Top Five Hikes in Blue Ridge

Get to know the best of Blue Ridge, 90 minutes north of Atlanta, with this series of posts featuring top five picks for hiking, waterfall watching and family fun.

A hiker’s paradise, Blue Ridge offers several major trail systems, including access to the Appalachian Trail which extends for more than 2,000 miles to Maine through many of the states on the Eastern Seaboard. Pursue these paths for outdoor explorations on one of the many trails in a system of over 300 miles, including short trails suitable for beginning hikers.

Aska Trails

Hike Blue Ridge’s Aska Trail System. (Photo Credit: Fannin County Chamber of Commerce)

1. Three Forks to Long Creek Falls – The hike to Long Creek Falls is a great way to experience the Appalachian Trail. This adventure includes a scenic 5.3-mile drive into the forest following Noontootla Creek to the Three Forks area where you will begin your two-mile round-trip hike following Long Creek to a beautiful cascading waterfall with two drops totaling 50 feet. Take a picnic to enjoy at the falls.

2. Swinging Bridge Trail – Another awesome excursion requires rambling the Benton MacKaye Trail south from Hwy 60 for three miles to be rewarded with sweeping views of the pristine Toccoa River flowing beneath a structure known simply as the “Swinging Bridge.” The longest suspension bridge east of the Mississippi, the passage was built by the USDA Forest Service and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in the mid-1970s.

3. Hike to the Appalachian Trail terminus – One of the greatest outdoor adventures in the world, the Appalachian Trail, begins in Fannin County at the top of Springer Mountain.

4. Aska Trails – This is a popular 17-mile trail system near Blue Ridge, with hikes that intersect and loop ranging from one- to 5.5-miles.

5. Benton MacKaye Trail to Fall Branch Falls – A short distance away and part of the larger Benton MacKaye Trail, Fall Branch Falls is a double waterfall with mountain laurel and rhododendron growing along the trail and creek bank. The hike to the falls is about 30 minutes round-trip.

Insider tip:
Visit the Self-guided Tours page on www.BlueRidgeMountains.com for complete descriptions and driving directions.

If you go:
From lake-view with a mountain vista and room for 20 to cabins hidden away and built only for two (hot tub included!) find links to cabin rental companies at www.BlueRidgeMountains.com.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Save Money at Georgia’s Theme Parks

Nothing says ‘summer’ like a visit to a theme park, and Georgia has quite a few. Whether you want to scream through a loop-de-loop on a roller coaster, spin around and around or just ride up and down on a merry-go-round, there’s a place for you and it’s closer than you might think. Here is what’s new this summer at three theme parks in Georgia, as well as a tip for how to save money on a visit.

Six Flags Over Georgia, Atlanta:Six Flags Over Georgia

This is probably the largest of Georgia’s theme parks and perhaps the most well known. New this year is The JOKER Chaos Coaster which rockets seven stories in the air, soaring through a bedlam of loops, suspending riders upside-down for a ravaging thrill; and Harley Quinn Spinsanity, a spinning, twisting and rolling ride through a cycle of classic family fun. Don’t forget your bathing suit for Hurricane Harbor, which was introduced in 2014.
Money Saving Tip: Do as much as you can in advance. Go to www.sixflags.com/overgeorgia and purchase your tickets, parking pass, Flash Passes, meal plans and/or season passes. You’ll save the most money for your visit by purchasing in advance. Also, plan your trip using suggestions from this post Tips for a Great Day. The advice is valid for any theme park visit, not just Six Flags Over Georgia.

Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta:Stone Mountain Park

The fun at Stone Mountain Park doesn’t need to end when the park closes. All new this year, stay in one of three Stone Mountain Park yurts, nestled lakeside in the park’s popular campground. This is glamping at it’s finest with yurts made of wood and canvas, featuring outside decks, picnic tables, charcoal grills, a fire pit and large water spigots for camping convenience. Inside each smoke-free yurt, are all the comforts of home with log furniture, heat and A/C, electric outlets, large windows, skylights, ceiling fans, lockable doors and sleep space for up to five guests. Just bring a sleeping bags and personal items.
Money Saving Tip: Visit Stone Mountain’s free attractions early in the day, like the covered bridge, outdoor granite museum, and the hike up the stone mountain. Plan to visit the paid attractions after 4 pm when prices go down with the sun. A Sunset Adventure Pass includes all your favorite attractions like the 4-D Experience, SkyHike, Geyser Towers, and the Antebellum Plantation and Farmyard, as well as terrace seating for the Laser Light show and unlimited popcorn until the start of the show, and an ice cold Coca-Cola beverage.

