Along the Georgia Mountain Parkway one of the main attractions are the seasonal events held at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee. Its Fall Festival is a popular destination for “leaf peepers” who come from throughout the Southeast to view the colors of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The festival combines country, gospel and "old-time" music with heritage displays, crafts and live shows to make it one of the more popular events along the Parkway. The fair is run by the Towns County Lions and proceeds go to help members of the community with eye glasses and exams, hearing aids, recordings for the blind, local scholarships and service programs, and the Georgia Lions Lighthouse.
Parking in the extensive, tiered parking lot on the east of the entrance, music greets visitors as they walk downhill to the gates of the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Be prepared for the standard rules: No Alcoholic beverages, no pets, proper dress, and no photographs of crafters without permission. Although the cost is higher than most other Georgia festivals, the musical performances are included in the admission, so if you intend to stay for the music its actually a pretty good deal.
Local musicians highlight the
Georgia Mountain Fall Festival
After paying admission take a few minutes to be entertained by some excellent local pickers normally playing at a booth just past the gate. The first area as you enter the Fairground (and the last area as you leave) is for vendors. The Georgia Mountain Fall Festival traditionally attracts some top-notch mountain craft vendors organized in a circle on the right. Whether you are looking for the vendors, food, or Anderson Music Hall turn right immediately after entering the park and follow the asphalt-paved path through the vendor area.
A wide variety of crafts are offered here including hand-woven blankets and hand-sewn quilts, belts made while you wait, one-of-a-kind clothes, even birdhouses. Food served in the vendor area is pretty much typical fair food, hot dogs, burgers and chili topped off with a funnel cake. Expect longer lines at the end of a show at the music hall because hundreds of fans tend to come out hungry.
Anderson Music Hall was added to the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in 1979 and named in honor of county music legend Whiperin’ Bill Anderson. Although born in South Carolina, Anderson grew up in the Atlanta area, attending the University of Georgia. He is a member of the County Music Hall of Fame and Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His talent is far-reaching, since his credits include a stint as a game show host and as a soap opera actor. The hall sits on a knoll behind the vendor area of the park and the entrance is on the far side of the building.
From the food area continue following the vendor loop to the end, at the main road. At this point you will see the heritage area on the left and the Exhibition Hall down the road near Lake Chatuge on the right. Turn right and enter the Hall.
Exhibition Hall at the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival
Exhibition Hall is an extremely eclectic collection of items from local businesses and homes that illustrate life in the Georgia Mountains before present-day. Among the unique displays is a personal favorite, a Linotype machine from Sword Printing Company in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Before computers, printers used this machine to print most large jobs including your daily newspapers. Cash registers, knife sharpeners, old washers (the kind with a ringer on the top), and an upright piano are among the many interesting displays.
Adjacent to the hall is the Antique Farm Museum. It houses a wide variety of equipment spanning nearly two centuries of farming in the north Georgia Mountains including a thrashing machine, baler, and milk-bottling machine. One interesting facet of the equipment is the presence of steam-powered engines that predated the modern diesel and gas powered equipment that became popular in the early 1900’s. The hall also has many of the internal combustion vehicles on display. As you leave the museum, a working mill grinds wheat into flour. On the far side of the mill is the Carnival Grounds, where animal acts entertain the kids.
Mill wheel at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds
The heritage section is one of our favorites. Climb the hill towards the entrance, then turn left to visit this area. On the left is Pine Grove Schoolhouse from nearby Scattaway Creek. Built in the early 1900’s, this typical one-room schoolhouse replaced an earlier log cabin structure on the same location. Mrs. Parlee Wood did not have a blackboard, so she would write in paint on the walls of the school. A mountain cabin dating back to 1842 that was in use in nearby North Carolina was donated to the fairgrounds in the 1970’s sits on this section. More modern structures house traditional craft-making activities including soap-making and quilting.
Make sure to visit the sawmill while it’s in operation. The concept of a small, family-run saw mill has been lost in the Georgia Mountains since the early 1900’s. The sawmill at the Georgia Mountains Fall Festival recreates the traditional sawmill of the mid 1800’s with men turning logs with traditional equipment of the period (but powered by electricity) including a circular saw. When in full production a mill like this could turn out 2000 board feet of lumber a day. In north Georgia there were more than a hundred such mills at the start of the Civil War.
From the Heritage Area it’s a good idea to return to the vendor area to pick up a few unusual gifts for friends. After all, Christmas is right around the corner.
Where to stay Georgia’s Lake Chatuge is the site of the fairgrounds, and visitors can set up their tents or park their RV’s in campgrounds adjacent to the park. Amenities offered at the campgrounds include boating, fishing, tennis, picnic tables, cable TV, wireless internet hookups, and a rhododendron garden. Unless you have a spot reserved, don't count on getting one. They are reserved a year in advance. The National Park Service also runs a 30 space Lake Chatuge campground (Take U.S. 76 northwest from Hiawassee for 2 miles; turn left (south) on Georgia 288 for 1 mile.) Other Lodging in Hiawassee, GA and other nearby cities includes upscale lodging (The Ridges, formally Fieldstone Inn or Brasstown Valley Resort), or visit Enota Mountain Retreat a nearby resort with camping, RV pads, or lodge-style cabins.
Weekdays 10 AM – 8 PM
Saturday 9 AM – 8 PM
Sunday 9 AM – 6 PM
Musical acts appear throughout the day and during evening hours.
Map to Georgia Mountain Fall Festival
Take I-575 north. At the Cherokee-Pickens border this becomes GA 515, the Georgia Mountain Parkway. Travel 75.6 miles, passing through the towns of Jasper, Ellijay, Blue Ridge and Blairsville to the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. Turn left at the large entrance. Parking is on the right, up a hill. Camping is straight ahead, but the campground is full during all events.