It looks to me like this weekend may be your last best opportunity to get out and enjoy the fall colors across North Georgia. During a walk through Ridge Ferry Park Thursday morning some of the colors were really vivid, though I suspect color at some of the higher elevations might be a bit past peak.

One of my favorite places to enjoy the color is Sloppy Floyd State Park. A wonderful way to spend a Saturday or Sunday is to take the canoe or kayak up to the park, put in on the upper lake and just paddle with my eyes fixed to the south. The tapestry of color on the north side of Taylor Ridge is spectacular.

If you don’t have a canoe or kayak, a hike on one of the park trails would accomplish the same purpose, as would a picnic with family or friends.

Cloudland Canyon and Fort Mountain State Park also offer some stunning vistas at this time of year. I’m not sure which one I like better. The view up Cloudland Canyon toward Chattanooga can be breathtaking. At the same time, the 0.8 mile nature trail around the back side of Fort Mountain, looking north toward Grassy Mountain in the Cohutta Wilderness, is also amazing.

Of course you don’t even have to go that far.

The ride across Lavender Mountain on Huffaker Road and then Big Texas Valley Road can be awe-inspiring as well. Ride up into The Pocket on Floyd Springs or Everett Springs road. The view on either side of the road is beautiful.

I grew up spending three days a week in Rappahannock County, Virginia, deep in the shadow of Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive. My grandparents on my mother’s side lived in a little village called Flint Hill, on US. 522.

I always looked forward to this time of year because of the color.

It was amazing to me how many people would literally pour out of Washington, D.C., to make the 60-mile drive to Front Royal, where they would get on Skyline Drive and meander down the narrow park service road to Sperryville, or go even further to Waynesboro.

The traffic jams coming back into D.C. from the mountains were unbelievable.

This whole COVID-19 thing has been an eye-opener for a lot of people who have never spent much time outdoors.

I’ve written, more than once this summer and fall, about how more people are getting outside and that is a good thing.

It’s good from so many different perspectives. From social distancing — which is so easy to do when you’re hiking through a 100,000 acre wilderness or kayaking down a gently rolling river — to the simple fact that you’re getting some exercise, which is always good for your health.

My doctor one time told me to think of my circulatory system as a river. If it’s not moving, it’s getting stagnant.

Another benefit is that when you and I use something, we’re much more likely to take care of it better.

It’s a shame that reality didn’t sink in for me years ago. I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors, but I was more often than not a passive participant.

There’s a world of difference between driving through the mountains on a beautiful fall weekend and hiking through the mountains, or padding a mountain lake with a breeze at your back.

I think one of the keys to actually being out in nature is that we’re forced to slow down.

Life goes by too quickly. The older I get, the faster life seems to rock along. I bet you’ve experienced that as well.

It never hurts to slow down and savor both the beauty and wonder of the world around us.

We’ve been blessed with unseasonably warm weather for the last couple of week and I think (I’m not a weather man or arborist) that probably extended the period of time over which the colors changed. There was a brief cold spell, but not a prolonged one, so here it is the middle of November and we’re still taking in the beauty that is nature.

I suspect that one of the reasons I like to get out and ride — and hike — through the mountains relates to my genes. My father had a serious wanderlust when it came to doing things he loved and I guess I got that gene.

In his case, it was taking in parades and going to carnivals. He would drive 100 miles to watch a parade or see what new amusement rides were being introduced on the carny circuit.

I don’t mind driving a couple of hours to enjoy a two-hour hike when I can see a spectacular waterfall or lush expanses of rhododendron or mountain laurel. If there is a chance to see a critter that I don’t generally see, that’s all the better.

The latter is a very specific reference to the elk that can be found in the Cataloochee Valley of North Carolina at this time of year. The last dozen or so miles are down a dirt/gravel road, which forces one to slow down even in an automobile.

Slowing down for colorful leaves in the mountains on the fringe of the Great Smoky range, or cutting the engine completely to dial into the sound of an elk bugling in the distance are not a problem.

Associate Editor and business columnist Doug Walker is always looking for news and tips about area businesses. To contact Doug, email him at DWalker@RN-T.com or call 706-290-5272.

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