Fall is a very special time in the mountains and it's all about the leaves changing AND festivals! Many of the towns in the North Georgia Mountains welcome guests with festivals large and small celebrating the past year, the past century or the current crop. Here's a little tour of just a few of the fairs, festivals, and good times to be enjoyed in the North Georgia mountains.
Travel north to Ellijay during the second and third weekend in October and you will run into the Georgia Apple Festival. Gilmer County began growing apples at the start of the 20th century, and reduced the dependence on cotton for this North Georgia County. When the "cotton bust" roared through in the 1920's, courtesy of a drought and the boll weevil, the apple crop was unaffected. Gilmer suffered less than surrounding counties. Today Gilmer County produces more apples than any other county in the state! The Georgia Apple Festival features local and regional craftspeople, many who live and work near Ellijay.
Further to the east is the tiny town of Varnell, Georgia. Here, on the banks of Cohulla Creek at a place the Cherokee called Fish Kill Shoals, Benjamin Prater built a gristmill. He developed the mill into what could best be described as a rural industrial complex, adding a blacksmith, carding shop, cotton gin, and a general store. It was near the mill that Confederate General Joseph Wheeler attacked elements of Union General John Schofield's Army of the Ohio that were separated from the main body of the force in one of the first encounters of the Atlanta Campaign.
Through the hard times in north Georgia, the drought of1865-68, repeated cotton busts, the intrusion of the boll weevil, the drought of 1925, the Great Depression, Mr. Prater's mill continue to operate. When the last owners decided to quit, a group of local people organized the mill into a historic site. While the grounds are open year-round, the mill is only open twice yearly, during the Prater's Mill Country Fair and is the only time the public is invited inside the antebellum mill.
In addition to self-guided tours of the historic mill, cotton gin and country store, more than 200 crafters and artisans from Georgia and the Southeast offer their wares. This year's festival is held Columbus Day weekend.
Following Highway 52 east across the rugged southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains, our next stop is Dahlonega and Gold Rush days, the celebration of north Georgia's first major industry and America's first Gold Rush. On the third full weekend in the month of October, citizens from around the world make their way to tiny Dahlonega. With over 300 vendors, Gold Rush Days claims the prize as northeast Georgia's largest fair. In addition to bluegrass music there are such traditional festivities as hog calling, a liar's contest, crosscut sawing, clogging and buck dancing.
North and east of Dahlonega lies the Nacoochee Valley. Nestled inside the western end of this valley is Helen, Georgia, and while Dahlonega may host northeast Georgia's biggest fair, Helen hosts its biggest party. Copied from the Bavarian capital of Munich, Oktoberfest reigns as a sheer delight as thousands of people make way to the Alpine capital of the Eastern United States. Serving up the traditional Marzen brew, Helen rejoices in its Bavarian heritage for six weeks a year, from the middle of September to the first week of November. Oompah-pah music rings throughout the village from the Festhalle just a block from downtown.
Fall's last festival comes as the days shorten and weather cools, and the brilliant colors of fall turn to the muted hues of winter. During the first week of December Marietta holds its traditional Pilgrimage. In celebration of Christmas, local residents open their seasonally decorated homes for visitors. These splendid homes, in some cases antebellum, offer a rare glimpse into the lives and lifestyles of the period. The houses are viewed by small groups of people, allowing an intimate atmosphere. These homes are truly a beauty to behold and memories of this Pilgrimage will last a lifetime.
Whether you spend a day or a weekend in the mountains, it will be a special part of your visit to Atlanta. It's possible to rent cabins high on a mountaintop for two or an entire family. Count on a splendid view and a large Jacuzzi tub on the front porch...add a couple of rockers and an old porch swing and you may never want to leave. Come to the big city and enjoy the city life with a day or two in the mountains. It's a winning combination, especially in the fall when the mountains put on such a show...AND it's absolutely FREE.