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In northern Georgia’s Blue Ridge region, Lake Blue Ridge gleams with the clearest of blues and Chattahoochee National Forest with the lushest of greens. The changing seasons imprint additional colors on the southern Appalachian gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The striking area, located near the Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina borders, used to have mineral springs, which lured travelers with their therapeutic powers. These days, it’s simply the draw of the mountains that call — whether for a relaxing cabin retreat or an adrenaline-filled adventure, for hiking along 300 miles of trails or fishing in Blue Ridge’s 100 miles of trout streams.
As proof of just how far away from it all a Blue Ridge getaway is, the nearest major airport is about 100 miles south at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL). While there are a couple of airport shuttle options, the best move would be to rent a car in Atlanta since you’ll likely need it to explore the mountain town, which doesn’t have public transportation. (But there is a rental car agency in town.) If you’re driving from Atlanta, head straight north on Interstate 575 to GA-5 North/GA-515 East and then to Old Highway 76, which will take you right into the center of Blue Ridge in about two hours. Alternatively, fly into the smaller Chattanooga Airport (CHA) and take I-75 North to US-74 East and then follow TN-68 South to GA-5 South into town in 90 minutes.
With an elevation of 1,762 feet, Blue Ridge was once Georgia’s highest railroad point — and that fresh mountain air can pack a chill. Spring and fall temperatures vary, with spring averaging from the low 50s to mid-70s Fahrenheit, and fall between the low 40s and low 70s. Summers tend to settle between the low 60s to mid-80s, and winters range from lows of the mid-20s to highs in the 50s. No matter what time of year it is, layering is key in Blue Ridge, since mornings and evenings can be cool.
With its depot right in downtown Blue Ridge, the four-hour round-trip rail experience — running March through December — travels along 26 miles. Hop aboard and you’ll be immersed in the north Georgia forest and countryside, with soothing river and mountain views, including a two-hour stop at the adjacent towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee.
Whether you’re in the mood for hiking or mountain biking, this 17-mile trail system has paths ranging from 1 to 5.5 miles, chasing streams and climbing to vista points 3,200 feet high. Also here: the Toccoa River, where lazy summer days melt away on the tubing adventures, and the family-friendly Lilly Pad Village, with gem mining and mini golf.
Choose your meditative state: crisp lake waters or lush deep forests. After all, the Chattahoochee National Forest covers 80 percent of the lake’s 3,290-acre shoreline.
The southeast’s largest apple orchard — with more than 50 varieties of delicious apples — has been family-run since 1943. It houses a market store and farm winery that also produces hard ciders.