Place to Pause
Need more than a day hike? Consider Dahlonega, Georgia, a postcard-worthy mountain village that just happens to be home to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Yes, you can take a vacation this summer
By Katie McElveen
Where to hike
Hundreds of miles of hiking trails wind through the rocky hills of North Georgia; and while some, like the 6.6-mile Panther Creek Falls Trail, overflow with both beauty and visitors, others remain remarkably empty—a boon to hikers looking to maintain adequate social distance, even in the woods. One of the prettiest is the hike to the top of Ramrock Mountain, where, on a clear day, you can see Atlanta’s skyline glittering in the far distance. Along the way, this mile-and-a-half-long section of the Appalachian Trail winds through a thick hardwood forest, over slick rocks and into shady dells; there are also plenty of places to pause and take in the vast carpet of trees dressed for fall in bright shades of scarlet, russet and gold. If you continued south along the trail for 20 miles or so, you’d reach the start—or end—of the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail.
If the trailhead seems quiet, consider hiking in the other direction, to Preacher’s Rock, a massive slab of granite that looks out over the Chattahoochee National Forest. The east-facing perch is particularly pretty at sunrise.
Both trails start at Woody Gap, which is about 14 miles north of downtown Dahlonega on Highway 60. The side with the view leads to Ramrock Mountain; the other to Preacher’s Rock.
Montaluce Winery Hike
You’ll need two pairs of shoes for this 1.8 mile guided hike that begins and ends at the Italianate Montaluce Winery: one for the hike, which rambles through open fields, up and down steep slopes, through vineyards and past a rushing river, and the other for lunch at the vineyard’s elegant restaurant. Matthew Garner, Montaluce’s General Manager and hike leader, fills each trek with fascinating facts about Dahlonega, including how the gold discovered in its hills in 1828 set off the nation’s first gold rush. Due to Covid-19, hikes are by reservation only and limited to single groups.
Afterwards, recover in the spacious dining room with a glass of wine and lunch from Chef Christopher Matson’s menu of relaxed classics that includes burgers, hearty sandwiches, and pasta dishes. The restaurant is open for dinner as well; both menus utilize local produce, meats, cheeses, and oils; breads are baked on site. The winery is located just a few miles northwest of the city.
What to do besides hike
Dahlonega may have gotten its start as a rough-and-tumble mining town in 1833, but today, the flower-filled town square and neat shops that line the streets are anything but. It’s historic, too, and became a part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Some, like the Fudge Factory and Dahlonega General Store are delightfully old-fashioned; you’ll also find an artisan chocolatier, a toy shop opened by a former schoolteacher and a tiny tea house selling handcrafted teas. Restaurants run the gamut; afterwards, pick up a brochure for one of the city’s two self-guided walking tours at the visitor center.
After more than 40 years taking visitors on float trips along the Etowah River and Yahoola Creek, Ben La Chance, who owns Appalachian Outfitters, knows every rapid, bend and bird species you’ll encounter on one of his trips—he can also take you to swimming holes, waterfalls and secluded spots where you can look for playful otters and elegant Blue Heron.
Where to stay
Spread over a wooded bluff ten minutes outside of town, Barefoot Hills is a former hiker hostel that, after a full renovation in 2017, has been reinvented as a low-key, luxury lodge. Each of the resort’s nine rooms opens onto a porch or patio; book the quirky deluxe eco cabin—which was fashioned out of a shipping container—or the two-bedroom suite (which has a full kitchen) for gorgeous views of the sun setting over the mountains. All rooms have coffee makers, refrigerators, microwaves and free wi-fi as well as access to a DIY firepit on a deck overlooking the remarkably azure Blue Ridge Mountains. Beyond setting up horseback riding expeditions, fly fishing and other activities, staff members are well-versed on the region’s many trails: give them an idea about your ability level, how much time you have and what you want to see and they’ll come up with a plan that may include a few hidden gems.
Although you can get breakfast items, beer, wine, soft drinks and s’mores kits in the resort’s main lodge, there’s no restaurant at Barefoot Hills. Luckily, though, there’s G-3 Takeout and Concierge Service, which will deliver lunch, dinner or groceries to the resort from anywhere in Dahlonega.
For more information visit dahlonega.org and barefoothills.com. To place an order with G-3, text owner Eric Ferguson at 706-880-6843.