My earliest memories of the Blue Ridge Mountains are of backpacking trips with our church youth group, which my parents led.
I was no more than 6 years old the first time we made our way north to Blue Ridge, Georgia. We’d stock up on supplies in town before heading to Springer Mountain and spending a week hiking the Benton MacKaye and Appalachian Trails.
Growing up in Atlanta, I thought of the north Georgia mountains as wilderness– a place to run free, romp in streams and waterfalls, and see wildlife such as deer and black bear.
It was only when I returned to downtown Blue Ridge as an adult in the ’90s that I began to recognize it as one of the best small towns in Georgia.
The number of attractions, activities, and restaurants in Blue Ridge have increased exponentially since then. We were blown away on our recent visit by just how much this tiny north Georgia mountain town has grown in the last decade.
So here’s our guide to what we consider the very best things to do in Blue Ridge, GA, from hiking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting to the arts, culture, restaurants, and roadside attractions.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN BLUE RIDGE, GA
Blue Ridge Inn Bed and Breakfast – Historic boutique inn w/ fantastic breakfast in downtown.
The Orchard Cabin – 8.1 miles from center, pet-friendly, hot tub, 2 bdrms/2 bths • 1335 ft²
Lazy Bear Den Cabin – 4.3 miles from center, pet-friendly, hot tub, 2 bdrms/1 bth • 1055 ft²
Cozy View Cabin – 3.1 miles from center, sunset view from hot tub, 1 king bed/1 bth • sleeps 3
Red Apple Cabin – 4.9 miles from center, mountain views, hot tub, 3 bdrms/3 bths • 2099 ft²
Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge GA Guide
- Apple Picking at Mercier Orchards
- Celebrate Christmas in Blue Ridge
- Downtown Blue Ridge Historic Walking Tour
- Explore Aska Adventure Area
- Have a Picnic at Lake Blue Ridge
- Hike to Toccoa Swinging Bridge
- Horseback Riding with Blue Ridge Mountains Trail Rides
- Ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
- See Long Creek Falls
- Take a Blue Ridge Mountains Food Tour
- Trek the Benton MacKaye Trail/Appalachian Trail
- Try Your Hand at Blue Ridge Fishing
- Visit the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association
- Visit the Expedition: Bigfoot Museum
- Whitewater Rafting the Ocoee River
Apple Picking at Mercier Orchards
One of our favorite Blue Ridge activities, picking apples at Mercier Orchards was also the first thing we ever did as a family in the North Georgia mountain town.
Picking apples in Georgia is extremely popular, and this family-owned farm is the largest apple orchard in the Southeast. At 75+ years, it’s also one of the oldest apple orchards in North GA!
But the 20+ varieties found in the Mercier apple orchard aren’t the only highlight of this beloved Blue Ridge attraction. Their “U-Pick” offerings also include strawberries, blueberries, peaches, and blackberries.
Other activities include a tractor tour of the apple orchards, a farm winery and tasting room, a restaurant, and a store selling everything from fresh North GA apples and their famous fried apple pies to hard apple cider, jams and preserves, and more.
Celebrate Christmas in Blue Ridge
As a lifelong resident, Christmas in Georgia has always been special to me. But Christmas in Blue Ridge is truly magical, casting its iconic small mountain town charm in the warm, glowing lights of the holiday season.
The Blue Ridge, Georgia Christmas events usually begin in mid-November with the annual Holiday Show & Sale of arts & crafts at The Art Center.
By the end of November, Light Up Blue Ridge officially starts the holidays in Blue Ridge, with the arrival of Santa in the Park, the downtown Blue Ridge Christmas Parade, and the Great Tree Lighting in the square.
Other highlights of the holidays include the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s popular Santa Train rides, Christmas carolers roaming the streets of downtown, the Christmas Tour of Homes, and Holidays at INOLA Blue Ridge (with carriage rides and ice skating).
Downtown Blue Ridge Historic Walking Tour
Founded in 1886 (with the arrival of the Marietta & North Georgia Railroad), Blue Ridge is one of the oldest towns in the mountains of Georgia.
Originally an elite health resort due to its pure mineral waters, it gradually developed into a center of business for the southern Blue Ridge region. You can still see glimpses of its past on a self-guided historic walking tour of downtown Blue Ridge today.
Among the oldest buildings are the Baugh House, built by pioneer John W. Baugh in 1890; the Blue Ridge Inn Bed & Breakfast, a restored Victorian home built in 1890; and the Blue Ridge Depot, built in 1906 after the original depot burned down.
Other noteworthy sites include the Coldwell Banker building (built by L & N Railroad in 1895), the Historic Fannin County Courthouse (built in 1937, now home to the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association), Blue Ridge City Park in the heart of downtown, and more.
