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August 18, 2017

How to Have the Perfect Vacation in Clayton, Georgia

A TRAVEL GUIDE FOR PLANNING A VACATION IN THE NORTHEAST GEORGIA MOUNTAINS

So… I’m a food blogger. And this post has nothing to do with food (well, very little to do with it anyway). But I’m using my blog as a place to document how to have a fantastic, affordable family vacation in Clayton, Georgia, what I would consider the seat of the Northeast Georgia Mountains.

Because so many of my friends have asked for this information and because I will need to refer to it in the future, I’m going to detail the highlights of our family vacations to this beautiful part of the world.

Please feel free to comment with your ideas and input! My notes below are based only on what I’ve personally experienced and how I like to enjoy my time in Clayton.

I hope you find this helpful and hope you find your way to this hidden gem someday!

NOTE: I have to say this because I’m a blogger and a blogger is often judged on her photographs. The photos I’ve included below were just random shots I took with my phone way before I ever thought up the idea of sharing this information with you. Some of them are crappy photos but you’ll get the gist! NEXT TIME I head that way I’ll take better pictures and replace these!


UPDATE!! Click to get your free Printable Clayton Vacation Field Guide!


ACCOMMODATIONS

I have always used VRBO (‘Vacation Rentals By Owner’ which is part of the HomeAway family and app) to find cozy cabins full of personality and comfort. The site will automatically expand your search to include outlying areas in the Northeast Georgia Mountains. The rental rates are crazy affordable in this neck of the woods which is a huge plus for me! The cabin we just stayed in slept 6-8, had a hot tub, absolute privacy and seclusion, faced a mountain stream and only cost us $800 for a seven-night stay. And it was totally beautiful and charming!

THINGS TO DO

I like to make a list of possible activities and destinations then choose from it whenever we’re ready for our next adventure. Rigid itineraries tend to stress me out which is the last thing anyone should ever feel on a mountain vacation! Plus, I like to make time for random naps.

Here is the list I’ve kept up with for years of things to do in or around Clayton, GA (say within a 30-mile radius).

I’m including handy map links and written directions for any destinations that do not have a street address (such as lakes, falls, trails, etc.)


SWIMMING AND WATER FUN
This area has a gozillion creeks, rivers, streams and lakes for you to swim and play in. Take my advice here and head to Wal-Mart and buy your crew those God awful ugly water shoes. The very first time we came up here as a family, Husband and the kids were looking for shoes to put on before they took off exploring the Tallulah. I cussed every one of them for being sissies for even thinking about wearing shoes in the river. What kind of pansy crap is that?! I never put shoes on to play in a creek when I was a kid! Never! But then I tried to walk on the rocks and realized I needed them too! Considering I grew up in the rural south and only ever put shoes on to go to church or school, my adolescent feet were probably tough as leather. Well, thanks to my bi-weekly pedicure regimen and being a tad more refined these days, my feet are sissies too!

Wildcat Creek Sliding Rock (map link)
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!

This is a naturally occurring rock slide on Wildcat Creek near Lake Burton. In comparison to other sliding rocks, I consider this one to be super tame and very safe for children. My kids have been down this thing six ways from Sunday and have never come home with so much as a bruise. There’s a shallow area at the base of the small waterfall that’s perfect for swimming.

Directions: From Clayton take Hwy 76 West to Hwy 197. Turn Left onto Hwy 197 then travel for a few miles, then turn Right onto Wildcat Road. Travel up Wildcat Road about a mile or so then the Sliding Rock will be on the left. It’s a pretty obvious spot. Just look for the big smooth rock with the happiest kids in America sliding down it.

Sliding Rock on Wildcat Creek

Bust Your Butt Falls (map link)
This is a sliding rock on the Cullasaja River near Highlands, North Carolina. I would incorporate a trip to Bust Your Butt Falls with a visit to one of the Gem Mines below and maybe have lunch in downtown historic Franklin, NC.

TAKE CAUTION with this sliding rock as it may not be suitable for children or inexperienced swimmers when the water levels are high and the falls are more aggressive. We haven’t let our kids on this one yet because ol’ Mama Bear here just isn’t comfy with it. Once they’re teenagers, I’ve promised them we will try it out.

Directions (traveling through Franklin): From Clayton take Hwy 23 North toward Franklin, NC then take Hwy 64 East toward Highlands, NC. Travel approximately 9-10 miles on Hwy 64 then Bust Your Butt will be on your right.


