Ellijay, Georgia: Extraordinarily out of the Ordinary
Set in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Ellijay, a city in Gilmer County Georgia, is very different from the urbanized America that most visitors picture. Gilmer County, also known as the “Apple Capital in Georgia“, offers a unique experience that will provide a charming and authentic taste of what America used to be, rather than the big, bustling cities that fill it today.
Spending a couple of nights glamping at Elatse’Yi, a Cherokee word meaning “verdant, green earth,” offers a whole new outlook on lodging. The authenticity of the experience lies in staying in a geodesic dome set on a six-acre farm amongst the woods with chickens, goats, and a Great Pyrenees as your next door neighbor.
The large dome raised on a fenced wooden dock is furnished with a double bed and two singles spread about the room. Tables, a desk, stocked bookcases, a telescope for stargazing, and rugs on the wooden floors make for a comfortable experience. There’s a private outdoor bathroom and shower, as well as a deep soaking tub and canopied picnic table and chairs. There is a well-stocked kitchen with fresh eggs from the neighboring chickens, where you can enjoy cooking on your butane stove.
If a dome is too primitive, you have other choices at Elatse’Yi. There’s the Tree Loft Airstream, a renovated 1969 Airstream, or The Pavilion, a 1977 Airstream. Both have many modern luxuries including a treehouse at the Tree Loft Airstream or Japanese soaking tub at the Pavilion. You can opt for more conventional lodging at a cabin, on the nearby lake or creek.
You can explore the gorgeous Appalachian Mountains or visit with the farm animals here by day. At night, you can use your telescope to peer deeper into that mysterious universe above or just sit on your deck and marvel at the number of shining stars in that dark night sky.
The natural beauty of Ellijay’s lakes and streams helps you get back in touch with Mother Nature in a way that isn’t achievable in America’s urban metropolises. You can kayak at the man-made, 3200-acre Carters Lake surrounded by 65 miles of undeveloped shoreline. Carter’s Lake was created by US Army Corps of Engineers when they built Carters Dam, and has no private homes or docks along its shore. Carters Dam is the tallest earthen dam east of the Mississippi.
A good place to view the dam is at Carter’s Lake Marina. Cabins and boats are available for rents here. Be sure to stop at the visitor’s center and get one of their sandwiches — you can dine in or take it out on your boating or fishing trip. There is no swimming, fishing or camping at the marina, but there are many other spots to enjoy the water such as Doll Mountain Recreation Area, perched high on the mountainside above Carters Lake. Fishermen there expect to catch bass, largemouth and smallmouth, crappie, walleye, bream and catfish.
The lake is fed by the Coosawattee River that runs between Ellijay and Chatsworth, where you can do fun activities such as tubing, whitewater paddling, or boating. Coosawattee River Tubing Company will outfit you with a tube and life vest and shuttle you to and from the river. Once in the water, you enjoy a lazy float for about two hours. The river is peaceful and has little civilization along the banks, contributing to the quaint atmosphere of the area.
For dining, choices are plentiful. Music and dining go together here and complement each other wonderfully. Cantaberry, located on the square, offers live entertainment on weekends and is a great option for dinner. The building was once an old theater. Today, only a photo on the brick wall commemorates this bit of Ellijay history.
If you like outdoor dining, Back Porch Bistro is another option. It’s located behind Ellijay Market, one of the many antique stores here. Again, music mixes with dining, as they offer live music every Thursday. The local musicians get together and jam while you sit either out back or inside. Four legged friends are welcome, and there is a water bowl set out for thirsty pooches.
Ellijay Coffeehouse is a perfect choice for breakfast. It’s housed in a restored 1940s building on Main Street just across the street from several of Ellijay‘s antique shops. Along with coffee or tea, they serve paninis, parfaits made with fresh yogurt and their homemade granola. The Grilled Artisan Bread with Honeybutter is a perfect light treat. Along with delicious food, it also has good Wi-Fi. You can dine inside or on the back patio.
Yes, Bigfoot has been seen in these mountains. The Expedition Bigfoot museum is not a hokey-scary spot; it is a real-life investigative research hub. Owner David Bakara is a firm believer in Bigfoot. He was inspired by the 1973 movie, The Legend of Boggy Creek, based on sightings in Fouke, Arkansas. He and his wife Melinda claim to have spotted two of the creatures on a research expedition in Florida using a thermal imaging camera. The B.R.A.T. (Bigfoot Research and Tech), an ATV set up for researching Bigfoot, is on display.
Expedition Bigfoot. Photo: Kathleen Walls BRAT ATV used for Bigfoot Research. Photo: Kathleen Walls Mask reproduction and material used on a research expedition. Photo: Kathleen Walls Display recreating Ape Canyon scene. Photo: Kathleen Walls The museum has a display case with what the owners believe is a Bigfoot feces. Photo: Kathleen Walls
The museum is filled with one of the largest collections of Bigfoot artifacts in the world, including casts of footprints, handprints, even a butt print, as well as hair and feces samples. There are newspaper accounts and videos of sightings, and you can listen to recorded “conversations” of Bigfoot’s vocalizations. One display recreates the Ape Canyon Attack that occurred in Washington state in 1924 when several miners were attacked by a group of what they referred to as “apemen.”
Maps marked with different colored pins show sightings of the beast, including those seen close up, through trees, or just reported from hearsay. The mountains in this area are filled with hundreds of pins representing close-up clear sightings. One section of the museum is David’s lab where he is actively researching sightings and evidence. Whether you’re a believer or a non-believer, you will enjoy this museum.
The various offerings of Ellijay come together to create a unique experience for those looking to connect with the quaint side of America. There truly is something for everyone in Gilmer County.
Disclaimer: This experience was provided by Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce
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Kathleen Walls, former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. She is the author of several travel books including Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways, Finding Florida’s Phantoms, Hosts With Ghosts, and Wild About Florida series. Kathleen’s articles have appeared in Family Motor Coaching Association Magazine, Food Wine Travel Magazine, Weekender Extended, Travel World International, Tours4Mobile and others. She is a photographer with many of her original photographs appearing in her travel ezine, American Roads, as well as other publications. Her fiction includes Last Step, which was made into a feature movie of the same name by Forbes Productions, Kudzu, Under A Bloody Flag and Under A Black Flag.