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Over the Falls

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

The geography of north Georgia is surprising in a lot of ways. In fact, north Georgia is
uncharacteristic of the rest of the state. Visions of mountains and outdoor adventure don’t
usually pop up whenever Georgia is mentioned. Nor does the song “Georgia on My Mind”
conjure up images of white-water rafting, waterfalls or gold-mining — but the area around
Dahlonega brags about being the site gold was first discovered in 1828, even before the
more famous California Gold Rush 20 years later. The heritage of Dahlonega is largely based
on the gold rush of the early 1800s. Evidence of that can be found all around town. From
the town center and the Lumpkin County Courthouse (now the Dahlonega Gold Museum), to the
outlying gold mines to the roof of the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta, the story of gold is
kept in the forefront of many a visitor’s mind. Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge
Mountains, about 70 miles north of Atlanta, Dahlonega and its neighbors have plenty to
offer visitors. Outdoor activities range from waterfall- and wildlife viewing to fishing,
hiking, white-water rafting and kayaking. You can also explore the history of the gold rush
by visiting actual gold mines and the museum, sample great restaurants and indulge in
everything from shopping to wine-tasting. Any Dahlonega-based itinerary could easily fill
several days by itself — but the nearby national forest and state parks hold much more for
the traveler interested in getting outside in north Georgia. Gold Mining
The name “Dahlonega” has its roots in a Cherokee word, Dalonigei, which means “yellow.”
Long before the settlers discovered gold here, the Indians already knew of its existence.
In 1828, news spread that gold had been found in the Cherokee Indians’ land in north
Georgia, and thousands of gold-seekers arrived in the area, kicking off the country’s first
major gold rush. In 1838, the Dahlonega mint opened and minted more than one million coins
(which amounted to approximately $6 million); when the Civil War began in 1861, the mint
ceased operation. The old Lumpkin County Courthouse (circa 1836) in the center of town is
the current location of the Dahlonega Gold Museum. It traces the history of the gold rush
and paints a realistic picture of the lives and times of the mine workers from the past.
When gold was discovered in California in 1848, most miners left Dahlonega — but the
heritage they mined stayed behind. There are a couple of gold mines still open to visitors.
In the Consolidated Gold Mine, guests can venture underground to see the workings of an
actual gold mine. At one time, the Consolidated Gold Mine was one of the largest mines east
of the Mississippi River. At another mine, the Crisson Gold Mine, visitors can pan for gold
and gems and see some of the original equipment used in mining. Outdoors
Among the mountains of north Georgia there are several state parks and national forest
lands that offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Hiking trails are
scattered throughout Vogel State Park, DeSoto Falls Recreation Area, the Chestatee Wildlife
Management Area and the Chattahoochee National Forest. All are within an easy drive of
Dahlonega, and most lead to majestic waterfalls. Amicalola Falls State Park, which has one
of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States, is near the origin of the
Appalachian Trail on Springer Mountain. One of the most distinctive features of the
Appalachian Trail occurs at Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi on Neel’s Gap on Blood
Mountain, just north of Dahlonega on U.S. Highway 129/19. The trail actually passes through
a building. Adjoining the Walasi-Yi, a hiking store and a stopover for hikers on the trail,
the trail briefly becomes a covered path under a short archway. If mild white-water fun is
desirable, there are outfitters that will lead excursions down the Etowah or Chestatee
Rivers. Canoes and kayaks are available for rental. Trout fishing is also popular in both
rivers. However, smaller streams tucked away in the mountains or along forested roadsides
might offer the best opportunities for catching trout. Two other activities that usually
take up a major portion of time while visiting new destinations are shopping and eating at
great restaurants — and Dahlonega is short on neither. Around the historic square and gold
museum are shops and restaurants that could fill entire afternoons or evenings and satisfy
any hunger. For an excellent evening meal, try the Oar House or the Smith House in
Dahlonega. For lunch, visit Turner’s Cafe at the intersection of Highways 19 and 129 —
called Turner’s Corner. Also at Turner’s Corner, an excellent and convenient campground
with full hookups is situated along the Chestatee River. Apparently this is a good
trout-fishing area, as well; the abundance of vehicles parked along the river access
usually tells the tale. North Georgia is fast becoming an area known for its wineries, and
there are several in the area. In fact, the Georgia Wine Highway passes through Dahlonega.
The rolling hills, the climate and the soil are conducive to the production of a variety of
grapes for wines. Several wineries have opened in the past few years, and the quality has
quickly risen to award-winning status.

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