Dahlonega perches amid the southern Appalachian Mountains in northeast Georgia. Located only an hour north of Atlanta, this was the site of the first major U.S. gold rush in 1828, twenty years before the California Gold Rush. How'd it all get started? A deer hunter by the name of Benjamin Parks tripped over a rock a short distance south of what is now Dahlonega. When he examined the rock, he discovered it was full of gold. Within a year, around 15,000 miners rushed to the region hoping to strike it rich. Stories from that era claim that there was so much gold in the area that it could be spotted on top of the ground.
More to see and do
Chestatee Wildlife Preserve & Zoo is an exotic animal rescue and wildlife preserve. Residents include white Siberian tigers, African lions, grizzly bears and other exotic and endangered species.
Wildlife Wonders & Paradise Valley Farm are home to over 80 different species of exotic animals, including alligators, monkeys, kangaroos, wildcats, zebras and more.
Sunny Farms North offers horseback riding in a family-friendly atmosphere. Ride on your own or with one of their experienced trail guides.
Gold City Corral & Carriage Company is the place for horseback riding and dinner wagon cookouts. They'll drive your group in horse-drawn wagons for a ride to their rustic 1800s style "Riverhouse" for steaks and barbecue chicken cooked on the grill. Guided trail rides are also available.
Where to stay
Talk about a bargain! Set in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, Forrest Hills Mountain Resort & Conference Center is hardly more than a 3-hour drive for me. (To give you an idea of the location, we're talking around 45 minutes north of Atlanta.) Forrest Hills has it all. The property includes 29 cabins with luxurious hot tubs; 5 group lodges; 4 B&B rooms; 7 meeting rooms; 4 banquet rooms; a wedding chapel; wedding gardens; dining; spa services; carriage rides; horseback riding; a chuck wagon; volleyball courts; nature trails; seasonal outdoor pool; and tons more.
Whether you're thinking family vacation; romantic retreat; girlfriends' getaway; corporate gathering; wedding; honeymoon; women's ministry retreat; or just some restful downtime, Forrest Hills is the place to make it happen. And with rates that start as low as $49 a night (Bear's Den Lodge room specials), few resorts offer so much for so little.
Where to eat
You'll love dining at Forrest Hills, but you'll simply have to make time for a meal at the Historic Smith House Inn in Dahlonega. This lovely home was built in 1898, smack on top of a rich vein of gold - you can take a peek at the mine shaft after you've indulged in their incredible Southern buffet. Dozens of other eateries offer variety from barbecue to Mexican, Chinese, and Italian. Chocolate lovers should make sure they drop by Paul Thomas Chocolates and The Fudge Factory. Bikers can shop, mingle, and eat at Riders Hill, ranked by European Motorsports as the #2 Moto Guzzi dealership in the U.S. And even if you didn't bring your bike with you, Riders will rent you one to cruise the mountain backroads.
March: Dahlonega Trail Fest. The month of March brings on the annual Trail Fest which includes camping for hikers; well-known authors and hikers as speakers; films; music; shuttles to Springer Mountain and Amicalola Falls; vendors; plus workshops on safety, camping techniques, equipment and more. Fun trail-related activities like a 5k run, canoeing, kayaking, guided hikes and local tours are a part of the event, along with plenty of kid-friendly outdoor activities.
April: Bear on the Square Mountain Festival. Each April this festival means an exciting weekend of music and art. Oldtime and bluegrass music fills the Historic Public Square day and night with local, regional, and national musicians taking the stage. A juried artists' marketplace features traditional mountain art and crafts. Extensive music workshops, a Sunday morning Gospel Jam, a street dance, a live auction, children's activities and a heritage center demonstrating mountain traditions, along with plenty of good food, make Bear on the Square the perfect outing for the whole family.
May: Mountain Flower Art Festival. This is another Public Square event and it features over 70 artists working in mediums from pottery to photography.
June: Mountain Top Rodeo. You'll see nonstop action, world class competition and a midway packed with everything from a mechanical bull to funnel cakes.
Year-round: Each season has its own special events. See them all on the Dahlonega CVB website.