The 10 Best Things to Do in Ellijay GA & Gilmer County

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As the metro Atlanta population continues to grow and expand, more and more people are heading for the wide open vistas of the North Georgia mountains. And it’s not difficult to understand why.
 
With lots of charming towns surrounded by scenic summits and the wilderness of the Chattahoochee National Forest (with its array of hiking trails and waterfalls), the mountains of Georgia are a nature lover’s paradise. 
 
Located at the confluence where the Ellijay and Cartecay rivers come together to form the Coosawattee River, Ellijay GA is one of the increasingly popular small towns in North Georgia. 
 
With Blue Ridge GA 15 miles to the northeast, the 37,000-acre Cohutta Wilderness 30 miles to the northwest, and the I-285 perimeter just 65 miles south, the town of Ellijay is perfectly positioned to take advantage of all the natural beauty North Georgia has to offer.
 
Downtown Ellijay is surrounded by the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
 
But the town’s lower elevation (1,280 feet) makes the weather in Ellijay great for agriculture, with loads of apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and wineries in the area.
 
Read on for our guide to the best things to do in Ellijay GA and Gilmer County, including our favorite hiking trails, lakes, restaurants, state parks, waterfalls, and more!
 

Ellijay GA Map 

 

Best Things to Do in Ellijay GA Guide

  1. Apple Picking at B.J. Reece Orchards
  2. Day Trip to Amicalola Falls State Park
  3. Explore Downtown Ellijay 
  4. Harvest Celebration at the Georgia Apple Festival
  5. Hike the CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop at Fort Mountain State Park
  6. Sample the Best Ellijay Restaurants
  7. See the Cascades of Tumbling Waters
  8. Spend a Day at Carter’s Lake
  9. Visit the Gilmer County Historical Society’s Tabor House Museum 
  10. Wine Tastings at Ellijay Vineyards

 

BJ Reece Orchards in Ellijay GA
Photo courtesy BJ Reece Orchards

1. Apple Picking at B.J. Reece Orchards

Gilmer County is widely known as “the Apple Capital of Georgia.” So it probably comes as no surprise that most locals will recommend apple picking if you ask them what do in Ellijay.

Apple picking in Ellijay is best from early September through the end of October, right as the peak fall colors begin to emerge inNorth Georgia. And while there are many great apple orchards in Ellijay to choose from, the family-owned B.J. Reece Orchards ranks among the perennial favorites.

The farm encompasses 120 acres and features 30 different kinds of apples, from classics like Cameo, Fuji, Gala, and Red Delicious to lesser-known varieties like Candy Crisp, Mutsu, Shizuka, and Winecrisp. 

They typically offer u-pick apples starting around Labor Day, but their market offers bagged apples, apple cider donuts, “World Famous” fried pies, and other tantalizing treats throughout the year. 

Visiting Reece Orchards is also one of the most popular things to do in Ellijay for other reasons, including activities such as a petting farm, cow milking demonstrations, and old-fashioned wagon rides.

 
Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville GA
Amicalola Falls in Autumn

2. Day Trip to Amicalola Falls State Park

Though there are no real waterfalls in Ellijay GA to speak of, Amicalola Falls is one of several incredible waterfalls near Ellijay that are worthy of a day trip visit. 

Located 20 miles southeast of downtown Ellijay in Dawsonville GA, the 829-acre Amicalola Falls State Park is home to the tallest waterfall in Georgia (729 feet). 

It’s also home to Georgia’s Appalachian Trail approach, which leads 8.5 miles from the park to the beginning of the AT on Springer Mountain. Their Appalachian Trail Kick-Off Weekend attracts hundreds of thru-hikers, naturalists, and vendors every year on the first weekend in March. 

Casual trekkers who aren’t interested in the 2,190-mile trek to Maine will find lots of more sensible hiking trails at Amicalola, including the 1-mile Mountain Laurel Loop, the 0.6-mile Creek Trail from the Visitor Center to the reflection pool at the base of the falls, and the wheelchair-accessible 0.3-mile West Ridge Falls Access Trail.

But the most popular hike is the 1-mail Base of the Falls Trail, which climbs to a remarkable view of Amicalola Falls via a series of stairs and observation decks. It’s rated moderate to strenuous due to the steep slope, but it’s an absolute must if you want to see one of the state of Georgia‘s 7 natural wonders up close.

READ MORE: The 20 Best North Georgia Waterfalls (& How to Get to Them)

Courthouse on the Square in Downtown Ellijay GA
Courthouse on the Downtown Ellijay Square

3. Explore Downtown Ellijay  

Ellijay is the anglicized form of the Cherokee name Elatseyi (meaning “new ground” or “green place”), and the area was likely inhabited by indigenous people dating back to the Mississippian culture.

