The Mountain Treasures of Georgia
By Chris McBeath

Anyone who has read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods will have a certain appreciation for the Appalachian Trail and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. But for all his humour, descriptions of his torturous hike never talked about the almost mystical beauty of the region where, in spring, wild rhododendrons wash the forest floor with a soft pink. And in Fall, their evergreen foliage becomes the canvas for Monet-inspired Autumnal strokes of yellow, orange and crimson swatches that emerge from misty mornings, and blaze into the setting sun. Nor did he mention the covered bridges, the Cherokee burial mounds and the trails that lead to magnificent waterfalls that make the mountains sing. Yet these are the real treasures of Georgia.

Of all the mountain jewels, Smithgall Woods-Duke’s Creek Conservation Area is among the finest. At the center of this 5,600-acre preserve lies Smithgall Lodge. Designed to blend with the natural landscape, the cluster of five distinctive cottages house just 28 overnight guests and exude the seclusion and elegant charm of a private mountain estate. And the food is nothing short of a culinary celebration.

Whether you’re an overnight guest or a day visitor to Smithgall, check in with the Information Centre for hiking and biking options as well as its several naturalist programs. If nothing else, be sure to include Duke Creek Falls. The trail to the falls is an easy _ mile hike through towering hemlocks and whispering pines, and leads to waters tumbling every which way down the mountain side. They then spread out between a canopy of mountain laurel into 12 miles of pristine stream, deepening in cool pools, rushing over rocks and flats, and into sun-dappled waters that Trout Unlimited has rated as “One of the Top 100 Trout Streams in the US”.

Beyond Smithgall lies the Bavarian-themed community of Helen, as well as some of Georgia’s most scenic natural wonders including Anna Ruby Falls, the star attraction in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest; Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia; access to the famed Appalachian Trail as well as historical treasures such as the Old Sautee Store, a 130-year-old landmark that is part museum, part gift store and Mark of the Potter, a 1930’s riverside grist mill converted into a showcase for crafts and pottery.

Bill Bryson’s ambling rhetoric left little room for indulgences outside of those the trail inflicted on his middle-aged, out of shape physique. But to be fair, had Bryson ventured any further afield, he likely would have written an entirely different book. One which would have caught the mountain rhythm and wended his words around the rugged backcountry and its pastoral interludes, and into the myths and lore of what the Cherokee once called, their Enchanted Land.

If You Go:

Smithgall Woods
Tel: 706-878-3087 or 800-318-5248

Georgia State Parks & Lodges
Tel: 800-864-7275

Georgia Department of Industry, Trade & Tourism
Tel: 800-VISITGA

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