Although I’ve been exploring the North Georgia State Parks, waterfalls, and hiking trails near Blue Ridge and Helen since I was a boy, for some reason the town of Clayton never really popped up on my family’s radar.
It wasn’t until late 2020 that we finally explored northeast Georgia’s Rabun County in depth, and we were truly blown away by the myriad outdoor attractions the area had to offer.
There are 3 state parks (Black Rock Mountain, Moccasin Creek, Tallulah Gorge), 4 lakes (Burton, Rabun Seed, Tallulah), several of the state’s tallest mountains, and numerous waterfalls (including Hemlock Falls, Angel/Panther Falls, and Minnehaha Falls) within 15-20 miles.
But we also loved the area’s family-friendly attractions, from horseback riding at Dillard House Stables and the Appalachian history of the Foxfire Museum to the goofy fun of Goats On The Roof.
Located just 3 miles from downtown Clayton on Hwy. 441 (in the tiny town of Tiger GA), Goats On The Roof is one of the more unique and unusual roadside attractions we’ve visited during our travels through the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Read on for our guide to everything there is to see and do at Goats On The Roof GA, including the history of this crazy concept (hint: extra-terrestrials are involved) and a look at some major changes coming in 2021.
READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Clayton GA
GOATS ON THE ROOF GA INFO
• The original “goats on a roof” concept started at Coombs Country Market on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada back in 1973.
• Located at the base of Tiger Mountain, Tiger is one of North Georgia’s tiniest mountain towns. It has a total land area of 531 acres, with a population of less than 600 people.
• Goats were one of the first animals tamed by humans, and have been herded for more than 9,000 years now.
• Goats have four “stomachs,” with the first one called the rumen. This section, which in adult goats can hold 4-5 gallons of food, breaks down cellulose and acts as a fermentation vat. Fermentation produces gas, which explains why goats often burp loudly!
HOW TO GET TO GOATS ON THE ROOF
Directions From Atlanta GA
Follow I-85 N toward GA-400/Greenville. When you get to Suwanee, look for the fork in the highway and keep left for I-985 N, following the signs for Gainesville.
In approximately 24 miles, I-985 N turns into US 23 N. Follow that for 48.9 miles, then turn left onto Tiger Conn.
Goats On The Roof will be less than 200 feet on your left.
Directions From Helen GA
Follow that for 10.8 miles, then turn left onto GA-197 N. In 3.1 miles, you’ll take a right onto Burton Dam Rd. Continuing straight here will take you to Moccasin Creek State Park on Lake Burton.
In 2.9 miles, turn left onto Bridge Creek Rd (note that turning right here will lead you straight to Minnehaha Falls on Lake Rabun).
Follow Bridge Creek for 9.7 miles, where it turns into Tiger Conn. In 1.1 miles, you’ll see Goats On The Roof on your right.
GOATS ON THE ROOF HISTORY
There are two versions of Goats On The Roof history. One of them is hilarious and fantastical, one is more realistic, but both are just weird enough to merit further investigation.
If you believe the sign posted on the side of the main building (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s how the Clayton GA attraction came to be:
Mysterious goats appear on top of building at the base of Tiger Mountain in 2007, with their eyes constantly to the skies. The owners consult with Uncle Buck, “Rabun County’s resident goat whisperer,” He proclaims that the goats are in fact direct descendants of aliens.
He says the goats are watching the skies for a sign, “a solar eclipse of the apricot moon, when the constellation Aries turns to gold.” This will signal the arrival of the Mother Ship of the Goat Universe, who will carry the animals… er, “aliens…” back to their celestial home.
It’s a comically bizarre bit of storytelling in the time-honored Appalachian cultural tradition, but the actual background of this roadside attraction (as explained by current co-owner Russ Phillips) is equally unusual.
It started in Vancouver Island, Canada in 1973, when Norwegian immigrants wanted a sod roof atop their Coombs Country Market. When the grass grew high, a family member suggested using goats to control it. Today, this accidental attraction draws more than 1 million annual visitors!
Here in the USA, Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay, WI was the first. According to Phillips, “a friend put a goat on Al’s roof while he was on vacation. What started out as a joke became a novelty. People saw the goats and wanted to stop, because it’s just really different.”
Goats On The Roof in Tiger GA opened back in 2007. Johnson owns the US trademark for having goats and grass on the roof, so he had to give the original owner his approval. But it’s not a franchise, and former accountant Phillips and his wife April bought the business in 2015.
“I lost my mind,” he recalls with a laugh. “We’d never lived in a small town before. My mom and stepdad had a place here, and we were friends with the original owners, who were looking to sell. The company I worked for in Birmingham was getting bought out, and I saw an opportunity…”
Coincidentally, there’s another Goats On The Roof in Pigeon Forge, TN and their logos and layouts are very similar. But they’re completely separate businesses, though the owners are friendly.
EXPLORING GOATS ON THE ROOF
You don’t have to be a kid (or have one) to have a great time at Goats On The Roof. But a youthful spirit and an appreciation for kitschy roadside attractions definitely helps.
The goats are clearly the stars of the show here, and the entire attraction is built like a giant, multi-level habitat for them.
They tend to stay hidden in the roof’s shaded area in the afternoon on hot, sunny days.
But there’s also a ramp leading down from the main roof to a caged feeding area, plus a winding bridge that leads over to the grassy roof of the café/gem mining area. So the pampered goats have ample room to roam.
Feeding them (goat chow is available for a nominal fee) is one of the most popular things to do here. So is posing for selfies with goats, including the real ones, wooden cutouts, and a statue of the company’s cartoonish mascot.
But there’s also a large gift shop selling souvenirs such as branded t-shirts, hats, magnets, games, goat’s milk lotions and soaps, stuffed goats and other animals, toys, etc.
When we visited in October 2020, there was a café serving snacks such as boiled peanuts, popcorn, fresh-baked cookies and homemade fudge, chocolate-covered bacon, and their award-winning “Nitro Made Ice Cream.”
Next door was a small gem mining area where kids could try their hand at panning for the minerals that originally made the North Georgia mountains famous. I say was, because Russ Phillips recently revealed some major property upgrades coming to Goats On The Roof in 2021…
VISITING GOATS ON THE ROOF IN 2021
As we were researching this story, Russ Phillips gave us a sneak peak at some of the major enhancements coming to the Tiger GA location in 2021.
He laughed and said no when I asked him if they’ll be adding a Goats On The Roof Coaster like their friends in Pigeon Forge. But he did give us the inside scoop on the food truck, rock & candy store, and other new elements that will be unveiled in the months to come.
Basically, the stand-alone café/ice cream shop will be completely gone, replaces by a brand new store offering old-time candies, gems, and indoor/outdoor gem mining opportunities.
Their main gift shop is being expanded to include souvenirs on one side, with ice cream, fudge, and other desserts on the other.
And instead of a café, the property will be home to a food truck run by a well-known local chef we cannot name at this point. Suffice it to say visitors will have options ranging from kid-friendly burgers and hot dogs to seafood boils and other farm-to-table foodie fare.