When most people think of Dahlonega, one thought comes to mind: gold. After all, this small town nestled in the mountains of North Georgia was the sight of the first major gold rush in the United States. Even the town’s name is derived from a Cherokee word which means “golden.” We’d always been aware of Dahlonega, but had never visited. Now, on a hot and muggy Saturday, we found ourselves cruising North along highway 129 to find out if, like the often misquoted saying goes, there actually was “gold in them thar hills.”
Dahlonega lies just 67 miles from Athens, so we were able to take our time getting there. We left home just after noon, and passed through Jefferson and Gainesville before crossing into Lumpkin County just after 1:00pm. We climbed steadily, then drove parallel to a river covered with kayaks until we reached the town proper.
Our first stop was Bratzeit, a must-try on every top 10 must-see list we could find. We pulled into the tiny parking lot and entered the restaurant, which specializes in German cuisine. The interior was colorful and inviting, blue and white which German decour hanging all over the walls. After studying the menu for a few minutes, we approached the counter and ordered Jaegerschnitzel, Currywurst, and Koenig Ludwig Weissbier beer.
We retired to the patio which was adorned with umbrellas and blue and white checkered table cloths, where we sipped our beer as we waited for the food. The beer was cold and refreshing on a warm day, with subtle hints of fruit and cloves. We finished it off and leaned back to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
Soon, the food arrived, and we dug in, taking turns sampling each entrée. The Jaegarschnitzel, thin, breaded chicken covered with mushroom gravy, was nothing short of delicious. So were the potato pancakes with sour cream that accompanied it. The Currywurst, bratwurst with home-made curry ketchup, was spicy and juicy, and the house fries were hot and crispy.
By the time we’d polished off our entrees, we were just about full. Still, there was room for one more thing. What would a visit to a German restaurant be without trying the strudel? After the first bite, we were glad we did. The flaky pastry was stuffed with apple filling and covered with a vanilla sauce. Pure decadence!
After lunch, we headed for Cane Creek Falls. Following posted signs, we turned on Camp Glisson Road, which was narrow and lined with trees. A few steep hills and sharp curves later, and we found ourselves at the entrance to Camp Glisson, where visitors could access the trail leading to the falls.
The falls are a natural wonder, cascading over dark rocks before collecting in a picturesque pool at the base. They are beautiful. Probably. We can’t say for sure because we never saw them. There was a chain across the road leading to the falls stating that the area was closed to visitors. That’s right, they actually closed a waterfall. As we turned around, we couldn’t help but remember the scene in My Cousin Vinny where Joe Pesci is forced to buy a ridiculous suit from a second-hand store since the only place in town to buy a new one “got the flu. The whole store got the flu!”
Next up was a visit to the downtown area. Much like Helen, Dahlonega is full of shops, boutiques, and traffic. We moved slowly along Chestatee Street, looking for a place to park. We circled the public square, then turned onto a side street which promised parking. We stopped in a public lot and made our way back toward the square on foot.
We walked along the street, which was teeming with shops. We visited several of them, including Cranberry Corners, which features everything from souvenirs to clothing. We purchased Father’s Day cards and stamps to mail them with, then took the cards to a post office box and dropped them in. Would our fathers notice the Dahlonega postmark? With all of our recent travels around the state, we thought it likely that they would.
After walking around a little more, we stopped at Dahlonega Fudge Factory, which specializes in handmade chocolates and fudge. We checked out the various candies and treats before eventually purchasing a small piece of chocolate fudge with pecans, which we ate before going back outside.
Across the street from the fudge shop lies the public square, in which stands the old Lumpkin County courthouse. It was from the steps of this building that, in 1849, Dahlonega Mint Assayer Dr. M.F. Stephenson tried to persuade miners to stay in Dahlonega rather than joining the California gold rush, saying “There’s millions in it.” It is this statement that is often famously misquoted as “There’s gold in them thar hills,” a line that was never actually uttered at the time.
Today the courthouse houses the Dahlonega Gold Museum. We crossed the street and entered the square, which featured a bluegrass band performing beneath a tent. We worked our way through the crowd on onlookers and approached the museum, which holds a wealth of information. Inside, visitors can find out all there is to know about the history of the Dahlonega gold rush. Probably. We can’t say for sure because we didn’t go in.
Instead, we skirted the courthouse and made our way to Shenanigans, an Irish pub and restaurant located on Warwick Street. We walked around to the back of the building and entered. The day had become obnoxiously hot, but the inside was blessedly cool. We got a table and sat looking at the walls, which were covered by $1 bills with messages written on them.
When the waitress came, we ordered an Angry Orchard cider and a seasonal draft beer whose name, regrettably, we can’t seem to remember. We spent an hour or so in the bar, cooling off and watching huge plates of food leave the kitchen and head for hungry patrons.
Sufficiently refreshed, we left the pub and checked out a few more stores, eventually winding up at the Dahlonega General Store. If ever there was a place that had a little bit of everything, it has to be this wooden structure near the square. We browsed through the store, which overflows with food, candy, clothes, novelties, toys, and outdoor goods. A scavenger’s dream.
Eventually we returned to the front of the store, where a giant wooden bear held court. It was a fitting way to end our visit to Dahlonega, sanding side by side, gazing up at our namesake. If there is one thing The Bear Team enjoys, it’s anything bear related.
We headed back to the car and drove around the square one last time. Minutes later, we were headed South, back toward the lower ground of home. Dahlonega is a beautiful place, though a bit on the touristy side for our taste. Still, we’d enjoyed our visit. Certainly, we’d be back in the future. But for now, we were Athens bound.
That wraps it up for now. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it. For more information on Dahlonega, visit the official tourism site at http://dahlonega.org/. We’ll be back soon with further ramblings around our great state.
Next time: something a bit different, as we check out a true Georgia institution: the Terrapin Beer Company.
By Keith and Dena Maxwell