As one naturalist said of North Georgia, "scenic touring is about any road you want to travel." Of course, some trails and scenic highways are more memorable than others. Just north of Helen and within easy reach of Blairsville, the Richard Russell Scenic Highway (Ga. 348) is one we always travel, with mountain vistas up to 3,644 feet.
If you don't like to hike, you can see much of the panorama of North Georgia from your car by taking Ga. 52, the highway between Chatsworth and Ellijay (the latter called the apple capital of the state). This road offers scenic previews of Fort Mountain State Park, about 7 miles east of Chatsworth (tel. 800/864-7275 or 706/422-1932; www.gastateparks.org/info/fortmt) and the Cohutta Wilderness.
Much of North Georgia is encompassed by Chattahoochee National Forest, a vast region of some 750,000 acres, including the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains to the north. Elevations range from 1,000 to some 5,000 feet. It's a vacationer's paradise, with some two dozen picnic areas, the same number of campsites, six swimming beaches, and 10 protected wilderness areas. The forest offers such natural attractions as Anna Ruby Falls, 6 miles north of Alpine Helen; the Appalachian National Scenic Trail; Vogel State Park, south of Blairsville; and Amicalola Falls State Park, with the state's highest waterfall, outside Dahlonega.
For information about exploring this vast forest, write to the U.S. Forest Service, 1755 Cleveland Hwy., Gainesville, GA 30501 (tel. 770/297-3000; www.fs.fed.us).
In contrast, the Cohutta Wilderness alone covers 37,000 acres or some 60 square miles spilling over into Tennessee. When an area called Hemp Top was added in 1986, the region became the third-largest mountain wilderness in the East. Fishers claim that the Cohuttas have the best trout streams in the south. Hikers and anglers alike are seen along the banks of the Conasauga River and Jack's River. Walking trails follow the old logging roads of the 1920s. Hikers and backpackers should take 17-mile Jack's River Trail, which virtually crosses the wilderness going northwest to southeast.
For detailed information about this vast wilderness, call tel. 706/695-6736 and speak to the U.S. Forest Service in advance of your trip. Always check road conditions before venturing into such wild terrain -- roads may be closed in bad weather.
Of course, the most famous trail in the area -- in fact, America's most fabled scenic trail -- is the Appalachian Trail (tel. 304/535-6331 or www.appalachiantrail.org), beginning at Georgia's Springer Mountain and crossing 14 states until it finally comes to an end some 2,100 exhausting miles later in Katahdin, Maine. Hikers usually leave Georgia in April, arriving in Maine in September or even as late as October, when they earn the right to call themselves a "2,000 Miler." The trail runs across Georgia for 79 miles before reaching the border of North Carolina.
Among our favorite state parks in Georgia is Cloudland Canyon State Park. The terrain is rugged, but the park has modern outdoor amenities, such as a swimming pool and a tennis court. The 2,120-acre scenic park lies near the village of Rising Fawn, on the west side of Lookout Mountain. Gulch Creek, a deep gorge, slices through the park, with elevations ranging from 800 to 1,800 feet. It has some 75 camping sites and lots of ideal spots for a picnic.
The park lies on Ga. 136, 8 miles east of Trenton and I-59, and 18 miles northwest of La Fayette. It's open daily 7am to 10pm year-round. For additional information, contact Cloudland Canyon State Park, Department of Natural Resources, 122 Cloudland Canyon Rd., Rising Fawn, GA 30738 (tel. 706/657-4050; fax 706/398-9748; www.gastateparks.org).
Lookout Mountain (tel. 800/825-8366 or 706/820-2531; www.lookoutmountain.com) sprawls more than 100 miles, ignoring state lines and spilling into Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. Two towns -- both named Lookout Mountain -- lie on each side of the border. Lookout Mountain is accessible by I-24 from Chattanooga heading toward Georgia.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.