A wealth of recreation opportunities await those who use campgrounds at Lake Lanier as a base to explore this region.
By James and Dorothy Richardson
A few miles north of Atlanta, Georgia, lies the gateway to the North Georgia mountains and all the possibilities they hold: Lake Sidney Lanier. Lake Lanier is an excellent base from which to discover the outdoor recreation options, the shopping, and the history of the area. You may even find gold!
Lake Lanier (pronounced “la-NEER”), built in 1957 by the Army Corps of Engineers, is one of the largest lakes in the United States. It was designed for flood control, power production, and recreation. The lake was named after Georgia’s poet laureate and encompasses approximately 38,000 acres. Its 692 miles of shoreline help make it popular for boating, fishing, sailing, and water skiing.
Lake Lanier Islands, situated at the southern tip of the lake, is the area’s premier resort. The privately owned 1,110-acre complex offers a multitude of activities. Its campground (open year-round) has lakefront sites, a grocery store, and a fishing pier. The Harbor Landing Marina offers houseboat rentals (as well as skiing or fishing boats) on a daily or weekly basis. The Emerald Pointe Golf Club, the Lake Lanier Islands Beach and Waterpark, and the Equestrian Center also are part of the resort.
Of course, other campgrounds are scattered throughout the North Georgia mountains, and 10 Corps of Engineers campgrounds are situated around Lake Lanier. But if you’ll be visiting in March, either before or after FMCA’s “America on the Move” convention in Perry, Georgia, you’ll want to note that not all of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds are open at that time. See the campground details at the end of this article for more information.
Gainesville Sun And Fun
From whichever base camp you choose, explorations to neighboring attractions and towns will enhance any trip to North Georgia. The city of Gainesville is only 20 miles north of Lake Lanier Islands along Interstate 985, on the lake’s north shore. Specialty shops and neat eateries surround the historic town square. For lunch, try one of the restaurants on the square; then, do some shopping at the Colonial Mall Lakeshore.
Crocker Pottery, just 10 minutes outside Gainesville in the small town of Lula (6345 County Line Road), showcases the work of Michael Crocker, one of North Georgia’s most notable potters, whose work also appears in the Smithsonian Institution. Visitors can peruse (and purchase) samples of Mr. Crocker’s craft in the gift shop. Phone (770) 869-3160 for store hours and directions.
A 1.8-mile walking tour of a scale model of the solar system begins on the square in Gainesville. At scaled intervals, the different planets are positioned away from the Sun (on the square) all the way to Pluto on the shoreline of Lake Lanier, making this an educational hike. A brochure of the solar system tour is available from the North Georgia Astronomers via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Georgia has made a name for itself in the wine making industry. Several wineries and vineyards are established in the mountains north of Atlanta, because the climate is conducive to growing grapes used in the production of seven award-winning wines. The Gainesville-Hall County Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a brochure listing stops on the wine trail from Braselton in the south to Dahlonega in the north.
Braselton, by the way, is home to the Lanier National Speedway, where the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series rolls along each summer. Open practice events begin in March and the NASCAR races start there on April 2. Phone (770) 967-8600 for more information.
Mountains, Waterfalls, And White Water
North Georgia’s mountains offer opportunities for outdoor recreation in the form of hiking and biking on its many trails. Waterfall watching, fishing, and white-water action add to the mix. The Appalachian Trail actually begins at Springer Mountain near Amicalola Falls State Park. In the state park, a waterfall of the same name is one of the highest in the area. It tumbles down 729 feet in seven distinct cascades. Amicalola Falls State Park is located in Dawsonville, north of Gainesville and west of Dahlonega on State Route 52.
Amicalola is one of several waterfalls in North Georgia. Anna Ruby Falls is a few miles north of the town of Helen, next to Unicoi State Park. Lake Trahlyta Falls, in Vogel State Park, and DeSoto Falls Recreation Area are also north of Dahlonega. For white-water action, various outfitters lead excursions down the Etowah or Chestatee rivers. Canoe, tube, and kayak rentals also are offered.
Trout fishing is popular in both the Chestatee and Etowah rivers. Smaller streams tucked away in the mountains or along forested roadsides might offer the better opportunity for catching trout.
Gold In Dahlonega
Dahlonega is a picturesque town that features specialty shops, good eating establishments, and an unusual history. In 1828 news spread that gold had been found in the area, thus creating the first major gold rush in the United States. The old Lumpkin County Courthouse, built in 1836, now houses the Dahlonega Gold Museum. Exhibits trace the history of the gold rush and paint a realistic picture of the lives and times of the mine workers from that era.
Two gold mines are still open to visitors. Neither is operational, since the production cost of this gold outweighs its value. Consolidated Gold Mines, once one of the largest mines east of the Mississippi River, today functions as a tourist stop, where guests can go underground to view the workings of an actual mine. The Crisson Gold Mine also welcomes visitors who want to pan for gold and gems and see some of the original equipment used in mining.
Dahlonega has several exceptional restaurants, including The Oar House, Smith House, and Turner’s Corner Café. In addition, campgrounds are located all around this area. While searching for an RV park, don’t forget that the area state parks also offer sites. Vogel State Park has a large lake with a swimming area and a two-mile hiking trail around the lake (it leads to Lake Trahlyta Waterfall).
Mountains are not usually associated with the Southern part of the United States, but they are present in Georgia and offer visitors myriad attractions and opportunities for outdoor recreation. From Lake Lanier to Gainesville to Dahlonega, travelers can enjoy so many activities that it would be a shame to miss Georgia north of Atlanta. This will become a favorite destination “” and you may rediscover gold.
For More Information
Gainesville/Hall County Convention & Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 2995
Gainesville, GA 30503
Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center
13 S. Park St.
Dahlonega, GA 30533
The following campgrounds are mentioned in the text; many more can be found in the area. Please check your favorite campground directory or the Business Directory, published in the January and June issues FMC magazine and online at www.fmca.com, for more listings.
Lake Lanier Islands
7000 Holiday Road
Lake Lanier Islands, GA 30518
(800) 840-LAKE (5253)
The campground offers full-hookup sites, or sites with water and electric hookups only. It is open year-round. The resort area is easily accessible from Atlanta; take Interstate 85 north and then Interstate 985 to exit 8 to Lake Lanier Islands.
Lake Sidney Lanier
Corps of Engineers
P.O. Box 567
Buford, GA 30515-0567
The Corps of Engineers operates 10 campgrounds at Lake Lanier; some have full hookups and others have water and electrical hookups only. Most campgrounds are open from March 29 to September 8; the Bald Ridge campground is open February 22 to November 17 and offers sites with electric and water hookups.
Georgia State Parks
2 MLK Jr. Drive
Suite 1352 East
Atlanta, GA 30334
(800) 864-PARK (7275)
Several state parks in this region offer campgrounds. Another helpful resource specifically for North Georgia state park information is www.georgiagetaway.com/parks/ga_parks.shtml.