Step into Rabun County, Georgia’s little town of Clayton (2,000 or so residents), nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains close to the borders of both North and South Carolina, and you’re stepping deeply into the history of this region of Appalachia. And fall, with its brisk air, colorful foliage and harvest-time atmosphere, is a lovely time to do it.
The Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center just outside of town is a perfect place to sample remembrances of pioneer life, with its gristmill, log cabins, folk art and artifacts. As it happens, the 50th anniversary Foxfire Mountaineer Festival takes place Oct. 1 at the Rabun County Civic Center. (You may have read some of the 12 Foxfire anthologies containing old-timers’ recollections; a magazine carrying on that tradition is still published by Rabun school students.)
Tallulah Falls Gorge State Park was only established in the 1990s, but the two-mile-long gorge, with cliffs reaching up to 1,000 feet, is as old as, well… the hills. Six beautiful waterfalls dominate the landscape, and it’s also the site where Sarasota’s own Karl Wallenda traversed the high wire across the gorge back in 1970.
The easily walkable downtown offers small, friendly stores selling local antiques and crafts. Eighteen buildings are on the Historic Clayton Walking Tour, offered by the Rabun County Historical Society.
The Beechwood Inn (220 Beechwood Drive, Clayton, 706-782-5485) blends rooms furnished with handmade quilts, woven rugs, early American antiques and fireplaces with amenities like gourmet dinners, wine tastings, and a music room complete with dulcimers and fiddles. Private balconies to enjoy those mountain views, too. $179-$299.
Mountain Aire Cottages & Vacation Rentals (18 Motel Drive, Clayton, 706-782-9568). Perfect for a family getaway, with your choice of three individual cottages or four kitchenette rooms or suites, with names like “Dogwood” and “Americana.” Count on sleigh beds, wood walls and floors, some fireplaces and a homelike feeling. $79-$195 depending on length of stay.
The Dillard House Inn (768 Franklin St., Dillard, 800-541-0671). Something of a legend, having grown from humble beginnings in 1917 to greet hundreds of thousands of guests since. The Rock House Inn (the original Dillard House) offers plenty of Southern charm, but there are also rental cottages and a Chalet Village with hot tubs, trout pond and tennis courts. Rates from about $90 to $239.
Get your thrills whitewater rafting on the Chattooga River (the setting for the movie Deliverance). If it’s your first time, try the “Mild & Scenic” section of the river; more accomplished rafters can tackle the famous Five Falls. The Nantahala Outdoor Center has everything you need, including a riverside lunch. (828-785-6846)
The Tiger Drive-In is a throwback to those happy days of piling into the family station wagon and watching a movie under the stars. First opened in 1954, the Tiger shows first-run movies, Thursday-Sunday. (Three miles south of Clayton on old U.S. Highway 441 South; 706-782-1611)
Several wineries offer tastings and merchandise; we recommend Tiger Mountain Vineyards, purveying both reds and whites crafted from vines in Rabun County. The Red Barn Café here serves lunches and dinners on weekends, too. (2592 Old U.S. Highway 441 S., 706-782-4777)
At downtown’s Clayton Pharmacy, sidle up to the old-time soda fountain and dip your straw into that vintage-y root beer float. (100 S. Main St., 706-782-3211)
Even if you don’t stay at the Dillard (see above), you should sample its authentic Southern cooking: generous portions of fried chicken, candied sweet potatoes and fruit cobbler, served family style.
Locals and visitors alike gather at downtown Clayton’s Universal Joint (109 N. Main St., 706-782-7116), a friendly pub serving great beers, burgers, tacos and such, with lots of kids’ menu items, too.
Everybody heads for down-home Southern breakfasts to the Clayton Café (50 N. Main St., 706-782-5438), open for more than 60 years and still the place for great biscuits and gossip.
At quaint little Grapes and Beans (42 E. Savannah St., 706-212-0020), the emphasis is on local, sustainable, often organic cuisine, including soups, salads and vegetarian entrées.