Georgia's Coolest Mountain Town

Make tiny Blue Ridge, Georgia, your base for exploring one of the most beautiful parts of the state. By Valerie Fraser Luess

Nestled in north Georgia's mountainous Fannin County, Blue Ridge is a hipster of a village where Appalachian roots branch out in all sorts of interesting directions. The town is part mountaineer, part hippie chick. It's authentic, adventurous, free-spirited, and inventive. And given its proximity to Atlanta and Chattanooga, Blue Ridge has become an enticing option for people who want to escape city life for the weekend or turn their commute upside down, embracing small-town mountain life and going to the city to do business. Blue Ridge is tiny—about 1,400 residents—but it's jam-packed with local shops and restaurants lining East Main Street. It lies in a scenic region that's known for apple orchards and wineries, and it's a manageable drive from some of Georgia's most popular small towns, including Dahlonega, Helen, and Ellijay.

The Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Blue Ridge, and the Toccoa River (which becomes the rowdy, raft-tipping Ocoee River at the Tennessee state line) offer spectacular natural beauty that attracts hikers, anglers, and paddlers. With Blue Ridge as your home base, you can also plan jaunts to other attractions, such as Tallulah Gorge State Park (about 70 miles away) and Amicalola Falls State Park (roughly 35 miles away).

"Blue Ridge really became more of a tourist attraction about 20 years ago," says local Tabetha Whitaker, managing owner of Mountain Top Cabin Rentals. "I think we're so fortunate to have had all the things that naturally occurred here and just fell into place. There was no master plan, because nobody knew we were going to become the booming tourist town we are now. "Whitaker makes a good case for renting a cabin, where you can have all the amenities to yourself. "People have the romantic idea of a house in the mountains, and ours live up to that," she says. "They all either have mountain views or are on the water—the two things that make a cabin special."

Chat with the locals, and you'll find that many of them are transplants who came here to visit, open a business, or spend time at their second homes but then decided not to leave. Bill Oyster is among them. He's a self-taught maker of fine bamboo fly rods—prices start at $2,400 and go all the way up to over $20,000, depending on the kinds of artistic embellishments requested. He has even made one for former President Jimmy Carter.People from all over the world come to Blue Ridge for weeklong classes at Oyster Fine Bamboo Fly Rods. Oyster says that his students love the idea of heading to a small town where they can stay at the inn above the shop, walk to dinner, make something they'll keep forever, and try out their new rods in Georgia's prime trout-fishing waters. And he also likes raising his children here: "We are breaking new ground with this generation—the kids who are growing up with an iPad in their hands. Everything is so virtual and immediate. Nature needs caring, thoughtful, and good people to be actively involved in it, because as soon as you're not, you won't notice when it's going away.