Timpson Cove Beach (map link)
This is a sandy beach on Lake Burton with a designated swimming area. There are picnic tables, restrooms and ample parking. Plus it’s free! Holla!

Directions: From Clayton take Hwy 76 West for approximately 7 miles. Turn Left onto Charlie Mountain Road. Timpson Cove will be little less than a mile ahead on the Right.


Tallulah River (map link)
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!

The Tallulah River is about 47 million miles long but the area we most enjoy is the northern part of it along Tallulah River Road near the community of Persimmon, GA. The Tallulah River is a great place to wander, fish, swim, explore and camp. For me, this part of the Tallulah encompasses everything I love about the mountains.

We like to ride up Tallulah River Road which runs parallel to the river for miles and miles and miles (I’ve never reached the end) until we find a good spot for whatever we have in mind. If we’re looking to swim, we find a wide, calm area. If we want to explore, we find an area with boulders and small falls. If we want to fish, we find a spot with some still water and overhanging limbs. There are ample designated parking areas (look for the small “P” signs) along the road.

When we have the kids in tow (sometimes Husband and I slip up here to fish for an hour or two without the kids), we pack a picnic and build a fire on one of the many river rock “beaches” and roast hot dogs (and trout if we’re lucky!). We put the kids in charge of gathering up fallen limbs for firewood and finding forked sticks for roasting the hotdogs and fish.

Directions: From Clayton, take Hwy 76 West for about 7-8 miles. Turn Right onto Persimmon Road then travel a little over 4 miles then turn Left onto Tallulah River Road. Continue on until you see the river running parallel with the road.

Exploring the Tallulah River


FISHING
There are three gorgeous lakes near Clayton: Lake Burton, Rabun Lake and Lake Seed. Each of these have public boat ramps if you’re bringing your boat. If you’re amateurs like us and just like to throw a line in every once in a while, here are the two spots we go to the most. Check to be sure things haven’t changed but as of 2017, children under 16 do NOT need a fishing license. You can quickly get a fishing license in the sporting goods section at tha Wal-Marts on Hwy 441 (and some great tips and advice from the locals!)

Black Rock Lake (map it)
This is a small lake just outside of Black Rock Mountain State Park that is just for fishing. There are two small piers, a walking trail and a bridge all perfect for fishing. There are usually ducks there too if you want to bring some munchies – they love lettuce and corn!

Directions: From Clayton take Hwy 23 North toward Dillard for about 3 miles then turn Left onto Black Rock Mountain Pkwy (Road). Go about a mile then make a hard Right onto Taylor Chapel Rd. Black Rock Lake is a little less than a mile on the Left.


Tallulah River (map link)
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!
(see above under “Swimming and Water Fun”)
Tip: The forestry commission usually stocks the Tallulah with trout on Thursdays! You never know what they’re biting but we’ve had the best luck with good ol’ live worms on a #6 hook 😉

Directions: From Clayton, take Hwy 76 West for about 7-8 miles. Turn Right onto Persimmon Road then travel a little over 4 miles then turn Left onto Tallulah River Road. Continue on until you see the river running parallel with the road.

Fishing on the Tallulah River


GEM MINING
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!
Gem mining is our rainy day activity. The kids LOVE it. I like both places listed below equally. Both have super cute gift shops and both have SUPER AWESOME staff members who take so much time with the kids going over their haul and explaining what each and every rock and gem are.

Jackson Hole Gem Mine
9770 Highlands Rd
Highlands, NC 28741
Website

Gold City Gem Mining
9410 Sylva Rd
Franklin, NC 28734
Website


WHITE WATER RAFTING

Southeastern Expeditions
7350 Hwy 76
Clayton, GA 30525
Website

We haven’t done this yet but it’s on the tip top of our bucket list. We were going to do it on our last trip but I’m dealing with some major back issues and awaiting surgery. I can’t sit for more than 15 minutes at a time so this wasn’t something I was going to be able to do.

Want to see something humiliating funny? On our drive to Clayton from home (about 3 hours) and every time we were going to be driving more than just a little ways, I had to ride laying down in the back of my SUV (ambulance style!) Ain’t this cute??

#BrokeBackMandy

SHOPPING

There are many shops on and around Main Street in downtown Clayton. I haven’t been in many because, for some reason that’s lost on me, most of the shops do not keep retail hours but instead close up tight between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. and aren’t open on Sundays at all. This makes absolutely no sense to me in a destination town and as there are FANTASTIC restaurants peppered throughout the shops and many nightly or weekend activities downtown which draw a ton of foot traffic after 5:00 and on Sundays. What I can tell about are the shops we have found and LOVE.