Explore the Aska Adventure Area
As great as downtown Blue Ridge restaurants, shops, and history are, the natural beauty of the Aska Adventure Area is truly the heart of what makes Blue Ridge GA so special.
Located south of town along the banks of the Toccoa River, Aska means “winter home” in Cherokee. This was the area settled by the Stanley family, the first Europeans who came to what is now Blue Ridge from the North Carolina backcountry in the early 1800s.
Today the Aska area is home to an impressive array of outdoor adventures. Its excellent hiking/biking trails include the 2.3-mile Long Branch Loop, the 2.8-mile Green Mountain Loop, and the 6-mile Flat Creek Loop. The AT also crosses through these parts.
You can also camp at the Toccoa Valley Campground, tube or kayak the Toccoa River, walk to Fall Branch Falls, and see historic landmarks including the area’s oldest churches, farms, and the iconic Shallowford Bridge.
Have a Picnic at Lake Blue Ridge
Located a few miles from downtown, beautiful Lake Blue Ridge was created by the completion of Blue Ridge Dam in 1930.
The lake encompasses around 3,300 acres, with approximately 65 miles of shoreline. Only 25% of it has been developed, with the other 75% protected as part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.
The Blue Ridge Lake Recreation Area is arguably among the most picturesque mountain lakes in the Southeast. The crystal clear waters reflect the bright blue sky, with trees and wildlife all around it and Blue Ridge mountains providing the perfect backdrop.
The lake boasts numerous boat ramps, swimming, and picnic spots, including the Lake Blue Ridge Dayuse Area, Morganton Point Recreation Area (with a campground and pebble beach), and Lake Blue Ridge Dam Recreation Area where our photo was taken.
READ MORE: The 10 Best North Georgia State Parks
Hike to the Toccoa Swinging Bridge
The Toccoa River Swinging Bridge is arguably among the most iconic attractions in Blue Ridge, and the gorgeous hike to get there is as easy as it is beautiful.
This kid/dog-friendly Blue Ridge hike is just a half-mile round-trip. But it meanders through the forest, along the Toccoa River, across the 270-foot suspension bridge (the longest east of the Mississippi), and even takes in a small waterfall on the other side.
The swinging bridge over the Toccoa River was built by the USDA Forest Service in cooperation with the Appalachian Trail Club in 1977, when there was talk of extending the Blue Ridge Parkway south to Kennesaw Mountain.
Part of the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail, the bouncy bridge is an excellent place to spend a few hours. We packed a lunch and had a lovely picnic, with the river in front and the small waterfall to our backs.
Horseback Riding with Blue Ridge Mountains Trail Rides
Horseback riding in Blue Ridge is a very popular activity, and Blue Ridge Mountains Trail Rides was one of the area’s first tour operators to offer it.
Their “Hell’s Hollow Adventure Outpost” is located in a remote area known as a hotbed of moonshine bootleggers during the Prohibition era. Hell’s Hollow remains largely unspoiled today, with no commercial development but lots of rolling hills and wildlife.
The company offers 1- and 2-hour trail rides for all skill levels, with horses ranging from child-friendly ponies to Tennessee Walkers. The terrain varies with your comfort level, from gentle walks along tranquil streams to clambering up a small mountain.
The Blue Ridge mountain scenery at the top of the trail is undeniably stunning, but note that the hill feels a bit steeper when you’re coming back down!
Ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Trains played an integral role in Georgia’s history, and the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a budget-friendly attraction that offers the equivalent of an immersive history lesson.
Running out of the downtown Blue Ridge railway depot, the BRSR train takes visitors on a scenic 13-mile ride along the Toccoa River to the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee (a 125-year-old route).
Volunteer conductors and “car hosts” are truly a font of information, keeping kids entranced with stories of days gone by while parents relax and enjoy the picturesque views of the North GA mountains.
They occasionally offer special trips that combine train rides with activities such as white water rafting or tubing. And don’t miss a chance to visit during the holidays, when kids can take a Blue Ridge train ride with Santa Claus!
See Long Creek Falls
Georgia’s Blue Ridge region offers hundreds of waterfalls to explore, with five in Fannin County. Of these, Long Creek Falls is arguably the most impressive (and popular).
It’s located on the Appalachian Trail near Three Forks (where the AT, Benton MacKaye, and Duncan Ridge Trails meet). The road to Long Creek Falls‘ trailhead follows Noontootla Creek, with several smaller waterfalls along the way.
The moderately difficult, dog-friendly trail is two miles out-and-back, meandering through a lush valley that runs along Long Creek. The trail climbs in elevation, with some incredible scenery all along the way.
The waterfall itself is strikingly photogenic. It falls 50 feet in two distinct drops, with the cascade surrounded by a forest filled with hemlock, rhododendron, and tulip poplar. If you can only make time to visit one Blue Ridge waterfall, make it Long Creek Falls.
