Sky Valley Road: Georgia to NC Highlands

After an adventure at Georgia’s version of Niagara – Tallulah Gorge, I headed north on Highway 23, towards the North Carolina line. The last few miles of Georgia mountain road, is surrounded by the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains and a few of Georgia’s highest peaks – including the area around Black Rock State Park.

This stretch of highway is meant to be enjoyed in lower gear, as drive through small charming mountain communities like Dillard, before scaling the rugged baldface peaks that line the Georgia-NC border.

As you near the NC state line you have two options (both equally stunning) –

  1. Continue north on Highway 23 to Franklin, NC and the Cullasaja Gorge area; or…
  2. Veer northeast on Highway 246 towards Sky Valley, GA and Highlands NC

While I love Franklin and maneuevering the waterfall wonderland of Cullasaja Gorge, but with limited daylight I decided to follow the road to ‘Sky Valley’ and beyond.

What a treat it was…246 gains quick elevation as the road twists and turns, providing dramatic vistas, including a popular overlook of Georgia’s highest elevation community – Sky Valley.

It reminds me a bit of The Lord of the Rings, as a distant Estatoah Falls waterfalls tumbles over stone faced mountain into the valley below.

Sky Valley is a hidden jewel nestled in a high mountain valley that feels as though you are living among the clouds. Developed as a ski community, the ski resort closed in 2004, but the community continues to thrive as a charming resort town with great restaurants and a popular golf course. The area around Sky Valley also provides access to popular waterfall hikes: Mud Creek Falls and Estatoah Falls…

Highway 246 has you weaving back and forth between NC and GA as the road zigzags the border. The entrance to Sky Valley is actually in NC before you descend back into GA.

Be sure to pull over at the scenic turnout, which provides panaromic views of Sky Valley below.

As you cross into North Carolina, you’ll discover the artsty resort communities of Highlands, Cashiers and Sapphire Valley. We’ve explored the areas a few times on American Nomad. This area is hands down one of my favorite spots to visit.

Highlands’ walkable downtown is filled with fun shops and eateries perfect for any palette and taste. I have found some fun clothing finds from cozy sweaters and fun home decor.

Highlands is a resort community that is highend and downhome – it is perfect blend of rustic charm and elegance. If you are looking to splurge on a hotel, The Old Edwards Inn provides historic charm and walkable access to downtown shops.

The High Hampton Inn has been welcoming guests for 100 years on the site of an expansive historic estate and National Historic District. My great-grandmother stayed in the resort in the 1930s, and I’ve always wanted to check into the history of this luxurious mountain resort. It is a splurge for an overnight stay – but you can visit the hotel and treat yourself to a drink or spa treatment, even if you cannot stay the night.

Highlands and the nearby communities of Cashiers, Sapphire Valley and Lake Toxaway are filled with tons of wonderful accomodations for any budget. I recommend the Sapphire Valley Resort if you are looking for an affordable condo – or The Hampton Inn (by Hilton).

Whiteside Mountain:

From Highlands, I headed east on US 64, which cuts through a narrow canyon for ten miles before reaching the neighboring community of Cashiers, NC.

This stretch of highway provides awe-inspiring views of the ‘highlands’ of NC’s southwestern Blue Ridge, including the jagged baldfaced stone crags of Whiteside Mountain. At 4,930 feet, Whiteside Mountain has some of the higest cliffs in Eastern North America.

Hikers can explore the backcountry on the Whiteside Mountain Trail, which takes several hours.

If you are just passing through – fear not, you can still witness the beauty of Whiteside without leaving your car. A small roadside turnout (roughly five miles west of Highlands) provides spectcular views of Whiteside Mountain.

The Shadow of the Bear: For years, I’ve been told the legend of a bear that almost magically appears over Whiteside Mountain in the autumn twilight. This trip God blessed me with a glimpse of the Shadow of the Bear as I passed Whiteside Mountain just after five-thirty p.m. It was unexpected as I was a little late in the season for ‘bear sightings’ – but timing was right for a bit of mountain myth and magic.

What is the ‘Shadow’: Every fall a unique phenomenon of light and dark, geology and power of the setting sun creates a shadow that looks like a bear. While the roots of this bear’s shadow are scientific – each sighting feels like magic come to life.

I unfortunately was unable to pull over to get a good picture of the Shadow of the Bear (a truck was tailing me and I couldn’t get into the turnout in time), but I hold the magical moment close in my mind.

Image credit – Romantic Asheville

Destination Coffee pit-stop: Cashiers is home to one of my favorite coffee shops in western NC – Buck’s Coffee. With upscale rustic decor, Buck’s brews up delicious lattes and serves sweet pastries to give you fuel for all you mountain adventures (including shopping in Cashiers awesome clothing shops).

With dusk closing in and Jack Frost blowing a windy cold chill, I continued through the Sapphire Valley’s twisting canyon roads to Brevard and on to Asheville, where we’ll pick up the American Nomad story with our next adventures…

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