Wander
90 North Main St.
Clayton GA 30525
Website

The one shop we can usually find open on Main Street is Wander. If you’re the slightest bit outdoorsy, you’ll want to stop by Wander. They have wicked cool t-shirts and hats (my husband’s weakness), unique gifts and just generally cool stuff. I almost want to call this place a hipster store but since I’m a mom in my forties who won’t leave home without lipstick, I’m not even sure I’d be using it in the right context 😁 The owner, Josh, was working the last Sunday we popped in and he was SUPER helpful directing us to places we could fish without a boat. I really like this place. Good hours. Good stuff. Good people.

photo credit www.partylikeits1995.com

The Shops of Dillard
There is a little shopping center in Dillard, which is just outside of Clayton heading north on Hwy 23 / Hwy 441 (on the right if you’re coming from Clayton), that has several fantastic shops and antique stores. Two of my favorites are listed below:


Country Junction General Store
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!
6842 Hwy 441
Dillard, GA 30537

I think this store has THE BEST selection of any mountain gift shop I’ve been in. The last time we were there we bought a funky sign to hang in our living room, a tiny flying robot for my son and some “Oogles” which are tiny painted clay mountain creatures who bring their owners luck! Whoever does the buying for this store is SPOT ON because there really is something for everyone here and the staff if friendly and helpful.


Turpin’s Jewelry
6818 Hwy 441
Dillard, GA 30537

Go see Phil! I think I spent an hour in here chatting with the owner, Phil, before I ever looked at the first piece of jewelry. He hand casts all of his settings (which he tells me are made from a combination of white gold and silver which is unique enough to make me want to buy two of everything) and sets all of the gemstones himself. Most of the gems are locally sourced jewels mined from the surrounding mountains. I fell in love with a 6-carat ruby ring when we were in there last and Phil took such good care of us, that sucker came home with me! The ring, that is. Not Phil 😉


Reeves
16 South Main St.
Clayton GA 30525

There are several Reeves stores strung in a row encompassing everything from a hardware store to a furniture store to a home furnishings store though what you’ll find inside is SO much more. When I step into Reeves I imagine this is what shopping was before Target and Wal-Mart and Lowes took over the world. You can do everything from pick out china for your wedding registry to buy supplies for your tackle box. You can buy your nephews birthday present or you could pick out your next sofa. This is one that closes early so you’ll want to pop in early.

Also! Lord, I almost forgot! Lookie what I found inside!

My second book on display at Reeves

Commerce Tanger Outlet
800 Steven B Tanger Blvd.
Commerce, GA 30529
Website

I’m throwing this one in there for two reasons. One, if you need to do some serious shopping (like we did on our last trip when we bought all the kids’ back-to-school clothes), Commerce isn’t too far away. And Two, because, unlike some outlet malls, this one has covered walkways so if you find yourself with a rainy day and the shopping bug bites you, you can still shop here and stay nice and dry.


ENTERTAINMENT
I’m not one to plop down money for a house in the mountains or at the beach then spend another fortune entertaining my family all week. I think your destination should be your entertainment (exploring the mountains, swimming in the ocean, visiting national parks, fishing, etc.). Vacations for my family don’t typically include mini-golf, chain restaurants, go-carts, or anything else I can do at home any given weekend. But there are a few unique things near Clayton I think are totally worth checking out!

Goats on the Roof
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!
3026 Hwy 441
Tiger, GA 30576
Website

If you have kids, you HAVE to take them to Goats on the Roof. It’s become a tradition in my family. It’s a little hard to explain GotR but I’ll try... there are two barns, each with fabulous stuff inside, that are connected by bridges... and… there are... goats on the roof! With a menagerie of pullies, bicycle operated lifts and other contraptions, kids can send food up to the goats. So, that alone is pretty awesome, right?? You also have to get some ice cream when you’re there because even the ice cream is cool! You pick which kind you want and they make it for you right in front of your eyes with... seriously you won’t believe this... liquid nitrogen! Definitely share you ice cream with someone because they only offer one size and it’s plenty big for two people!

