Georgia on my Mind, Part Two: Helen, GA and Vogel State Park

With every switch back, the trail immerses you in the sounds of the surrounding forest; however, at the midpoint of each switchback you can briefly hear the falls before being enveloped by the quietness of the forest again.

After we checked out of Amicalola State Park (see Part One), we meandered along the base of the mountains as we drove through the foothills on our way to Helen, Georgia. Our primary objective in Helen was to mine for gems. Gem mining was a perfect, short, and reasonably cost effective activity to keep the mini occupied in between destinations. If you are ever in the Helen area, Outpost Gold and Gem Panning is fun stop.

Not the best picture quality, but you get the gist.

Helen is a super cute town that looks like a Bavarian village… plopped in the North Georgia mountains. The town was SUPER crowded and since we were mid-pandemic; we kept driving through after we mined our gems. Our next stop was Vogel State Park.

To get to Vogel State Park, we had to cross over a mountain and of course; it started to downpour as we drove. Russell Scenic Highway is a beautiful highway to drive on a sunny day, but in a storm- well, it is still beautiful, but also terrifying. As soon as I saw the words “scenic highway,” I knew we were screwed. We were driving over the mountain.  Up we went… and up… and up. Amid the stormy fog and mist, I knew we were on the edge of some crazy vistas- I could feel it in my bones. After what seemed like FOREVER, we drove over the mountain and out of the storm.

The view on a clear day from Russell Scenic Highway.

We were now a short distance from Vogel State Park. With my adrenaline pumping from the ride, I knew that I needed to stop and get ice to refill our cooler. We stopped at Sunrise Grocery which turned out to be such a good find, we stopped there again the next day on our way out. Looking like what you think a little mountainside grocery store would look like, it was full of unique artisan goods. I found my all-time favorite  soap at this place. Not only does it smell heavenly, but it is gorgeously crafted. I was super happy when I did my research and found that I can purchase the soap from the maker’s Etsy shop!

We hopped back in the car and continued our jaunt down the road to Vogel State Park. Located at the base of Blood Mountain, this State Park had a huge campground, a lake, and a creek. The highest peak on the Appalachian Trail, Blood Mountain, is the sixth-tallest mountain in Georgia at 4,458 feet tall. While we didn’t do any hiking here; we enjoyed the beauty of the State Park. The mini did a little swimming, and we had a nice campfire classic of hot dogs and smores. One thing I like about camping at Vogel was that the Bear Pole that held your trash was much further away from your tent pad. While this helped me feel *a little* better, I still could not sleep very well. Since there was no internet signal to be found, I laid in bed and formulated a plan…

The next morning we woke up early and packed our campsite up. At this point, most of our cooler was water (note to self, invest in better cooler) so we had to dump a little of our food since food poisoning and the great outdoors are not agreeable partners. We stopped at the camp store so I could quickly hop on their signal and complete the rest of my last-minute plan. Then we were off. It was a beautiful day, and we drove back over the Russell Scenic Highway. This time we made a couple of stops for pictures.

Our first stop was Hogpen Gap, from which the summits of several mountains are visible, including Brasstown Bald, the tallest Mountain in Georgia. This overlook was not crowded and offered beautiful views.

Our next stop was Dukes Creek Falls in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. This 1.9 mile moderate level trail descends more than 400 feet into the gorge below. With beautiful mountain views from the top of the trail, the bottom of the trail offers a whole different atmosphere with the crashing water of the falls converging into the creek. With every switch back, the trail immerses you in the sounds of the surrounding forest; however, at the midpoint of each switchback you can briefly hear the falls before being enveloped by the quietness of the forest again. It was well worth the hour hike to the bottom.

Then it was onward to our surprise final destination…

Stay tuned for Part Three!