Wild Adventures, Valdosta:Wild AdventuresWild Adventures’ new ride, Jungle Rumble, takes guests swinging, swooping, climbing and dropping. Like a monkey swinging through the trees, the ride has no shortage of screeching and screaming. Riders swing back and forth before reaching four-stories high then plunge back down to the ground to do it all over again in reverse. The ride is designed for families to enjoy together with thrills for adults and kids. Once you’ve gotten your thrills on the roller coaster, head over to see the new squirrel monkey exhibit in a rejuvenated area of the theme park.
Money Saving Tip: Purchase your tickets at least 7 days in advance online and save $10. If you don’t have that much time, you can still save $8 by purchasing at least two days in advance. For those that can’t plan that far ahead, grab lunch at a nearby Subway in Valdosta, Albany or Columbus and pick up an $8 off coupon.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Edible Entertainment

You’ve just snagged a prime seat at the movie theater for this summer’s biggest blockbuster, but your excitement quickly turns to nausea. You’ve already had one too many handfuls of greasy popcorn—it’s coated with so much fake butter you can literally feel your arteries clogging as you chew. Not exactly the ideal date night. Thankfully, Atlanta’s top culinary talent has taken notice of this dilemma and a slew of talented gourmands are upping the date night ante and opening one-of-a-kind, chef-driven venues where the eats (think locally-sourced, seasonal dishes that wouldn’t be out of place at a James Beard winning restaurant) are equally as noteworthy as the entertainment. Tonight, make a beeline to one of these surprisingly scrumptious venues.

The Painted Pin

Photo Credit: The Painted Pin

Dinner and Bowling at The Painted Pin
Out: greasy, gristly chicken wings and stale beer. In: wood-fired pepperoni pizza laced with truffle oil, hand-cut fries loaded with cheddar, chiles, bacon, scallions and crema and uber-crispy fried chicken sliders with spicy mayo and housemade pickles. You’d never guess you were eating at a bowling alley, but Justin Amick, you may recognize him as the former sommelier at The Spence, has knocked down all 10 pins with his latest venture, The Painted Pin. The 23,000-square-foot gaming mecca is home to 20 vintage bowling lanes equipped with upscale service (personalized staff deliver balls and shoes laneside), incredible small plates—don’t miss the In-and-Out-inspired burger (we think theirs blows the original out of the water!)—craft cocktails and a wine list rivaling those in the city’s top restaurants. Be forewarned, there’s often a wait for bowling, but a indoor gaming courtyard chockfull of complimentary games (bocce courts, 10-foot Pop-a-Shots, shuffleboard, ping pong, Skee-Ball and Northamptonshire hood skittles) and live music will console you while you wait.

TopGolf Alpharetta

Photo Credit: TopGolf Alpharetta

Dinner and Golf at TopGolf
A day at the driving range hasn’t always been an activity to please the masses… until TopGolf opened in Alpharetta. Of course, TopGolf isn’t your average driving range. Not only does the 65,000-square-foot, three-story, dog-friendly facility boast more than 100 hitting bays (each with their own state-of-the-art digital scorecard and game center with HDTVs, not to mention covered seating with plush couches, fans and a dedicated server), but there’s something for every personality type—video games, pool tables, indoor lounges, rooftop fire pits and live music, to name a few. As if that weren’t enough reason to go, the food is so good you’ll quickly start reconsidering your country club membership. We recommend starting with an order of the wings—insanely crispy skin surrounds juicy, tender meat bathed in fun sauces like Asian Sesame—before moving onto their elevated plays on comfort food classics, like fried chicken and waffle sliders with spicy jalapeno gravy, a pulled pork sandwich a la Vietnamese banh mi’s, and a dangerously delicious burger topped with green chili mac ‘n cheese, all washed down with local beer from Jekyll Brewery, of course. For a sweet finish, go with the cinnamon-sugar-dusted donut holes, which are injected tableside with fillings like chocolate, raspberry jelly or Bavarian cream. And, coming soon: TopGolf Midtown!

Stationside

Photo Credit: Stationside

Dinner and a Concert at Stationside
Atlantans have been flocking to Terminal West for killer live music since 2012, but the addition of Stationside, the adjoining restaurant serving up sandwiches and snacks (think chicken enchiladas with salsa verde and chipotle-lime aioli, mac-and-cheese made with aged white cheddar and pimento béchamel breadcrumbs and Korean fried chicken with Simply Seoul kimchi), in 2013 pushed the King Plow Arts Center venue over the top. Chef Dan Brown’s, who hails from the legendary Porter Beer Bar, counter-service spot is a modern take on the traditional soup and sandwich joint offering up food so unheard of at a music venue (don’t miss the adobo roasted pork Cubans, chickpea burgers and San Marzano tomato soup), you’ll be hard-pressed to leave your trendy red oak table and make your way to the stage—though, you won’t have to miss a beat as TVs screen the live show next door while you nosh.