Goats on the Roof

Scaly Mountain Outdoor Center
7420 Dillard Rd.
Scaly Mountain, NC 28775
Website

Along with the gift shop and café, you’ll find several kid-friendly activities, including my kids’ favorite - summer snow tubing! If I can figure out how to drive this thing, I’ll post a video of my tribe coming down the magic carpet. Rainy day? Not a problem! They still operate in the rain and will tell you it’ll just make you go faster! AND there’s a standing lift to take you up the steep hill. I haven’t been in the winter but in the colder months you can snow tube AND ice skate. I thought the prices were very reasonable ($15 to tube for 2 hours).

Turn on the sound! You can hear my kids squealing the whole way down!

Helen, Georgia
We usually like to set a day aside to ride over to Helen, GA. Walking through Alpine Helen feels like you’re in the Alps with all the German architecture, quaint shops and amazing Bavarian food. My kids LOVE going to Helen and always surprise me by trying something new to eat!

Bring your swimsuits if the weather is nice and spend a few hours drifting down the Chattahoochee River with either of the two river tubing services, Cool River Tubing or Helen Tubing.


SIGHTSEEING

Dry Falls (map it)
Dry Falls is a huge, powerful waterfall you can walk behind! It’s breathtaking just to look at but getting to walk behind that powerful cascade is something you’ll never forget. There’s a nice, large paved parking lot and then a series of steps and landings that will take you down behind the falls while offering plenty of time and space for taking pictures and simply enjoying the view. It’s not a difficult walk down or back up. Me no likey to hikey so if I can do it without complaining, anyone can.

Directions: Take Hwy 23 north toward Franklin for about 7 miles then turn Right onto Hwy 106. Travel for about 10 miles then turn Left onto Hwy 64. Drive about 3 miles then Dry Falls will be on your left.

Dry Falls, Highlands GA


Tallulah Gorge
338 Jane Hurt Yarn Rd.
Tallulah Falls, GA 30573
Website

This one’s on my bucket list but I haven’t actually been there yet so I’ll share with you a description from their website:
One of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern U.S., Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep. Visitors can hike rim trails to several overlooks, or they can obtain a permit to hike to the gorge floor (100 per day, not available during water releases). A suspension bridge sways 80 feet above the rocky bottom, providing spectacular views of the river and waterfalls. Tightrope walkers have twice crossed the gorge, and visitors can still see towers used by Karl Wallenda. A paved path follows an on old railroad bed, perfect for strollers and bicycles, while mountain bikers can test their skills on a challenging 10 mile trail.
Exhibits in the park’s Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center highlight the rich history of this Victorian resort town, as well as the rugged terrain and fragile ecosystem of the area. The persistent trillium, monkey-face orchid and green salamander are protected species found within the gorge. An award-winning film takes viewers on a dramatic journey through the gorge, including footage of rock climbers and kayakers. A gift shop offers snacks, jewelry, toys, books, walking sticks, clothing and more.

Black Rock Mountain State Park
3085 Black Rock Mountain Pkwy
Mountain City, GA 30562
Website

We discovered Black Rock Mountain State Park when we got lost looking for Black Rock Lake the first time. Ha! True story. And when I say we got lost, we got LOST. My GPS lost its mind and took us ALL OVER that dang mountain. We even saw a bear! A BEAR, man! There are multiple scenic stops in the state park, a playground, visitor center, picnic spots and a gift shop. Plus, it’s just a hop and a step from Clayton. The only butthole I ever met in this entire part of the world was here, though. If that mean old man with the scraggily grey hair and disposition of a menopausal sloth is still working the booth, tell him I said to go suck an egg! I hate meanies.

There are multiple other state parks within a 30-mile radius of Clayton that I haven’t been to so if you’re looking for more, just Google it!


RESTAURANTS & FOOD

I haven’t eaten at all of the restaurants in Clayton and surrounding areas (I do a lot of cooking when we’re on vacation because I have the luxury of time) but of the ones we have been to, these are my absolute favorites!

Universal Joint
A Rivers Family MUST-DO!
109 North Main St.
Clayton, GA 30525
Website

Aside from it’s awesome outdoor seating - chocked full of string lights, patio umbrellas and funky decor - and stellar beer selection, the Universal Joint has THE BEST burgers in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD. OK, admittedly, I haven’t eaten every burger in the whole wide world but the burgers I’ve eaten at the UJ are the best I’ve ever had in my entire life. The first time we went, Husband and I took our first bites at the same time and stared at each other, bug-eyed across the table. I said, “Thugh ess tha bett buguh ah ha ebbr hah!”

