop and pool nature of the creek and straightforward class II-III drops and slides. Cartecay River Experience runs shuttles and offers guided instruction on the river. You’ve earned the Wild Hog and Beef Meat Loaf ($11) at The Farm Table inside the Tabor House (706-276-1861) in downtown Ellijay, where the menu is seasonal and sourced from North Georgia farms. Ellijay is apple country, so don’t leave without stopping by one of the local farms. Check out the massive Farm Market at Hillcrest Orchards, where you’ll find everything from bushels of apples fresh from the trees to homemade fried apple pies. Their cider slush is legendary.
Or head north to Blue Ridge, where the 17-mile Aska Adventure Trail system stretches along the bank of Lake Blue Ridge, offering some of Georgia’s best mountain biking. Knock out the hardy 8-mile Green Mountain Trail, which will give you a broad view of the lake before dropping down to the shore and climbing back out again. You’ve earned the Shrimp and Grits ($21) at Harvest on Main, in downtown Blue Ridge, a farm to table restaurant where much of the food comes from the chef’s own farm. After dinner, stroll to Blue Ridge Brewery for a pint of Blue Ridge Blonde ($5).