CinéBistro

Photo Credit: CinéBistro

Dinner and a Movie at Cinebistro
Forget about the aforementioned movie nightmare. No longer are you resigned to stale nachos with fake cheese and cheap candy, thanks to CinéBistro at Town Brookhaven, where each ultra plush, high back leather rocking chair is equipped with a dedicated server so you can nosh on uber crispy buttermilk fried chicken with loaded mashed potatoes, bacon and cheddar waffles and honeyed Tabasco while you watch. (Did we mention there’s complimentary popcorn and a full beer, wine and cocktail list, too?). Discuss the plot over a Peachtree Street cocktail (Maker’s Mark, peach purée and fresh lemon juice) afterward in the swanky lounge.

Jeju Sauna

Photo Credit: Jeju Sauna

Dinner and a Spa Visit at Jeju Sauna
It’s not often a relaxing visit to the spa comes hand in hand with exotic ethnic eats, but thanks to Duluth’s Jeju Sauna, one of the largest, most authentic Korean spas in the country, spagoers can finish their detox with refreshing fruit smoothies and juices, mandu (Korean dumplings), ddukbokgi (rice cakes stir-fried with sliced fish cake in a chile sauce) and traditional soups, like kimchi jjigae. Even better? You get to eat barefoot on the floor in an ensemble so comfy you may just want to curl up in one of the saunas afterward for a nap. In fact, Jeju provides each guest with this t-shirt and shorts outfit to wear as they journey through seven dry mineral saunas, each of which offers unique mind-body benefits. There’s also a junior Olympic size salt water pool, separate wet rooms for men and women (note: these are nude) complete with whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas, and it’s all just $25 per person, though add-on treatments (think foot detox, traditional body scrub or acupressure) are available for an additional fee.

KateKate is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and a freelance food and travel writer for more than 100 publications. Click here to read more culinary content from Kate

A Night on the Town in Augusta

In need of a night out or simply in need of a cocktail (or two – we won’t tell!)? Less than two hours from Atlanta, Augusta, Georgia, quenches the thirst for a good time with these must-visit watering holes.

Craft and Vine

The house rules at Craft and Vine brings an old-school Southern vibe to one of Augusta’s hottest nighttime spots.
Credit: Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau

Craft and Vine offers an upscale vibe and is tucked away on Broad Street. It’s the newest addition to Augusta’s Frog Hollow Hospitality Group, which also founded the city’s popular Farmhaus Burger and Frog Hollow Tavern. Expect dinner and a show – albeit not the typical performance. Bartenders evoke a “wow” factor while stirring old-timey drinks and shaking cocktails. Dishes meet big-city expectations without the associated metropolitan hassles. Plus, it’s one of the only places in Augusta featuring enomatic machines, or wine on drip, making it possible to savor sips of finer wines by the glass for tastings. There are no reservations, and, preserving the sometimes overlooked art of etiquette, house rules apply here: no cell phone usage inside, but texting is fine; please be patient (craft drinks are an art and take time to create – but are totally worth it); and, proper attire is required.

Hive Growler Bar

A mind-boggling number of taps at Hive Growler Bar will quench thirst no matter what you crave.
Credit: Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau

Think outside the pub with the Hive Growler Bar, Augusta’s newest night spot and an authentic tap house. Featuring locally- and regionally-sourced food like the city’s beloved The Bee’s Knees (same owners), it’s the bar’s beer, wine and craft cocktail selection that set it apart. Take a gander and you might think you’re seeing double before the first sip: 73 taps featuring more than 50 beer taps, 10 wine taps, five craft soda taps and five custom-made cocktail taps adorn the walls. You won’t find bottled or canned beer here. It’s all fresh and flowing. Taps change so often and the owners are so into sustainability that you will not find a printed tap list. But do not fear, big screen TVs display the most current tap lists, as does the bar’s website.

Experience Augusta like a local. Surrey Tavern is the neighborhood bar. Located in Surrey Center, this haunt is Augusta’s best kept secret – where the locals go. They’re famous for their laid-back atmosphere; an outdoor patio and live music set the tone for a great night for you and your friends.

Le Chat Noir is an intimate 100-seat black box theatre and lounge that is host to a variety of shows and events. Performances include classics like Les Miserables or Sweeney Todd. Night owls might enjoy Schrodinger’s Cat, Augusta’s premiere comedy improv troupe, during their eXtreme Theatre Games every First Friday.  Watch comedy performed on the spot as two teams of crack improvisers battle it out in the continuing quest for comedic domination. If you love Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Improvaganza, or other improv comedy shows, this is your spot.

