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Take a Sunday drive to see the fall colors

With gas prices down, why not load up the car and take in North Georgia's seasonal beauty?

POSTED: October 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Out-of-the-way mountain roads like this one are one of the best way to see the fall scenery in Northeast Georgia, but there are plenty of main highways that offer spectacular views as well.

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Its time to revive the Sunday drive.

Gas prices have overcome a post-hurricane supply shortage, and North Georgia's hardwoods are dressing for their last and most spectacular showing of the season.

The Times spoke with a few of the locals who live and work on some of Northeast Georgia's scenic highways about a few of their favorite places, back roads included, for a scenic Sunday drive.

The list is not conclusive by any means, but it gives you a good place to start -- and stop along the way -- on your Sunday afternoon outing.

Ga. 197: Clarkesville to Lake Burton
The Soque River faithfully follows travelers on this popular scenic highway. Johnie McElroy, who has been living in the Clarkesville area for 22 years, has a long list of all of the good things to see on a drive from Clarkesville to Lake Burton.

"It's quaint and its narrow and winding and it's fun to drive on," she said. "You can go for a long time and not see anything and little neat things will pop up at you."

There are folk art museums, restaurants, rock shops, garden stores and pottery shops. McElroy works at one of the most popular of them, the Mark of The Potter.

The store, located about 10 miles north of Clarkesville in the community of Batesville, is a converted grist mill situated right on the Soque River. There is a waterfall in the basement, and some of the old mill still stands, McElroy said.

On the weekends, travelers can usually catch one of the potters working the wheel and feed some of the "mammoth" trout that swim out back.

Virginia Webb, a beekeeper from the Clarkesville area, says the 20-mile drive to Lake Burton is a wonderful day trip for anyone wanting to catch the trees dressed in their season's best.

"It's even better if you spend a day and a half to two days," she said. "... The leaves are just beautiful."
Webb owns Mtn. Honey, and has a self-service honey stand just off the highway north of Clarkesville where travelers can pick up locally made Sourwood and Wildflower honey any time of the day.

The road is also called the Moonshine Highway, McElroy says, "because that's how people up here back in the day made their living."

If there is no rush to reach a destination, McElroy suggests hitting some of the pig trails off the highway. One of her favorites is Goshen Valley Road, just north of the intersection of Ga. 197 and 356.

"Goshen Valley (Road) is a really pretty ride, but it doesn't really go anywhere," McElroy said. Once the road reaches Lake Burton, travelers can visit the family-style restaurant LaPrades, or just enjoy the view. The view is one of the best in the state, McElroy said.

"Its a huge lake ... one of the prettiest in the state, I think, because it has the mountains around it," she said.

Ga. 60: Dahlonega, Suches, Morganton
Suches basket maker Jan Stansell loves traveling the roads off this serpentine state highway when she is headed nowhere in particular.

The Gaddistown Valley, just a few miles north of Suches, is a perfect area for one to drive and enjoy the fall foliage, Stansell says. Wanderers can break off of the state highway onto Gaddistown Road (it's on the left if you are traveling north), and drive through the valley for a perfectly painted pastoral scene, Stansell said.

The road is a simple detour, and eventually becomes Forest Road 42 before it winds its way back to Ga. 60.

"That's a beautiful route," Stansell said.

Ga. 60 is a quiet, windy ride from its split with U.S. 19 north of Dahlonega to just beyond Morganton where it meets a four-laned highway.

The highway passes through the Cooper's Creek Wildlife Management area, and the Appalachian Trail crosses the road south of Suches at Woody Gap.

"There are not a lot of real destinations ... but there are all kinds of wonderful day hikes," Stansell said.
Stansell, a former Gainesville resident, appreciates the fact that the roads near her home lack commercial districts.

"It's not like going to Helen or Sautee; it's pretty much the country the way it used to be," she said. "It's wonderful eye candy and it's nice hiking, but you don't pile out and eat ice cream. ... There are no fudge shops."

Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway: Ga. 75, Ga. 180 and Ga. 348
Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway passes through Helen and some of Northeast Georgia's most fascinating waterfalls, according to Mitch Cohen, an information specialist with the U.S. Forest Service.
But if its just a Sunday drive in solitude you are after, Cohen suggests finding Forest Road 44 or Forest Road 283.

Forest Road 44 breaks free from Ga. 75 at Unicoi Gap, and runs through the watershed of the Upper Chattahoochee River. Further north, Forest Road 283 provides access to the High Shoals Creek Falls.
There, "you're pretty much in the back country," Cohen said.

Cohen said when his family members visit, he takes them to some of the places on the route, because it is a convenient trip from the metro-Atlanta area and offers some of the best views.

Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia at 4,784 feet, spurs off of Ga. 180. Winding back toward Helen on Ga. 348, travelers can stop to see Raven Cliff Falls and Dukes Creek Falls.

Ga. 180 from U.S. 19 to Ga. 60
Ga. 180 offers a quaint drive on a narrow road from just west of Vogel State Park to its terminus at Ga. 60 in Suches.

Afternoon adventurers can get a peak at the leaves from the hardwoods on top of Slaughter Mountain as the road meanders southwest to Suches.

Cohen says a must-see along the route is Lake Winfield Scott. The scenery and the trails that surround the lake make it a good place for an afternoon picnic, but it's also a nice view from the road.

From Winfield Scott, Forest Road 33 offers off-the-asphalt access to the east side of the Cooper's Creek Wildlife Management Area.



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