Blue Ridge, Georgia: From Blue Seas to Blue Mountains - 30A

Blue Ridge, Georgia: From Blue Seas to Blue Mountains

By: Lauren Sage Reinlie | Posted Jun 10, 2023

Edward Sanford grew up in Blue Ridge, Georgia, then a sleepy town tucked along the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains abundant with natural beauty, awe-inspiring vistas, and outdoor adventures. Almost anywhere one stepped was only a stone’s throw from the sound of water—trickling along a stream, rushing down a waterfall, or lapping the shores of a lake.

Edward, now 33, learned to love the land from his family, who had lived there for generations. Both his parents eschewed the office or factory life for the outdoors—his dad in the woods and on the water, his mom in the air, soaring above the mountaintops as a championship skydiver. From age 10, Edward remembers going with his father to his work as a surveyor, measuring mountains and plotting paths through the woods. On the weekends, they retired to their houseboat on Lake Blue Ridge along with many other families for fishing, sleeping under the stars, and running wild on the lake.

When he was grown, Edward left home for Atlanta and then Napa Valley, but in 2019, he was drawn back home—to the year-round outdoor activities, the absence of snow, the incredible beauty, and the tight-knit small-town community. “It’s just my favorite place on earth,” said Edward.

Blue Ridge is located about 90 miles north of Atlanta near the crossroads of the state’s border with North Carolina and Tennessee. It’s still a tiny town by almost all measures (population 1,290), but visitors and new residents have been flocking to the area in recent years, bringing with them architectural influences and high-caliber restaurants—all with a keen focus on protecting their incredible natural setting and unique small-town vibe.

We recently asked Edward—a longtime fan and frequenter of Florida’s Gulf Coast—to let us in on some of the reasons he loves Blue Ridge.

Where to Play

The natural setting of Blue Ridge is often breathtaking. “It looks like something out of a Tolkien story,” Edward said. Shady hemlock groves make way for sweeping, sometimes 360-degree views of the rolling Appalachian Mountains. Running water is abundant from the feeder streams to the Toccoa River and numerous waterfalls. “If you want the sound of water, that special energy in moving water, you will be able to find it, always.”

Blue Ridge is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground. Edward recommended a few ways to get out and enjoy it.

The Toccoa River flows northwest towards Tennessee, where it goes by the name Ocoee and is known for its world-championship-level whitewater rapids. On the Georgia side, the Toccoa is a perfect spot for kayaking and tubing for those who may not yet have reached elite athlete status.

Several spots along the Toccoa offer tube or kayak rentals and excursions. Edward prefers kayaking for the sport aspect. “It’s great exercise with some decent rapids, so it can be a bit of an adrenaline rush as well.” For more relaxed or family-friendly fun, tubing is a great option. Check out the Aska Adventure Area for access.

Some of the cleanest and clearest water in the region can be found at the 3,290-acre Lake Blue Ridge. Eighty percent of its shoreline is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Campsites, boat ramps, swimming and picnic areas, and a marina are all available. The marina has a nice bar and restaurant, too, Edward said.

Over 100 miles of trout streams flow through Blue Ridge, and the area is famous for fly fishing. He recommended a few tour companies for visitors that are also popular with locals. Cohutta Fly Fishing is located downtown and offers private fly fishing lessons and tours. On the Fly Excursions offers trips to a private, secluded river stocked with rainbow trout and more. “It’s a pretty special experience.”

Bill Oyster is a world-renowned bamboo fly fishing rod maker who has set up shop in Blue Ridge. Everything he creates is hand-carved and hand-engraved. He’s crafted rods for presidents and other dignitaries and offers six-day training sessions, which boast a hefty, usually years-long waitlist. People can also visit his shop downtown and often catch a glimpse of him at work.

Blue Ridge is home to 106,000 acres of Chattahoochee National Forest and 300 miles of hiking trails, which offer access to some of the most beautiful views in the area.

The Aska Adventure Area boasts 17 miles of hiking and biking trails to some of the most scenic spots in the area. Fall Branch Falls Trail runs along a creek lined with mountain laurel and rhododendron with views of two cascading falls. The Swinging Bridge Trail over the Toccoa River is a great hike for families with young kids. It’s the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi. The spectacular 729-foot Amicolola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi.

Strolling through quaint and historic Downtown Blue Ridge is another way to enjoy the outdoors. Edward said the business owners care deeply about what they bring to the community and work hard to maintain the city’s authenticity and not become a tourist trap like other nearby towns.

The historic Blue Ridge Scenic Railway has its main depot downtown and offers several train rides running through secluded areas with beautiful views.

Where to Dine and Drink

Edward said one of his favorite ways to enjoy the area is eating and drinking outdoors. “We have great patios and breweries; everything is family- and often pet-friendly.”

The culinary scene has bloomed since 2008, when the area lifted a ban on serving alcohol. “That was a game changer,” Edward said. “From there, things just started to evolve organically.”

People with track records in beach communities, like those around 30A, started moving up to Blue Ridge to open unique restaurants, bringing a passion for food and the area’s natural beauty.

A few recommendations are Tipping Point Brewery, which has a great view of downtown from its second-story patio with outdoor games and live music.

ROE. Blue Ridge has the best patio in the area by far, Edward said, with beautiful stonework forming an open courtyard. The fine-dining seafood and steak restaurant is owned by Patrick Padilla, who used to manage Caliza in Alys Beach.

Ott Farms and Vineyard, located in nearby Ellijay, features mountain views, wine tastings, gourmet food trucks, and live music.

Where to Stay

Blue Ridge Inn is a whimsical, unique boutique hotel in one of the first residences built downtown in 1890. Mountain Mama’s Coffee Lounge, located at the inn, is a popular hangout among locals.

Escape to Blue Ridge offers year-round cabin rentals.

Edward, a local realtor with Engel & Völkers, said that Blue Ridge is still an undervalued market, though maybe not for long. In other words, if you love it, it’s a great time to buy. From historic homes and log cabins to more rustic modern architecture rarely found outside of Montana, Edward said anyone could find their perfect home here.

Edward’s father passed away recently, and he said nothing else clarifies how important finding a home can be. “It’s not just about finding real estate that makes sense, numbers-wise, but there is an emotional component, as well,” he said. “It’s the place where you’re going to raise your family or be surrounded by the people you love. I love helping people find that, especially here, where I have so much history. Even if I won the lottery, I would still do this.”

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Lauren Sage Reinlie is an award-winning freelance journalist currently living in Freeport, Florida. Her work has taken her across the South, where she has covered topics ranging from the wily ways of politicians at the Texas state capitol to the storied land of sunshine and swamp sharks (a.k.a. gators) in Florida. She can be reached at