Georgia’s best kept secret offers cozy stays, exhilarating hikes, mountain coaster, snow fun

RABUN COUNTY, Ga. — It’s time for a new year. That is reason alone to be excited. But throw in snowball fights, cozy trips with loved ones and gorgeous scenery and those are what memories are made of.

Make some of your own on a trip to Georgia’s best kept secret, a trip to the north Georgia mountains and in and around Rabun County.

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Looking for some snow? Start the adventure by crossing over the state line, from Rabun County into North Carolina.

“This is Highlands Outpost in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina,” Jason Sawin told WSBTV.com’s Nelson Hicks on a visit. “It originally started as ski area back in 1980, and it went tubing-only in 2000. It’s been snow tubing and summer tubing for many years.”

The Highlands Outpost is at 3600 feet, so they get a lot of natural snow each season. But if they don’t, don’t worry. The outpost features a handful of snow-making machines that produce snow no matter the temperature. That’s how the snow tubing hill opened before Halloween.There’s a snow play area for snowball fights, an ice skating ring and a brand new mountain coaster called the Scaly Mountain Screamer.

“Lots of G force,” Sawin said. “So the curves and rollers and 360s, there are two 360s on the ride, it’s got a lot of G force. So the faster you go, the more it pushes you down in your seat.”

Between snow tubing, snow ball fights and the new Scaly Mountain Screamer, visitors could spend all day at the Highlands Outpost, but that’s just the start of the fun to be had on a visit.

Up next is Tallulah Gorge. The gorge offers plenty to see and do year-round.

“In my opinion, (Tallulah Gorge State Park) is the most gorge-ous park in Georgia but we are home of Tallulah Gorge,” assistant park manager Lieren Merz said. “We’re also adjacent to a 2,000 acre wildlife management area, which gives us the bulk of the park property, but we still have over 20 miles of hiking and biking trails, five beautiful waterfalls within the park, a suspension bridge which is our main attraction.”

A hike down into the gorge always ranks as a crowd-pleaser. Looking for something a little extra? Score a gorge floor permit.

“We do issue 100 gorge floor permits, weather-permitting (each day) where people can actually go through a gate at that Hurricane Falls Overlook and cross the river and then they are actually going on a primitive trail downstream, really just following the curve of the Tallulah River until they cross again,” Merz said. “And then they have a difficult climb up the Sliding Rock Trail which gains 800 feet in a quarter-mile.”

Check the calendar for special water release days and full moon hikes.

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Don’t miss a trip to the Foxfire Museum on a visit.

The museum started as a project by a teacher at Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School to help teach English to students who came from other countries. The project grew into a magazine. And now, there’s a museum to preserve some of the area’s heritage and to teach visitors about life in the mountains.

“(There are) over 20 structures that are geared towards the time frame of the Appalachian life during the pioneer times and show life happened,” Suzie Nixon-Flaherty from the Foxfire Museum said

Before calling it a day, head to downtown Clayton. There, you can do a little shopping at the town’s unique stores.

Downtown Clayton offers coffee shops, an art gallery, virtual golf range and a brewery to distract you during your shopping adventure.

When it’s time to call it a night, forget the drive home. Stay overnight. The Dillard House offers fireplace and hot tub suites in addition to those world-famous Dillard House meals. The Lake Rabun Hotel offers another option, too.

“It was a boutique hotel long before boutique became posh and trendy,” Bonnie East from the Lake Rabun Hotel said. “It’s a little artistic and quirky. It is historical. It sits beautifully resting in nature.”

The hotel celebrates its centennial anniversary in 2022. Celebrations will include music, mountain story telling, special chefs, crafts people and more. But before the celebrations start, there’s still plenty of surprises to unwrap.

“You can go hiking, boating, moonlight tours, wine-tasting,” East noted. “There’s so much to do in the area.”

“It’s rustic elegant. This is a place for people to disconnect from the daily distractions,” Annie Branum from the Lake Rabun Hotel said. “This is really a place to regrow your soul.”

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The story is sponsored by Rabun County Tourism.