The city of Ellijay was incorporated and designated as the Gilmer County seat in 1834, but remained fairly isolated until the Marietta and Northern Georgia Railroad came to town in 1884.

To get the lay of the land today, head to the Welcome Center across from the courthouse on the square in Downtown Ellijay. Ask for Joe, the information guru who turned us onto all of the best hiking trails and scenic overlooks in the area. 

The town square is home to many of Ellijay’s best restaurants. It’s also where you’ll find Ellijay shopping hotspots such as Mountain Treasures (gift shop),  Live the Trail (modern general store), Artful Ellijay (home goods), numerous antique stores, and much more. 

Note that the Ellijay square gets extremely busy and congested with traffic on weekends and at lunchtime on weekdays, especially in peak tourist season. We recommend going early in the day if you want a parking spot, or when you’re not in any particular rush.

 
Georgia Apple Festival
Photo courtesy of the Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce

4. Harvest Celebration at the Georgia Apple Festival

Between leaf-peepers hoping to catch the vivid fall colors and partiers heading to Oktoberfest in Helen, October is the peak season for visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. 
 
Held over two weekends every October, the Georgia Apple Festival is easily the most popular of the annual events in Ellijay, attracting thousands of people to the Ellijay Lions Club Fairgrounds. 
 
Celebrating its 51st year in 2021, the Apple Festival in Ellijay features more than 300 vendors selling an array of food (including apples, naturally), drinks, and Appalachian-influenced arts and crafts. Some even offer on-site demos of how their traditional crafts are made. 
 
Other festival attractions include the ever-popular parade, antique show, and children’s activities (such as a climbing wall).
 
Note that parking at the fairgrounds is limited, but there’s a free shuttle service. You can find a map of shuttle bus routes and parking areas on the Georgia Apple Festival website.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Fall Fairs and Festivals in Georgia

CCC Stone Tower at Fort Mountain State Park in Ellijay GA
CCC Stone Tower

5. Hike the CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop at Fort Mountain State Park

Located 17 miles west of Ellijay in Chatsworth GA, Fort Mountain State Park easily ranks among the most beautiful state parks in Georgia, particularly when the fall colors begin to peak. 

The park offers 15 cottages, 70 tent/trailer/RV campsites, 17 walk-in/pioneer/backcountry campsites, and one group shelter. But even if you can’t stay overnight, Fort Mountain makes an excellent day trip for some of the best hiking near Ellijay GA.

In fact, the #1 thing to do at Fort Mountain State Park is to explore its 25+ miles of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails. If you can only do one, the CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop is our favorite! 

It’s listed as a mile, but you can easily extend it to around 2 miles. From the parking lot, take the trail on the right, going past the “Stone Tower Trail” sign and continuing east on the Stone Wall Trail. This takes you on a rarely-traveled path around the Fort Mountain summit, with incredible views and massive boulders. 

It eventually connects to the West Overlook Trail, leading to an incredible overlook of the surrounding landscape. Retrace your steps and you’ll see signs leading to the 4-story CCC Stone Tower, which was built back in the 1930s. Head back down the mountain from there to see the stone wall and CCC-built steps.

READ MORE: The 15 Best North Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites

Patio of Cantaberry Restaurant in Ellijay GA
Cantaberry Restaurant

6. Sample the Best Ellijay Restaurants

As with North Georgia mountain towns such as Blue Ridge and Clayton, Ellijay’s increasingly high profile as a tourist destination has created a booming bevy of great restaurants to choose from. 
 
Ellijay restaurants run the gamut from laid-back and casual to upscale foodie fare, with prices to suit every budget. But most of the places we’ve dined have been surprisingly affordable.
 
Our picks for the best restaurants in Ellijay GA include the inspired Asian fusion of The Shack of Ellijay, the sensational soups and sandwiches at Cantaberry Restaurant, and the Back Porch Bistro, and the intensely flavorful artisan pies at Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza.
 
If you visit Downtown Ellijay, make sure to save room for desserts from the Bavarian Chocolatier.
 
The owner, Michael Ferst, is from Bavarian Germany, and crafts exceptional homemade chocolate truffles, fudge (try the chocolate gingerbread!), dark chocolate peanut butter cups, buckeyes, pralines, and more.

