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Fall break trips are becoming a tradition for my family. As I’ve told you in the past, the Crumblys historically haven’t vacationed well. There’s a lot of prep that goes into leaving a horse farm for five to seven days, and my husband and I both own small businesses, so we find it hard to shift our focuses for that amount of time — but we’re learning, and that’s a good thing.

This time, we chose to stay in my parents’ Ellijay, Georgia, cabin and venture out into the surrounding areas each day. We had great weather, and we were able to savor the outdoors as it should be enjoyed in mid-fall. I’m going to tell you about our travels in case you haven’t been to some of these spots.

Our first adventure involved the Gennett Poplar in northern Gilmer County. Some sources call this tree Georgia’s second largest, and we found it worth the walk to see its massive trunk, pitted by generations of woodpeckers, soaring up into the October blue above. The weather was a perfect 75 degrees — clear and sunny. The white gauze of the rapids of Bear Creek fell continuously below us, and the surrounding fall colors were nearly at their peak.

I’ve been traversing the trails and streams of North Georgia all my life, but this scene still took my breath when I first witnessed it. When we pulled into the parking area at the trailhead, the faucet-roar of the creek greeted us. A tapestry of fall leaves carpeted the forest floor, and sunlight filtered down in muted shafts, occasionally punctuated by the turn of a golden leaf floating silently down from the canopy above.

Words like a stream of tiny bubbles flitted through my mind: “And this is what the entrance to heaven looks like.”

And had we stayed at the trailhead, my impression would likely have been untouched, but the events that followed reminded me that the woods are still a wild place that will conquer a casual hiker if given half a chance. Here’s what I mean:

Backing up a few paragraphs — when I say “involved,” I mean the poplar was a part of our journey but other circumstances became the focus. We hiked the .8 miles to the tree and back with our two children. My daughter is older, and she did really well with this length hike. She crossed creeks and trudged up hills with nary a complaint. My son, however, is still a little young for that distance, and we ended up either moving at his pace or carrying him.

And then, there was me.

“How difficult can a .8-mile walk be?” I reasoned before setting out. “I’ll wear my flip-flops!”

And this decision would have been fine had my left shoe not broken halfway to the poplar, which was how I found myself trudging barefoot to and from the tree. Fortunately, the trails are well-maintained in this area, and the distance was relatively short. But by the end of the journey, I had stepped on my fair share of sharp pebbles and slogged through several icy, running stream beds. I was ready for a well-earned rest at Lin’s Garden in Ellijay, a locally owned, recently opened Chinese buffet, which I highly recommend.

Our next stop was in Blue Ridge, Georgia, where the visitor’s center invites sightseers to a fish hunt. There are beautifully designed trout likenesses — each a few feet tall — scattered throughout downtown, and visitors can walk around the area with maps that show the location of each fish, and they can fill in the names of each trout. My kids really loved that activity, and the fish were easily visible and placed close enough together so that we weren’t exhausted by the time we located them. We browsed through a few downtown stores afterward, including Huck’s General Store and Blue Ridge Book Sellers, and we ended the evening with dinner at the Circle J Family Steakhouse, a local restaurant with two of my favorite things — a nice salad bar and dessert for all (it was peach cobbler and ice cream that night). You’re probably noticing a trend as far as meals here. I like to devote vacation time to relaxing and finding new activities — not cooking — so, finding out where the locals eat has become a favorite way to cap off a fun day.

We also found time to play mini golf and do some gem mining off State route 515 between Blue Ridge and Ellijay, and near there, we took a turn through the Cohutta Country Store, a wonderful pet and livestock supply store that stocks just about anything one could need for their animals, from grooming supplies to specialty treats. My kids liked getting to use the provided coloring sheets and crayons and meeting the shop cat.

There was also some good, old-fashioned movie watching and downtime just playing with the toys at my parents’ cabin, along with a trip to Mack Aaron’s Apple House on U.S. Highway 52 a few miles outside Ellijay. I remember the crisp crunch of their granny smith apples from my childhood, and I enjoyed introducing my children to all the different apple varieties. The whole trip was very relaxing, and it was just long enough that when we returned I had pretty well forgotten how to care for a farm and get kids to school. It was a tough first day back to reality, to say the least.

There’s still time to head north and enjoy the fall colors, but don’t stay so long that you forget about real life as I did!

Elizabeth Crumbly is a newspaper veteran and freelance writer. She lives in rural Northwest Georgia where she teaches riding lessons, writes and raises her family. She is a former editor of The Catoosa County News. You can correspond with her at www.collective-ink.com.


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