As I’ve alluded to before, we’ve had a rather turbulent Spring around here thus far which has resulted in a few blips on my blogging radar, as well as generating a pervasive feeling of constantly playing catch-up. After returning to town last week, I found myself extremely busy with a hundred things to do on my plate and by the time the weekend approached, I had begun to feel the need to get away from it all for a few hours and recharge the emotional batteries. What better way to do that than a little day trip, I ask you?
We are blessed with a wonderful geographical feature in our area situated just one short hour north of Atlanta in the form of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and the mighty Appalachian Trail. I love a casual hike, but I’ve only walked very short segments of this trail. Perhaps one day I’ll tackle more of it, but this weekend was all about escape and having a little picnic—the first of the season—and Sunday was a beautiful, albeit cool, day for it. So sit back and enjoy the ride as I take you to a couple of my favorite picnic spots and sites in the North Georgia mountains.
While North Georgia is chocked full of great little mountain towns, lakes, camping areas and parks, one of the closest areas and easiest to get to from the city is around a town called Dahlonega, Georgia. It’s a straight 59 mile shot up GA 400 from here, and a pleasant drive. Dahlonega is a charming little town in Lumpkin county located at the foothills of the mountains, and is the county seat. It was the site of the first major gold rush in the U.S., but these days it’s a pretty touristy area filled with little craft shops and restaurants, and the site of all kinds of festivals, and this weekend was a musical one called “Bear on the Square.” Dahlonega was actually not our destination, but we usually pass through it on our way to two areas we enjoy, so we were caught amongst the festival goers for a brief time.
Following U.S. 19 North from Dahlonega, you’ll find yourself along a large stretch of the North Georgia Wine Trail…yep, that’s what I said…wineries! There are several I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but our two favorites are Wolf Mountain Vinyards and Frogtown Cellars. It’s been quite interesting (and tasty) over the years to see how the wines have come along, and now both wineries can boast of some notable and award-winning wines. We’ve tasted several good ones, and while I’ve had a tendency to prefer the wines of Frogtown in the past, Wolf is getting better and better, and we happened to be driving past on the way to our picnic, so took a little detour to see how the vines were looking.
Above and below are views from the patio off of the Tasting Room at Wolf Mountain Vineyards.
Wolf Mountain Vineyards is sited on a mountain, as you might imagine, and commands a lovely view of the mountains over the vines. The main building boasts a bar upstairs which is used for private tastings and has a pretty balcony attached to it to take your wine outdoors. There is also a large dining room which features themed brunch buffets every Sunday, and the food looks good, though we didn’t partake due to our picnic plans. Downstairs is the main tasting room, all glass fronted to enjoy the mountain view, with an outdoor wrap around patio. You can order small plates to go with your wine or tastings, and again, the view is quite lovely here. We’ve had tastings here before, but chose to have a glass of their rosé and enjoy the view before continuing on our journey.
This particular weekend the vineyard was celebrating the “reawakening of the vines” and we visited the vines to see the baby grapes…so tiny and so cute! If you’re in the area, I’d recommend you stop by Wolf Mountain Vineyards for a taste or a glass…they are better every year! April is a great time to visit, too, because it’s just before the huge wedding season up here. You can still stop by anytime, but we’ve experienced the frenzy that is wedding season, and during that time parking, as well as a quiet moment, is at a premium.
After leaving the wolf behind, we continued to head north on U.S. 19 and then veered onto Hwy 60 towards Suches, GA., on the way to one of our favorite picnic and camping destinations, Lake Winfield Scott. Shortly after you reach Suches, you’ll turn right onto Wolf Pen Gap Road, State Road 180, and Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area will be on your right a couple of miles down the road.
Lake Winfield Scott is an 18-acre mountain pond managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and is the centerpiece of the recreation area. It features swimming, picnic areas and pavilions, a walking trail around the lake, non-motor boating, fishing, camping and an additional trailhead which feeds to the Appalachian Trail. It is one of Georgia’s highest elevation lakes, and is really quite beautiful. We’ve camped there, and even had a black bear visit us once! On this day, the wind was blowing across the lake and while we had the area almost to ourselves…which was great, it was a bit too cool to picnic, unfortunately. We took some pictures, looked around and enjoyed the dogwoods, which were just beginning to bloom as spring here is quite a bit later than ours, then headed on to our next destination.
We backtracked to U.S. 19 from Lake Winfield Scott, but you can continue on to a spectacular mountainous drive full of switchbacks (Lance Armstrong trained here) on Wolf Pen Gap Road towards Vogel State Park and pick up U.S. 19 again at that point, if you prefer. Our destination was Dicks Creek Falls, which is located off of U.S. 19 on F.S. (Forest Service) road 34 near Cleveland, GA. As you head north on 19 (or south if you go to Vogel), you’ll see signs for “The Chattahoochee Wildlife Management Center” and “Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church” and this is where you’ll turn onto the Forest Service road in the midst of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
You’ll continue about 2.8 miles until you reach a series of small waterfalls leading up to the main falls, where assessable flat rock formations form the top of the falls, along with a trophy trout stream where Waters Creek and Dicks Creek come together. We’ve enjoyed many a picnic at this locale, and today was no exception. In fact, the area was quite protected from the cool wind by the thick tree growth surrounding it, and very few people were there because it’s still too cold to swim.
We spread our blanket on a rock next to the gorgeous and vigorous waterfall, and enjoyed our repast of breads, cheeses and quince paste, olives, salad, and a wee bit of wine, along with some homemade brownies for dessert. It was so peaceful there, just perfect for relaxing. After a while we were almost lulled to sleep by listening to the sound of the rushing water, the birds singing in the trees, and watching the lazy shafts of afternoon sunlight filtering through the bright green spring leaves.
Alas, the days are still a bit short in Spring, and so before long it was time to take one last little walk around the falls, pack up our picnic and travel back to the hustle and bustle of the big city. But I can honestly say that we were refreshed and ready to head home to normal life by then, and our very hungry pussycat children.
It is said that you need to take time to “stop and smell the roses along the way.” I’m a great believer in this, and whether you decide to take a little road trip, walk to your nearest park or to your back yard terrace or deck, a picnic is a wonderfully grounding way to take some quality time to stop, look, listen and nibble.
I hope you’ve enjoyed our little road trip to North Georgia. As I said, there are many things to see and activities to enjoy there, including perusing the wine trail, and I’m sure I will share more little adventures as the year progresses. Have you scoped out what’s an hour north of your area or even in your own back yard? Do you have any favorite picnic spots to share? Do tell.
Happy trails and happy picnics to you all!