Georgia: Dahlonega is Pure Gold
It's Pure Gold
Just an hour north of Atlanta, in the North Georgia Mountains, we drove into Dahlonega. Its heritage is one of gold. As the first major gold rush in 1828, it predates the California strike by almost twenty years. Most of the gold has been mined since then, but you can still try your hand at gold panning in the rivers or at one of the local panning tours. But Dahlonega offers more than gold history. As the heart of Georgia Wine Country, it sports more than 5 wineries in the immediate area. The picturesque views from the wineries are worthy of an afternoon spent with a glass of wine and a friend. And those views hint at the treasure trove of outdoor activities waiting. Rivers, streams, and waterfalls invite a dip into the cool mountain water, while an abundance of trout entices the fisherman and chef. We enjoy hiking in this area of the state and there are so many trails to explore. In nearby Dawsonville, is the approach to the Appalachian Trail or in Blue Ridge you can pick up the Benton-MacKaye Trail. Along with a selection of shorter trails, the Cherokee National Forest is a hikers delight.
There are several state park campgrounds suitable for RVs in North Georgia, but the one we enjoy frequently is Amicalola Falls State Park. It is deep in the woods in Dawsonville, Georgia, and just a short drive to Dahlonega. The campground is on the mountain and the steep road is about a 25% grade. It leads to campsites tucked into the hillside and along a grassy meadow. The check-in point is at the Nature Center at the entrance to the park. You will find a collection of reptiles, a local wildlife diorama and lots of books, brochures, and gift items side by side with the check-in desk. The campground entrance is across from the viewing platform at the top of Amicalola Falls, a 700 foot-drop waterfall in the center of the park.
Things To Do
Walk the Square
The quaint downtown square area is surrounded by shops and eateries. In the middle of the square stands the Gold Museum offering a glimpse into this area's gold rush in the 1800's. You can easily spend an afternoon browsing the shops, but there is more to this area than the main street.
We didn't try this but it is one of the big draws for visitors. You can purchase a bucket of gravel from a local quarry and learn to pan like an expert. You might also try panning in the river to see if you can strike it rich!
Diving Bell Exhibit
We noticed a lovely park with a pergola behind the town square and walked over to take a look. There we found a rare example of an underwater diving bell used for mining gold from the river bottom. It turned up when a developer began surveying the area and saw the top protruding from the river. He rescued and restored the vessel, donating it to the city for display.
Maibaum Tree in Hancock Park
A 20+foot tall sculpture in the shape of a pine tree stands in Hancock Park. It is a totem pole of sorts, with the history of the area carved in steel figures on seven branches. From native inhabitants to the current era, figures outline the development of Dahlonega.
Sample the local Wineries
There are five wineries in the immediate area. No wonder they call it the heart of Georgia Wine Country! You can sample area wines in downtown Dahlonega tasting rooms, but it is just a short drive to see each of the wineries. We visited Frogtown's 44-acre vineyard with a couple of local friends. Talking with them we learned there is another "Frogtown" in south Georgia where they grow Muscadine grapes, while the north Georgia vineyard grows Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay and several additional varieties. We also stopped by the Three Sisters Winery, named for the Three Sisters Mountain to the west. This 184-acre family farm makes it easy to enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery with a glass of estate-grown wine on their rock-walled patio.
With the Chestatee and Etowah Rivers, there is ample opportunity for fishing, tubing, and kayaking. There are class 1, 2 and 3 rapids in this area so do your homework before you put-in! Hiking trails abound and you can find a trail for almost any level hiker. We opted for a hike up a small creek off of Castleberrybridge Road near Dawsonville. It is mostly a flat area, but the water is lovely and, in the fall, the tree color is magnificent.
All around the square downtown are shops and eateries. The Gold Museum is in the center of the square and there is street parking all around the square for cars. Stop in at Ole Mountain Boutique for an interesting selection of clothing and accessories or Naturally Georgia for locally made items.
We walked around downtown enjoying the shops until we were hungry. So, following a tip from a friend who lives in the area, we decided on Shenanigans for lunch. We followed our host to a table in the main dining room and noticed dollar bills papering the walls and ceiling of the place. We asked about the 'decor' and our server told us that in Ireland, people would write the name of a friend who was going off to war on a dollar bill and nail it to the wall. If they didn't return, the bill would be a reminder of them. If they did return, the dollar would buy their first drink! At Shenanigan's the tradition has grown to commemorate almost any person or event you like. Nice tradition! Our meal was traditional as well - perfect fish and chips and craft beer on tap. We lingered there enjoying the atmosphere before heading back into the cold and on to our next destination: A sweet-treat-stop at Connie's Ice Cream Parlor is a must... even in the cold weather!
Hit the Reset Button
This area is all about getting outdoors. Rivers, creeks, and a variety of hiking trails offer quiet spots for observing nature. Amicalola Falls State Park has an approach trail for the Appalachian Trail if you are so inclined, but a real gem for hitting the reset button is the Hike Inn. It is located about a 5-mile hike along the AT approach trail and is a rustic retreat. Family-style meals encourage stories among the hikers and the 'unplugged' atmosphere will help you downshift your stress.
Don't Forget To Bring
- Camera (or cell phone camera) The town square is quaint and the gold-panning would be a fun video to share.
- Hiking boots. The mountains are lovely and there are dozens of hiking trails to explore in the area.
- Trekking Poles. If you are going hiking, these little "helpers" can keep you more stable on the trail.
- Compass. If you are going to tackle any of the hiking trails take a compass and know how to use it. Getting lost on a day-hike is no fun!
Parking an RV
There are a few public parking areas in downtown Dahlonega, but most are too small for an RV. We found one large enough to accommodate our small RV behind Hancock Park in a small shopping center. Plan on parking on the edge of downtown and walking. It is a compact downtown, so the walk is pleasant and there are lots of shops to visit along the way.