Day Trip to Clarkesville

Written By: Bre Humphries

Tucked into Georgia’s northeast corner, the historic town of Clarkesville was once peppered with hotels to provide a reprieve for families escaping South Georgia’s heat. Though the landscape has changed, and the hotels long gone, the allure of this area remains the same. Movie buffs may recognize the city as the site of a few films—most notably “Wanderlust” with Jennifer Anniston and Paul Rudd.

But no amount of Hollywood attention has changed its quiet, small-town charm.

In fact, the true celebrity in this area is undoubtedly the Soque River, which extends for 30 miles through Habersham County and winds just beyond the heart of town. Elusive in its limited access, the Soque runs through mostly private land, and tempts anglers across the country aching to hook the colossal trout that thrive here.

Add to that the proximity to Lake Burton, which draws visitors seeking luxurious lake living in the warmer months, and you’ve got more than enough motivation to visit Clarkesville this season.

WHERE TO WANDER

Offering two of the most exclusive fly-fishing experiences in the state, Brigadoon Lodge and Blackhawk Fly Fishing beckon anglers with premier access to two separate private stretches of the Soque River.

Brigadoon’s elite fish camp may be named after a Scottish myth, but big fish stories are not simply fairytales here; you’re nearly guaranteed to reel in trophy trout of epic proportions. The operation is entirely catch-and-release, and unique elevation changes in this bend of the river release plenty of oxygen into the water, ensuring the perfect conditions for nurturing monster-sized fish. The 16-acre property is especially scenic in the spring, when 300-year-old mountain laurels, azaleas and rhododendron bloom.

Located just a few miles upriver along Scenic Hwy. 197, Black Hawk Fly Fishing is a top-notch destination for both experienced and beginner anglers, offering a comprehensive agritourism experience on a 125-acre farm complete with guided fishing in private waters, plus a field-to-fork lunch featuring ingredients from the property’s own year-round garden. (You can also book owner and chef Abby Jackson’s catering services for a gourmet dinner or pick up a jar of her prized pickles and salsas.)

If you’d prefer to explore through the air or atop a horse, make your way to Sunburst Adventures, an outdoor recreation center the whole family can enjoy. Choose from activities like gentle horseback rides to the property’s old moonshine still, guided ATV tours along scenic mountain terrain, and hands-free ziplining over treetops and even through a cave on select tours. The ziplines are suitable for guests as young as two—a rare find that makes Sunburst a spectacular choice for all ages.

Just outside of downtown Clarkesville, Sam Pitts Park is the perfect pit stop for a picnic on the Soque. And be sure to stroll through the historic Mauldin House and Gardens in the heart of town, which doubles as the city’s visitor’s center. The circa 1880 farmhouse and adjacent millinery shop offer a jaunt back in time, while the garden is a delight for the senses each spring.

Located just a few miles upriver along Scenic Hwy. 197, Black Hawk Fly Fishing is a top-notch destination for both experienced and beginner anglers, offering a comprehensive agritourism experience on a 125-acre farm complete with guided fishing in private waters, plus a field-to-fork lunch featuring ingredients from the property’s own year-round garden. (You can also book owner and chef Abby Jackson’s catering services for a gourmet dinner or pick up a jar of her prized pickles and salsas.)

If you’d prefer to explore through the air or atop a horse, make your way to Sunburst Adventures, an outdoor recreation center the whole family can enjoy. Choose from activities like gentle horseback rides to the property’s old moonshine still, guided ATV tours along scenic mountain terrain, and hands-free ziplining over treetops and even through a cave on select tours. The ziplines are suitable for guests as young as two—a rare find that makes Sunburst a spectacular choice for all ages.

Just outside of downtown Clarkesville, Sam Pitts Park is the perfect pit stop for a picnic on the Soque. And be sure to stroll through the historic Mauldin House and Gardens in the heart of town, which doubles as the city’s visitor’s center. The circa 1880 farmhouse and adjacent millinery shop offer a jaunt back in time, while the garden is a delight for the senses each spring.

WHERE TO EAT

While you’re in town, refuel at The Copper Pot, a brick oven eatery just north of the square. The trendy space boasts an open indoor dining room and a large patio just perfect for warm spring days. The menu is heavy on burgers and pizzas, but we recommend one of its more unique offerings—the Gateway Grits with local Nora Mill grits, bacon and cheese topped with fried chicken, a seasonal vegetable, a cheddar drop biscuit and sriracha honey drizzle. Wash it down with a cold beverage from the restaurant’s extensive list of craft beers and cocktails.

To please even the pickiest of eaters, you can’t go wrong at Fresco’s on the square. The restaurant’s vibe is a bit Tex-Mex, but its menu truly offers something for everyone, from tacos and lasagna to gyro’s and Asian-inspired dishes. Need a little help narrowing down your selection? Try the Fresco’s chicken with lemon sauce and mashed potatoes.

If Lake Burton is your main destination, you’d be remiss without a visit to one of its waterfront eateries. The Chophouse at Laprades Marina is a long-standing favorite for fine dining, offering both an upscale restaurant and casual bar and grill. And new to the area is Bleu Canoe Restaurant and Campground, the latest venture from Jim White of Athens’ famous Harry Bissets, bringing affordable Cajun fare in a laid-back setting to the banks of Burton.

WHERE TO SHOP

When you’re ready to really shop til you drop, head into town for a day along Washington Street. Start on the north end of town at Wood’s Mercantile, a family-owned furniture and home accessories store established in 1961, which may have some porch-perfect finds to take home.

From there, head to Erin London for boutique women’s clothing at affordable prices, then on to Elizabeth & Co. Resale Treasures, which offers an ever-changing inventory of vintage and handmade items alongside updated antique furniture hand-painted by Elizabeth herself.

Find even more antiques, art and home décor around the corner at Erwin Rush, then stroll on down to Of These Mountains, an ode to outdoor recreation in the area with its line of lifestyle apparel. Pop across the street to The Market on Washington, a stylish gift shop peddling beauty products, home goods, children’s trinkets and gifts. (There’s even a kid’s corner to keep little shoppers entertained!)

Walk back north to explore Rahab’s Rope, a shop with a purpose that exists to empower women and children in India in the fight against human trafficking. Proceeds from store’s carefully curated selection of worldly home goods and accessories support the company’s efforts through mission trips, prevention programs and more.

Last but certainly not least, end your shopping excursion at Soque Artworks, where you’ll find the work of more than 100 artists in media from folk art and wood carving to jewelry and gourd work. And since all the works in the gallery are made from individual artists from the region, it’s the perfect time for picking a cherished souvenir from your visit to this quaint North Georgia town.

And if your trip takes you along Scenic Hwy 197, be sure to stop at Mark of the Potter, a store and studio sitting right on the Soque. Peruse personalized gifts and pottery and snap a photo in front of the historic gristmill outback.

WHERE TO STAY

Rental cabins abound around Lake Burton, but if you prefer full-service hospitality, a night or two at Glen-Ella Springs is in order. The ultimate mountain retreat, the inn offers both rooms and suites and an array of on-site amenities. Springtime guests will enjoy a pool with beautiful meadow views, a garden alight in color from April through November, and–best of all—its award-winning restaurant, which dishes out upscale fare in a rustic setting; reservations are recommended for dinner, while breakfast is complimentary for inn guests.

If fishing is what brings you to the area, both Brigadoon Lodge and Blackhawk Fly Fishing offer fish camp and farmhouse-style accommodations for anglers. Or opt for a weekend in the wilderness by booking a cabin or tiny RV at Bleu Canoe.

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