By Kathy Dean

Just north of Atlanta, the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains offer a relaxed lifestyle, scenic views and friendly communities – all within a two-hour car ride from the city. It’s the perfect place to unwind, and that’s made the area a popular choice for second homes and vacation hideaways.

“The attraction of the North Georgia Mountains is definitely the mountain life atmosphere – little traffic, a small town feel, friendly people, an easy commute to Atlanta and Chattanooga,” said Nathan Fitts of Nathan Fitts & Team, REMAX Town & Country in Blue Ridge. “Outdoor enthusiasts come here for the natural beauty and outdoor attractions, like recreation on Lake Blue Ridge, hiking and mountain biking trails.”

A view of the mountains from inside a North Georgia cabin.

A view of the mountains from inside a North Georgia cabin.

Springer Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, is the beginning point of both the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Hiking Trail. The Toccoa River offers trophy trout fishing, kayaking, canoeing and tubing. The Ocoee River, the site of the 1996 Olympics whitewater course, has rafting and nearby waterfalls, horseback riding trails, zip lines and canopy tours.

“Blue Ridge has a strong arts community, too,” Fitts added. “The Blue Ridge Community Theatre is superb, and there are many yearly festivals. Some of the most popular are the Blues & BBQ Festival, Arts in the Park, Paws in the Park, Jazz & Wine Festival, Taste of Blue Ridge and Fire & Ice Chili Cook Off.”

According to Jennifer Blake, Broker at Highlands Cove Realty in Highlands, NC, people enjoy Highlands’ small town elegance, dining and shopping, but mostly the cool summer temperatures. She explained that the area owes its cooler weather to its altitude and gentle summer breezes.

Paddling along the Conasauga River.

Paddling along the Conasauga River.

“At just over 4,100 feet on the Eastern Continental Divide, Highlands is one of the very rare locations at this latitude with an average high of only 78 degrees in July, far lower than the rest of the South,” Blake said. “We also have Harris and Cliffside Lakes, as well as the Cullasaja and Chattooga Rivers – it’s a fishing paradise.”

Known for its rainbow, brown and brook trout, Cliffside Lake is an especially popular destination. The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests offer miles of hiking trails, and many provide access to the amazing waterfalls of western North Carolina.

The Old Edwards Club, set along one of the East’s highest ridges, features an 18-hole, Tom Jackson-designed championship golf course. Other amenities include clay tennis courts, outdoor heated mineral pool, fireside patio and panoramic views from the Grill Room Restaurant and Clubhouse Bar. Members enjoy year-round privileges and discounts at the Four-Star Old Edwards Inn and Spa –  a world-class retreat known for its European-style luxury and peaceful, rustic setting.

“Both Highlands and Cashiers, NC offer shops that specialize in antiques, arts, jewelry, home décor and more,” Blake noted. “In Highlands, the Scudders Galleries auction season begins each June. These two communities offer the grace and allure of yesteryear, with placid streets and well-manicured landscaping.”

Doing a little window shopping in Highlands, NC.

Doing a little window shopping in Highlands, NC.

The Highlands Playhouse, Bascom Art Center and Performing Arts Center feed the artistic souls of visitors, as do the art galleries, home and garden tours, culinary weekends and breathtaking leaf season.

“There are multiple reasons for coming to North Georgia,” said Kim Knutzen, Managing Broker, Harry Norman REALTORS, Blue Ridge Office. “We have the National Forest and many rivers and lakes for the outdoor amenities that draw people for hiking, biking, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and boating. A new golf course is now on target to be finished this year, which will add that last component this area was missing.”

She added that there’s a slower pace in North Georgia, much more laid back than Atlanta. The atmosphere attracts a sector of high wealth that wants to escape the pressures of their everyday work and unplug for a while. Being just 90 minutes from Atlanta, it’s convenient for a day, weekend or weeklong getaway.

“The quaint downtowns, as in Blue Ridge, feature high-end restaurants, wineries, boutiques and art galleries,” Knutzen said. “There’s also the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, and the area hosts many festivals, like the Blues & BBQ Festival, Apple Festival, Arts in the Park, Fire & Ice Festival, Adventure Races, Triathlons and 4th of July Fireworks on the Lake.”

The peace and quiet of a mountain home is nearby in Jasper, Georgia’s First Mountain City. Situated in beautiful Pickens County, Jasper is only one hour from Atlanta via I-575/515. It’s home to Bent Tree Community, a gated neighborhood that’s owned and governed by property owners.

“For folks interested in a second or vacation home that won’t be occupied full time, it’s highly recommended to select a gated community for security,” advised Ben L. Torrey, Broker & Realtor, Torrey Mountain Properties, Inc. “Bent Tree has a lake, world-class 18-hole golf course, indoor and outdoor tennis and two swimming pools.”

The 110-acre swimming and fishing lake (no gasoline engines allowed) is well stocked each year with trout and crappie. Bent Tree also has stables that board and rent horses for picturesque mountain trail rides.

Looking out over the mountains of North Georgia.

Looking out over the mountains of North Georgia.

“One Bent Tree home on the market has four bedrooms, three and a half baths, two bonus rooms and a two-car garage. It’s situated within walking distance to the golf course pro shop and 19th-hole restaurant, and is a bargain at $250,000,” Torrey said.

Another example of the type of property available in Jasper is a 20-acre Gentlemen’s Horse Farm, fully fenced and pasture ready for horses, cattle or both; it includes a two bedroom and two bath log cabin with a two car garage and a 12×24 tractor barn and workshop. With the exception of personal items, the property is being offered for $379,000 with furniture, appliances and shop tools included.

Knutzen noted that the Blue Ridge office services multiple counties including Gilmer, Fannin, Union and Towns as well as sections of Tennessee and North Carolina. “We have a good mix of vacation and second homes. The area lacks in hotels but thrives in cabin rentals. Some investors are looking for a return on their money while having the opportunity to also enjoy it when it’s not rented.”

Blake has also seen strong interest from investors looking for vacation rental properties, and said that their market covers approximately 80% second homes to 20% vacation. In fact, Highlands boasts the #14 slot in Barron’s Top 20 Places for Second Homes.

The historic Blue Ridge power plant reservoir make for a scenic outing.

The historic Blue Ridge power plant reservoir make for a scenic outing.

According to Fitts, a large percentage of the market is the Atlanta-based crowd, but there’s also a huge vacation market from south Florida since the Appalachian foothills are the closest mountains to them. “Historically, our market has been primarily vacation homes,” he explained. “Approximately 70 percent of our sales were vacation or second homes vs. 30 percent primary and retirement homes.”

Over the last 24 months, however, he has watched those numbers change. Now about half of the market is second homes and the other half is retirement and primary homes. He reported that there are plans in development for master-planned communities and retirement ‘active adult’ communities.

“Many more people are looking to move to our area full-time, and many of the homes that people bought previously as second homes are becoming their primary residences as they retire. All these things add up to an economic growth forecast over the next few years that’s expected to be great.”

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