Just an hour and a half north of the urban excitement of Atlanta, you can find a forested mountain road that offers all of the thrills of sinuous curves and all the splendor of magnificent vistas. This is the Richard B. Russell Scenic Byway. It is Georgia’s State Route 348. The Byway covers about fourteen miles as it rises and twists through the Chattahoochee National Forest. Topping out at 3,644 feet, the road is a treat for any driver who loves the road less traveled.
Begin in Helen, Georgia, a charming town set in the foothills. Helen is an Alpine village transported to North Georgia. The town is famous for its Bavarian style buildings and gives the visitor the impression of being surrounded by life-sized coo-coo clocks.
Helen is also famous for being crowded, and taking longer than expected to rive through. It is part of the experience, so relax and slow down and find ways to savor the moments. The Chattahoochee River flows through Helen; you can enjoy it by watching it or by tubing on it. Explore the specialty shops and look for bygone treasures at Nacoochee Village Antique Mall.
Have a meal at Betty’s, a combination grocery store and restaurant in operation since 1973. Cookies the size of pie plates are among the features that have made Betty’s a Helen landmark. Hogpen Gap eagerly welcomes motorcyclists, as the name suggests, and the food, whether American or German inspired, is hearty and good. Nearby, visit Anna Ruby Falls; the paved path and viewing areas are family friendly.
From Helen take 75A to 348, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Byway. There are many places to pull off, but you come upon them quickly and they are not well marked. So plan for slowdowns and stops—yours and other drivers’. From the overlooks, you have views of the rolling mountains.
Along the drive you will pass through Dukes Creek Falls Trailhead, which you can follow to get to the falls. Dukes Creek is where gold was found in 1828, causing the Georgia Gold Rush. Next comes Raven Cliff Falls Trailhead. The trail, to the falls is about two and a half miles long, and is an easy hike till near the end. The falls are three-tiered.
Continuing along the Byway, next is Piney Ridge, then White Oak Stamp Gap, Dodd Creek Vista, and Hogpen Gap, which is featured in the video below.
As you continue along the Byway you will pass through Tesnatee Gap, Oak Ridge, Lee Branch, Doug Gap, Union Baptist Church, and Chestnut Cove.
A photo posted by Ash “Pringles” Schellhase (@ashschellhase) on
The Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway also crosses the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. It begins at Springer Mountain and stretches more than two thousand miles to Mount Katahdinin in the state of Maine.
The Byway ends at route 180. If you want to have the highest vista in Georgia, follow 180 to visit Brasstown Bald at 4714 feet above sea level, and its spectacular circular viewing platform for 360-degree unobstructed views.
While you are in the area, be sure to visit the Nacoochee Valley and the Nacoochee Indian Mound. A Cherokee town called Guasili was here at the time the first Europeans arrived. But the mound builders, the Uchee Indians, lived here long before the Cherokees.