Augusta

From bachelorettes to bachelors, couples to singles, Augusta’s variety of night spots makes it easy for everyone to enjoy a night on the town.
Credit: Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau

Feel the beat at Sky City, Augusta’s 500-capacity live music venue located in downtown. With an eclectic line-up each month there’s something on the set to satisfy every musical taste. Sky City also features themed nights like 80s Night during the first Friday of each month. What’s better than pulling out the leggings, oversized shirts with shirt clips, teasing your hair and listening to a little Duran Duran or Journey?

The Soul Bar features live music and is named appropriately for The Godfather of Soul and Augusta native, Mr. James Brown. Hang out, have a drink, or stop by and see a local band bring down the house. The Soul Bar is also famous for its theme nights. Favorites include 80s Night, 90s Night, Pop Life or Disc Hell. The theme nights will take you back, way back – and have you coming back to Augusta.

 

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Georgia’s Lesser-Known Sports Teams

Georgia sports fans are incredibly supportive of the state’s big league baseball, football and basketball teams. But those are not the only teams to play on the Georgia stage. Georgia’s lesser-known professional and semi-professional sports teams thrill fans with exciting competition and winning records and provide high-caliber competition for very little money.

Ice Hockey

The Thrashers may have flown to Winnipeg, but that doesn’t mean lovers of ice hockey can’t still enjoy the game here in Georgia. The Gwinnett Gladiators play in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) as the affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes. Since moving to Duluth for the 2003-04 season, the Gladiators have made the playoffs eight times. Each year the Gladiators thrill their fans at Gwinnett Arena with awesome promotions such as Star Wars night and a teddy bear toss.

Columbus Cottonmouths

Columbus Cottonmouths

In Columbus, the Cottonmouths are one of the top teams in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). Since helping found the SPHL, the Cottonmouths have never missed the playoffs and have won the championship twice, including receiving the inaugural Presidents Cup. The Cottonmouths are great supporters of their local community and promote both youth and adult leagues, teaching everyone how to skate and play the most popular game on ice.

Having first played as the Augusta RiverHawks from 2010 to 2013, the Macon Mayhem will begin playing as a member of the SPHL in the 2015-16 season. Even prior to the start of the new season, the Mayhem and the Cottonmouths are preparing for the fiercest rivalry in the SPHL!

Soccer

People are going crazy over the Major League Soccer expansion team coming to Atlanta. They start play in 2017 and, though they have yet to be named, are already growing a following. But before soccer at the highest level comes to Georgia, you still have the opportunity to check out some fantastic soccer sides.

Atlanta Silverbacks FC

Atlanta Silverbacks FC

For many, the Atlanta Silverbacks will always be Atlanta’s team. Atlanta Silverbacks Park is home to not only the North American Soccer League (NASL) side, but also the Women’s and Reserves’ teams. And did you know Reggie Bush and David Beckham filmed an Adidas commercial at the park? The Terminus Legion supporters group (emphasis on the “support”) has been instrumental in making Atlanta a prime soccer location.

Based in Conyers, the Georgia Revolution play in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL). Since their founding in 2010, they have twice made it to the later stages of the US Cup, each time losing by one goal to the in-state rival Silverbacks. The Revolution support a local chapter of the Super Y-League, giving local kids the chance to get out and play the game themselves.

Rugby

The Atlanta Rhinos also play at Silverbacks Park. They joined the USA Rugby League in 2014, forging a partnership with the Leeds Rhinos of Britain’s Super League.

Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club

Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club

Rugby Union is also popular in Georgia, with an entire region of USA Ruby based in the state. Teams are spread throughout Georgia with teams in Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Blue Ridge, Columbus, the Golden Isles, Gwinnett, Macon and Savannah. The Georgia Rugby Union also features a women’s team based out of Atlanta.

And to forget mentioning collegiate rugby would be an outrageous mistake. Life University has been one of the premier teams in both professional and college-level rugby for men and women.

Lacrosse

Fans of box lacrosse can rejoice as the Minnesota Swarm of the National Lacrosse League announced recently they will move to Georgia to become the Georgia Swarm and begin playing in Gwinnett starting with the 2016 season. Box lacrosse is an indoor version of the popular sport, creating a faster-paced, more intense game.

And for those fans of field lacrosse, Johns Creek plays host each year to the SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference Championships, and Kennesaw State University will play host to the ACC Championships in 2016 and the Major League Lacrosse Championship in 2015.