Outdoor Seating at the Universal Joint

Bella’s
92 Plaza Way
Clayton, GA 30525

Bella’s far exceeded my expectations! It’s located in a strip mall and looks completely unassuming so when we popped in on a Monday night I wasn’t expecting much. Take note: a LOT of Clayton restaurants are closed on Mondays which is actually how we ended up at Bella’s! Well, I have to slap my own hand for judging a book by its cover because I was truly impressed with everything we ordered. And we ordered a little bit of everything: pizza, fish & chips, wings and shrimp alfredo. Everything was truly delicious (seriously, the pizza was amazing) but the stand-out at our table was the Fish & Chips.

Bella’s doesn’t have a website I could find but here’s their Yelp listing (I left a pretty detailed review if you want to read more about the food!)


Dillard House
768 Franklin St.
Dillard, GA
Website

OK, if you visit the Northeastern Georgia Mountains and don’t go to the almost 100-yr old Dillard House restaurant, you might not be allowed back. It’s like a rite of passage for anyone traveling these parts. If you mention Clayton or Dillard to anyone who’s ever been the first thing they’ll ask you is, “Did you go to Dillard House?!” This section of their website can sum it up better than I can so I’ll share it here:
When you visit the Dillard House Restaurant you might expect just a meal, but it's a true Southern culinary event that awaits you. Our menus consist of generous portions of homemade Southern dishes from recipes handed down over the years from Dillard House chefs and generations of Dillard family members. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served "family-style" every day of the year.
At the Dillard House restaurant, satisfaction and hospitality are our main goal. Every dish is prepared to the utmost detail so no guest leaves hungry. In fact, as long as you keep asking for more, we'll keep it coming.
Did you catch the last sentence? You can get seconds and probably thirds if you ask right!


Fortify
69 N. Main St.
Clayton, GA 30525
Website

Because, WHY NOT, Fortify is actually two restaurants: Fortify Kitchen & Bar and Fortify Pi. And I love them both! Fortify Kitchen & Bar is more upscale (but not stuffy or overpriced) with dinner entrees and a full bar, and Fortify Pi is more casual with, you guessed it, pizza (get it? pi? I love it). What I love most about Fortify is their ‘farm to table’ practices. They source everything they can locally which makes for outstanding taste and freshness and supports the local community.


Osage Farms
5030 Hwy 441
Dillard, GA 30537
Website

Osage Farms isn’t a restaurant. It’s an open-air farmer’s market. And it is EVERYTHING. I call it a farmer’s market and not just a produce market because not only do they have everything from local heirloom tomatoes to peas even I have never heard of (and y’all know I love me some peas) they also have fresh, local beef and dairy products, as well as fresh baked Amish breads. I hit this joint at least three times a week when we’re there. There’s nothing like hand whipping fresh cream with a little sugar and serving it over fresh Georgia peaches for breakfast. Man, DANG!!

photo credit www.dillardgeorgia.com
UPDATE!! Click to get your free Printable Clayton Vacation Field Guide!



6 comments:

  1. Love this! Thanks Mandy! Kathy Wise

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  2. This is great!! Love the inside scoop. Thanks Mandy! Hope your back is feeling better!

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  3. Putting Clayton on our list for the next time we head south!
    The waterfall is beautiful!
    Hope you get some relief soon :)

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  4. What a great Clayton, GA Travel Guide you wrote!! I live 40 minutes South of Atlanta and we have gone up to Mountains as a day trip. Your experience is making me want to extend my visit! Glad you and your family made some beautiful memories.

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  5. I laughed out loud at the Universal Joint burger exclamation from you to your husband! I've never been to nor heard of Clayton, but now I want to go. My husband and I have been to hike to some waterfalls in the Dupont Forest near Brevard, NC.
    How about a pic of that ruby ring?
    -Kimberly in NC

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  6. Tallulah Falls is a MUST! I went to Tallulah Falls Boarding School and it was the best 2 years of my life! Still friends with many I went to school with there and the field trips we took were like no other. How many school trips include taking a bus to the drive-in theater, snow skiing, or a hike through the gorge? Next to Helen, it is the most beautiful place!

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Hi there! While I'm not able to respond to every comment, I try hard to answer any questions that haven't been addressed in the post, recipe or in other comments. And though I may not respond to them all, I do read each and every comment and I LOVE to hear from you guys! Thanks, y'all! - Mandy