READ MORE: The 13 Best Restaurants in Blue Ridge GA

Hiking the Tumbling Waters Trail at Carters Lake in Ellijay GA
Tumbling Waters Cascades

7. See the Cascades of Tumbling Waters

Another one of our favorite places for hiking near Ellijay, the Tumbling Waters Trail begins at the Ridgeway Recreation Area at Carters Lake. 

From the well-marked trailhead at the parking lot (which also features a public boat ramp), the trail descends into a gorgeous forest that features colorful North GA wildflowers in the Spring and gleams with vivid red, orange, and yellow leaves in Autumn.

The easy hiking trail is just over a mile, but there are several scenic stops along the way, including an overlook and a 150-foot long bridge that crosses over Tails Creek. 

The bridge leads to a perfect spot for seeing the beautiful cascades for which the trail is named up close. Calling it a waterfall would be overly generous, as the water never drops more than a few feet. 

Still, it’s a lovely little hike, not to mention a great place for an afternoon picnic with friends and family. 

READ MORE: The 20 Best Easy Hiking Trails to Waterfalls in Georgia

Reflection at Carters Lake in Ellijay GA
Reflection at Carters Lake

8. Spend a Day at Carter’s Lake

As lifelong lake lovers, we always enjoy visiting beautiful lakes on our travels, and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia are blessed with more than their fair share. 
 
Located approximately 12 miles from Downtown Ellijay GA, the 3200-acre Carters Lake is a man-made reservoir fed by the Coosawattee River. It’s the deepest lake in Georgia (avg depth 200 feet, max depth 450 feet), formed by the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi (Carters Dam). 
 
The lake boasts 62 miles of shoreline, but what makes it special is the fact that there are no houses or other commercial development. But there are 7 Carters Lake campgrounds offering myriad recreational activities.
 
Fishing, boating, water skiing, kayaking, and swimming (which is limited to the public beach area) are all popular pastimes in summer and early autumn.
 
But hiking and mountain biking the area’s trails are popular all year round. Some of our favorite Carters Lake hiking trails include the lakeside Amahady Trail (3.6 miles), the kid-friendly Big Acorn Trail (0.6 miles), the scenic Oak Ridge Nature Trail (1.5 miles), and the tranquil Hidden Pond Songbird Trail (1 mile). 
 
 
The Gilmer County Historical Society's Tabor House Museum in Ellijay GA
Tabor House Museum

9. Visit the Gilmer County Historical Society’s Tabor House Museum 

Run by the Gilmer County Historical Society, the Tabor House Museum is located in an 1870s Victorian-era reconstruction period home in the heart of historic Downtown Ellijay. 

Gilmer County was the location of the Lower Towns of the Cherokee Nation of Georgia up until the Treaty of New Echota led to Indian removal via the Trail of Tears in 1838.

The Tabor House (the oldest family home in the city of Ellijay) is now home to a museum of the area’s history, featuring artifacts dating from the Cherokee Indians and the early Appalachian pioneers to the Civil War and World War II. 

From arrowheads and examples of Cherokee clothing to Union and Confederate rifles, Victorian period antiques, and a room filled with military helmets and flight suits, it’s a fascinating place for anyone interested in the history of Ellijay GA. 

READ MORE: Exploring the Dark History of the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun GA

Engelheim Vineyards in Ellijay GA
Photo courtesy of Engelheim Vineyards

10. Wine Tastings at Ellijay Vineyards

The climate and geology of Georgia’s Blue Ridge region provides the perfect conditions for growing grapes and producing wine. But Georgia wineries didn’t start gaining national acclaim until fairly recently. 

Ellijay is home to some of the best wineries in North Georgia, many of which offer tasting rooms where visitors can sample the fruit of their vineyards while surrounded by breathtaking mountain views. 

The most popular wineries in Ellijay include Cartecay Vineyards, which features a refurbished 1890s Tasting Barn and an outdoor patio with live music; Ellijay River Vineyards, which offers lovely waterside tastings; and the award-winning (and dog-friendly!) Engelheim Vineyards.

There are also some newer Ellijay wineries that are worthy of a visit, including Grapes and Ladders and Ott Farms and Vineyard, as well as the picturesque Chateau Meichtry in nearby Talking Rock GA.  –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted

Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

The BRMTG was created by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, the award-winning team behind the world-renowned responsible travel website Green Global Travel. Bret grew up camping and hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and North Carolina with his parents, and the couple both spent childhood summers on the water with their grandparents. After becoming empty nesters, they yearned for a pristine place where they could escape the hustle and bustle of the city, commune with nature and family, and embrace a sustainable lifestyle that leaves time to appreciate the simpler things in life. Join them and their team as they explore the region, offering expert insights on Blue Ridge travel as they search for the perfect mountain home.