Take a Blue Ridge Mountains Food Tour
When I first visited Blue Ridge, Georgia more than 20 years ago, there was no culinary scene there to speak of.
Thankfully that’s changed dramatically over the past decade. And the Blue Ridge Mountains Food Tour is a great way to discover the best restaurants the city has to offer.
The company offers three tours to choose from– the Fabulous Foodie Tour, Raise Your Glass Tour (focused on wine/spirits), and the Sugar High Tour. Each lasts around 3 hours, includes 5-6 stops, and includes tastings of every restaurant/brewpub you visit.
We took the Fabulous Foodie Tour, and went home with enough leftover pizza, apps, and desserts that we were nibbling on them for days. It’s an excellent way to sample and discover some of the best Blue Ridge restaurants!
Trek the Benton MacKaye Trail/Appalachian Trail
You could easily argue that the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,180+ miles from Georgia to Maine, is the most iconic hiking trail in America.
The Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail (named after the man who envisioned the AT) both start in Fannin County on Springer Mountain. They’re the same path for the first few miles, then split and head in different directions.
The Benton MacKaye Trail System, which stretches 300 miles to the northeast section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, runs through Blue Ridge and the Cohutta Wilderness before moving into Tennessee.
There are tons of different BMT trail heads you can access in Blue Ridge. These include Springer Mountain, Three Forks, the Toccoa Swinging Bridge trail, Falls Branch Falls, the historic Shallowford Bridge, and more. All offer excellent day hiking opportunities.
Try Your Hand at Blue Ridge Fishing
Billing itself as the Trout Capital of Georgia, Fannin County has long been a popular hotspot for anglers wanting to strap on their waders and reel in a big one.
The Toccoa River has been singled out by Georgia Outdoor News as one of the best places in the region for trout fishing. But you can also find great Blue Ridge fishing spots on Cooper Creek, Noontootla Creek, and Rock Creek.
Of course, trout isn’t the only desirable fish in town. Fishing Lake Blue Ridge is great for species such as bluegill, bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and white), walleye, and even the occasional rainbow trout.
Just be sure to check the Tennessee Valley Authority site for updates on lake levels and fish releases before you go, and make sure you have the correct fishing licenses with you.
Visit the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association
Located in the Historic Fannin County Courthouse (which was built in 1937), The Art Center is operated by the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association. It is truly the heart of the art and cultural scene in Blue Ridge, Georgia.
We’ll have a full story on the Art Center coming soon, but a brief highlight of its offerings includes events for writers, painters, film enthusiasts, etc; art, dance, and music classes (for kids and adults); various creative guilds; art resources, and much more.
The historic courthouse is filled with a variety of exhibits (35+ a year on average) and artists-in-residence at any given time.
2020 highlights included a Georgia Clay Council exhibit, a national juried photography show, and “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” (presented in partnership with the Smithsonian). Their annual Holiday Show (starting 11/21) is also a popular favorite.
Visit the Expedition: Bigfoot Museum
This 4,000-square foot museum (located just outside Blue Ridge in Cherry Log) is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Ripleys! Believe It Or Not-style roadside attractions.
Owners David and Malinda Bakara have assembled an expansive collection of artfully displayed Bigfoot exhibits, artifacts, folklore, and memorabilia.
Their Sasquatch museum includes hundreds of documented Bigfoot encounters, recordings of Bigfoot sounds, and Bigfoot videos. Collectively, they present a compelling argument that these mythical creatures of the forest might truly exist.
There’s also an Adventure Outpost in downtown Blue Ridge with exhibits on unexplained phenomena such as UFOs, ETs, sea monsters, etc. Both locations feature gift shops filled with Bigfoot souvenirs, from t-shirts and stuffed animals to books, videos, and more.
White Water Rafting the Ocoee River
Though it’s known as the Toccoa River in Georgia (where it stretches 56 miles) and the Ocoee River in Tennessee (37 miles), the two rivers are actually one in the same.
And while floating gently down the Toccoa portion is a popular summer activity, white water rafting the Ocoee just across the state line is truly a wild adventure that everyone who visits Blue Ridge should try.
Founded in 1976, Ocoee Rafting is the oldest outfitter offering Ocoee rafting tours. These include tours of the world-class white water of the Upper Ocoee River (where the 1996 Olympic Slaloms were held); the Middle Ocoee River; or a 10-mile combo tour of both.
Tackling Class III-V rapids with names like Godzilla, Humongous, and Broken Nose is not for the faint of heart (or kids under age 12). But it is one hell of a pulse-pounding Blue Ridge experience you won’t soon forget! –by Bret Love; photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted