Things 2 Do

North Georgia mountains: Leaves changing colors, great adventures await

It happens every year about this time. The arrival of fall brings the migration to the North Georgia mountains. It’s there people witness the leaves changing colors, from the green of spring and summer to the oranges, reds and yellows of the fall.

“Fall is a migration of the southeastern United States,” Clayton mayor Kurt Cannon said. “Everybody comes to see the leaves change and (experience) the beautiful fall air.”

There’s no time like quite like the late fall around north Georgia. There’s the cool crisp air, fires at night and the leaves.

“If you’ve never seen it, you might not understand. If you’ve seen it, you probably need no explanation because the mountains look like a patchwork quilt,” Clayton city manager Judy Crunkleton said. “The colors just stand out and the mountain sides are beautiful, and you will see this one tree that just takes your breath away.”

While visitors come for the leaves, they can stay for the adventure.

“I used to have people say, ‘There’s nothing to do up here,’” Cannon said. “Well, it depends of what type of person you are. There’s a lot of things to do here if you are an outdoor person.”

“We have tons of awesome opportunities to recreate, to hike, to mountain bike, to ride horses, to ride ATVs,” Casey Quarterman from the Chattahoochee Oconee National Forest Service said. “Northeast Georgia is a gem and people are starting to discover it.”

Tackling trails tops the to-do list on a visit to the area. National forest land makes up 75% of the land in Rabun County, but how you choose to tackle those trails is what makes your trip here unique.

There are hiking trails.

“Here are Black Rock Mountain State Park, we have over 13 miles of hiking trails,” Jessica James from the park said. “We have the James Edmonds trail, which is 7.2 miles, which is a fairly intense trail, but it’s a wonderful trail if you have all day to spend. It also has four back-country sites which you can hike to and spend the night.”

There are also ATV and motorcycle trails.

Oakey Mountain is one of our (off-highway vehicle) trail systems where people can take UTVs and motorcycles,” Quarterman said. “It’s right on top of a mountain, right in the heart of Rabun County and surrounded by the lakes. It’s an awesome trail system where it has two big loops. People come all over place to bring their motorcycles and ATVs up to have that experience.”

There are trails for bikes, too.

“This (area) has incredible mountain biking opportunities,” Quarterman said. “We’ve got a trail system called Stonewall and White Twister and together, it’s about 14 miles of trails, two different, big loops. It’s very fun.”

Some trails offer intense, all-day outings while others offer a nice little break.

Some lead hikers into the middle of nowhere, while others offer a reward at the end of the hike.

“Here in Rabun County, (it’s) Dick’s Creek Falls on the Chatooga River, or it’s going to Martin Creek Falls or Becky Branch (Falls) or they go to Rabun Bald, which is just like another really popular kind of iconic place to go to here in Rabun County,” Brent Martin from the Blue Ridge Bartram Trail Conservancy said.

The good news is, hikers don’t have to go it alone, particularly if it’s their first time on an outing in the area. From park rangers to guide services, there’s plenty of help.

Shady Creek Expeditions is one of the local businesses that offers guides.

“Most of our guides are local, so they know areas that may not be on a map or known very well on social media, or things like that,” Trey McFalls from Shady Creek Expeditions said. “Getting a guide can help you find new places in the area, get you more experience on the area because they know a lot more about it. They can tell you more information about it, historical facts, things like that. It’s good to get out there and experience with a guide at first, and (then) you can go on your own.”

Shady Creek Expeditions offers all the gear to keep hikers safe in the woods. McFalls mentioned some safety tips.

“Have somebody with you, don’t ever go alone (to) places like that. You want to have someone with you. First-aid kits are going to be super-valuable to you. Have a change of clothes in case something happens. Pretty much just think like being a Boy Scout,” McFalls said.

Rabun County is home to parts of both the Bartram Trail and the Appalachian Trail. The Bartram Trail is 110 miles long.

“The trail was created to honor William Bartram, an American botanist and naturalist who came to these mountains in 1775. He was one of the only colonial botanists that actually explored these mountains and wrote about these mountains — not just the plant life, but the Cherokee people who were living here. He was a unique American and that’s why I think so many people still honor his legacy,” Martin said.

While some hikers hike the entire Bartram Trail, the majority spend the day hiking part of it. The same is true for the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. While hikers can get a taste of the Appalachian Trail in Rabun County, they can get a taste of Rabun County and Clayton, Georgia, too. The area was recently named the 51st Appalachian Trail Community, a designation that signifies the area as a great resource for anyone hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“For us to have that here in Georgia is a great thing,” Crunkleton said. “We love what it does for our community, brings people in to our little city here.”

Those resources include food, lodging, supplies, recreation and more.

Hikers can add another provider to their checklist on a visit to the area, with a stop by Tallulah Adventures.

“We really think that this is a place where you can start, end or continue your adventures,” Spencer Turk from Tallulah Adventures said. “We’re here in Rabun County where there’s lots to do. We’ve got Tallulah Gorge State Park next to us. There’s the lake, there (are) trails, there (are) waterfalls; and then we’ve got the climbing wall, we’ve got a great place for families to come and spend time, hang out and play games.”

It’s housed inside the former welcome center and offers food and drink, recreation, fun and adventure.

“Myself being from Atlanta, coming up this way always represented and adventure to me and coming into Rabun County and Tallulah Falls was always the place you could see the mountains and the streams and the waterfalls, so this place in and of itself, right in the center of Tallulah Falls State Park, has over 20 miles of hiking trails, five incredible waterfalls and is just a beautiful place,” Bill Turk from Tallulah Adventures said.

Visit north Georgia for the leaves this season, but stay and enjoy some adventure on a trip.

“Come to some of these cool towns up here,” said Quarterman. “Clayton is right in the heart of the highest mountains in Georgia. (There are) incredible opportunities to come and eat and get a beer, and stay and see the leaves change, and experience fall in the high country of Georgia.

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This story is sponsored by Rabun County.