Day Tripping in Ellijay

Written By: Bre Humphries

NO MATTER THE SEASON, ELLIJAY OFFERS AMPLE OPPORTUNITIES TO GO OUTSIDE AND DO THINGS

ONCE UPON A TIME, migratory trails passed through Ellijay and Gilmer County during the 1800s, drawing pioneering farmers to the area. After cotton moved south, crops like peaches, blueberries, and apples replaced it, and Ellijay became a hub for travelers seeking health in the fresh, mountain air. During the Great Depression, many of the hotels and businesses along Main Street fell into disrepair, but in recent years, the hospitable vibe of this little hamlet in the North Georgia foothills has been coming back to life.

Today, Downtown Ellijay is buzzing with local businesses, but it’s more laid-back than some of the other resort-style mountain towns—the perfect place to refresh and refuel after exploring an area ripe with recreational opportunities.

The anglicized form of the Cherokee name Elatseyi, which means “new ground” or “green space,” Ellijay and its sister town of East Ellijay are fertile lands indeed, dotted with orchards, farms and vineyards. The area is also home to the Ellijay, Cartecay and Coosawattee rivers, which converge just south of town, making this a great destination for anglers or anyone who simply likes to relax by the riverbank.

Though summer still attracts visitors seeking that cool mountain air and fall draws families in droves for the Georgia Apple Festival, there’s something for every season in this amiable town. In the winter, the crowds here start to thin but Georgia’s mostly mild weather means you don’t have to wait until spring to get out and explore Ellijay.

WHERE TO WANDER

Dahlonega may be the heart of North Georgia wine, but as agritourism has expanded all across the state, Ellijay Wine Country has become a destination all its own. The region, which comprises Gilmer and neighboring Pickens County, currently boasts seven vineyards and counting, so a day of vine-hopping is both feasible and fun.

Designate Go Wine! Tours as your transportation for the day, or plan your own self-guided tour, starting with an afternoon at Ellijay River Vineyards. Here, you can sample wine in a small barn on-site, but the real appeal is buying a bottle to enjoy at the river bend, where Adirondack chairs, swings and a fire pit make for a picturesque picnic spot. For a more traditional tasting room experience, kick back with killer mountain views at Ott Farms & Vineyard, or cozy up by the roaring fire at Cartecay Vineyards, both of which offer live entertainment, light bites and often food trucks on the weekends.

Of course, you can’t come to Georgia’s Apple Capital without paying a visit to one of its famed apple barns, no matter the season. Though many orchards cease outdoor activities during the winter, you can still enjoy the fruits of their labor with a visit to the market at B.J. Reece Orchards for fried apple and pumpkin pies, rolls, fudge, cake, dried apples, donuts and more.

When you’re ready to stretch your legs, lace up your hiking boots for a trek along the Tumbling Waters Trail, an easy 1-mile out-and-back hike that meanders through the forest in the Ridgeway Recreation Area at Carters Lake and across a wooden bridge to a series of waterfalls on Tails Creek. More adventurous souls may want to explore the Cohutta Wilderness Area, which boasts 13 trails totaling more than 87 miles of remote, often rugged hiking through the Cohutta Mountains, Georgia’s portion of the Smoky Mountain range.

For more recreation, book a day of fishing with Reel ‘Em In Guide Service on the Cartecay River or hit the links at Whitepath Golf Club, which offers unique scenery from its elevated tees.

WHERE TO EAT

Start your day with a strong cup of Joe at Ellijay Coffeehouse—touted as “your local living room,” the warm space invites you to linger over a book or board game in one of its cozy seating areas, peruse a selection of vintage toys, records and local goods, and power up with a breakfast Panini or the house-made granola that fills the space with the scent of cinnamon.

After your morning adventures, head back to River Street Tavern for a burger made with local beef from nearby Bear Creek Cattle Co. and a cold craft beer. Next, hop over to MooBears Ice Cream for a sweet hand-dipped treat.

At happy hour, head to Cartecay Wine & Craft, the downtown tasting room for Cartecay Vineyards, where you can sample flights of wine or local craft beers. Winter favorites include the rich, full-bodied Law Man Red, the seasonal, sweet Chimney Noel and Cartecay Sol, a unique beer/wine hybrid made in partnership with Fannin County Brewing in Blue Ridge.

Climb to The Roof for cocktails at sunset (we recommend The Hatfield, with vanilla-infused bourbon, coffee bitters, sorghum and a toasted cinnamon stick), then stay for dinner or stroll next door to Emily’s Bar and Restaurant for a swanky setting with seasonal fare like seared diver scallops with a ragout of Ellijay Mushrooms, grown just nine miles north of town.

WHERE TO SHOP

Whether you’re in the mood for treasure hunting at antique stores or stocking up on modern goods, there’s a shop for that in Downtown Ellijay.

Start your search at Outback Antiques and Treasures, a charming red barn peddling goods from more than 30 vendors. Next, stroll up River Street to Whimz Boutique for trendy yet affordable wares for women and children, or hop across the street to Mountain Hounds for supplies for your four-legged friends. Continue on to Lavish for casual apparel to keep you cute and comfy during your area explorations (our favorite find: a T-shirt with the slogan Go Outside and Do Things).

Take a left on South Main Street to stock up on gourmet goods at Blue Ridge Olive Oil Co., then circle the square to Artful Ellijay, an interior décor heaven that makes us swoon with its selection of home goods and hand-crafted accessories. Finish your shopping spree at Mountain Treasures, the perfect place to find a gift for anyone on your list, from kids to foodies to outdoor enthusiasts. After your purchase, pop into the back of the store for free tast- ings of local wines and spirits.

WHERE TO STAY

Steep yourself in Ellijay’s history without forgoing modern comfort at the Ellijay River House Bed & Breakfast. The charming 1915 craftsman-style house was initially home to one of Ellijay’s earliest business tycoons—a hotel proprietor and owner of the first automobile in town.

Current owners Keith and Karen Kreager have masterfully restored the property while maintaining its historic character, including the preservation of many original features like windows and light fixtures, which blend beautifully with tasteful interior design touches by Artful Ellijay. The four-bedroom house, situated on the Ellijay River and just steps from downtown shops and restaurants, is perfect for romantic getaways or a small group of girlfriends. Here, you can take refuge by the fire each evening and wake up to a homecooked breakfast by the riverbank each morning.

For larger groups and families, consider one of the area’s magnificent mountain-view or riverside cabins. Mountain Oasis Cabin Rentals offers various options on the Cartecay River and nearby creeks, and Blue Sky Cabin Rentals’ properties in the Coosawattee River Resort provide unparalleled river access along with resplendent accommodations.

To plan your day trip to Ellijay, please visit pickellijay.com.

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