The Train’s the Thing: A Twofer in Northeast Georgia
The wailing whistle of the train signals it’s almost time to start the one-hour journey from Blue Ridge to McCaysville. The conductor hollers “All aboard!” and eager passengers respond enthusiastically.
The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is just one of the many reasons to head to Fannin County this fall. The ride is 13 miles each way and departs from downtown Blue Ridge, taking passengers along the banks of the Toccoa River, beneath tall hardwoods. In the fall, the maples, oaks and other trees paint a picturesque scene as the first chill of the season arrives.
“Our conductors and car captains offer historic and scenic tidbits throughout the journey,” says Jode Mull, director of tourism services & development for the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce, which serves both Blue Ridge and McCaysville. “Along the way, glimpses of trout fishermen, paddlers and canoers in the river are complemented by old telegraph poles, former bridges and peeks at wildlife, from turkeys to beavers.”
The train leaves from the downtown depot in Blue Ridge, and 60 minutes later, passengers disembark to explore downtown McCaysville. With nearly a dozen restaurants offering everything from American fare to pizza, sweets and Mexican cuisine, there’s no shortage of lunch choices. One of the newest is Burra Burra, with outdoor riverfront seating, juicy burgers, gourmet pecan chicken salad on a croissant, and shrimp tacos. It’s worth the walk across the river.
After lunch, spend some time exploring the new indoor Riverwalk Shops mall for everything from designer decor to local and regional fine arts and crafts.
When you visit McCaysville, you could have an identity crisis because the town is bisected by the Georgia-Tennessee state line. The blue line painted on store floors, sidewalks and streets designate what state you’re in. A colorful fire hydrant – one side painted Georgia Bulldog red and black and the other painted Tennessee Volunteer orange – challenges visitors’ Southeastern Conference loyalties. The IGA grocery parking lot is split down the middle.
In warmer weather, if you’re adventurous, rent a kayak, tube or paddleboard and spend some time on the water during your visit. Several companies in McCaysville, including Toccoa River Tubing Company and Rolling Thunder River Company, can arrange rafting trips or simply provide the equipment. You can also bring your own kayak, raft or tube and put in at one of the river’s access points.
Parts of the river are well suited for a lazy float; other areas can be more challenging. “The personality of the river all depends on whether the Tennessee Valley Authority is generating power,” Mull explains. “If water is being released, many of the rapids and rocks are underwater, so your journey becomes a much faster float.”
Many people simply enjoy floating on Lake Blue Ridge, which is 11 miles long and was formed by damming the Toccoa River. Its 65 miles of shoreline include camping, boat ramps, a full-service marina, swimming and picnic areas.
After a couple of hours in McCaysville, the train’s whistle beckons patrons for the return trip to Blue Ridge. It’s customary for passengers to switch sides so that they can enjoy a brand-new view. Sixty minutes later, the train is back in Blue Ridge, leaving plenty of time to explore the shops, antique malls and art galleries, grab an ice cream and pick a spot for an early supper.
Blue Ridge is known for its art galleries and locally made products. Canoe, a boutique that sells products made from handmade leather and other natural materials, was founded there and has two shops in Blue Ridge – one featuring women’s fashion handbags, belts, jewelry and home accessories, and another called Oar, with specialty items for men. Turning Leaf Gallery and High Country Art both showcase local and regional art.
Fannin County is Georgia’s trout fishing capital, and the folks there know how to show their pride. In both Blue Ridge and McCaysville, colorful 4-foot jumping trout statues remind visitors that some of the best trout are caught in this part of the state.
“We have created a fun Kids’ Trout Art Trail for kids and their parents or grandparents to explore,” Mull says. “Stop by one of our three visitors centers to pick up the brochure as well as our Family Fun Adventure Game & Coloring Book to learn more about the area with these fun and interactive activities.”
When you visit Fannin County, you’re in the heart of apple country, and nothing is better than just-picked apples in the fall. Stop by Mercier Orchards for produce, jams and jellies, steaming fried pies and fresh breads.
To learn more about a day trip to Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Fannin County, visit Blue Ridge or call 706-632-5680.