Dahlonega, Georgia is less than an hour's drive from three other picturesque, North Georgia towns worth exploring.
Helen, Georgia is about 45 minutes east of Dahlonega. You will think you took a wrong turn and ended up in Bavaria, but that just means you've found the right place. Helen embraces Germany in its architectural details and color scheme, and many of its shops and restaurants follow suit. In other areas, it might appear more backwoodsy, hillbilly, or pioneer-like. As you might expect, Oktoberfest is a huge deal in Helen. It is touted as the longest-running such festival in the United States, and it typically lasts from the last weekend in September through the first week in November.
Bodensee Restaurant serves wonderful authentic Bavarian cuisine, and Cafe International (the one beside the Chattahoochee River) has the best Reuben I've ever eaten.
Fred's Famous Peanuts is a fun, quirky place on the outskirts of town and claims to have "the best peanuts in the mountains." Steve and I bought some peanut brittle and sampled fried peanuts. Both were good.
Nora Mill Granary is on the edge of town in another direction. From there, we brought home buckwheat pancake mix, grits, biscuit mix, and blackberry syrup. The mill has been grinding fresh grains with no preservatives since 1876. Their products are shipped all over the country.
History lovers will want to find the Nacoochee Indian Mound across the highway from the Hardman Farm State Historic Site, and Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Tubing the Chattahoochee (or "shootin' the Hooch") is extremely popular in the summertime.
Ellijay is probably best known for being the location of the Georgia Apple Festival held every October. You'll pass an impressive number of orchards before arriving in Ellijay. B. J. Reece Orchards, R & A Orchards, and Hillcrest Orchards are lined in a row along Highway 52.
We bought apples at one, apple cider donuts at another, and an apple fried pie in yet another. I called it an "Orchard Crawl."
We had lunch at Cantaberry in downtown -- which was VERY good -- but there were other interesting choices if the line had been too long.
Many come to Blue Ridge to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. From the depot, riders travel one hour to the adjoining towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, TN. They have 2 hours to explore both towns, then reboard for the one-hour drive back. Check the prices and schedule here.
Several blocks of shops and restaurants line both sides of the railroad tracks. Take note that parking is scarce, and the wait for restaurants can be extremely long during peak seasons, so plan accordingly.
We really enjoyed Mercier Orchards. These 300 acres are magnificent, and the shop is huge with a farm market, bakery & candy kitchen, cafe, and winery. I brought home more apples and a jar of apple butter from Mercier. It is easy to see why this has become such a tourist attraction in the state of Georgia.
If you can make it to Dahlonega or one of these towns for the Christmas season, by all means do so. If not, be sure to plan ahead for fall of 2022.