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Unicoi State Park -- worth the trip

Waterfalls, fresh trout, Bavarian-style architecture, mountains and canoeing — Unicoi State Park is your base to discover all this and so much more.

Only a mile from Helen, Ga., where you can find antique shopping, golf, schnitzel, cobblestone streets and a winery, the park features several hiking trails, including a scenic stroll around a 53-acre lake. The lake includes a sandy beach for swimmers and sunbathers.

Unicoi is a great place for an extended stay. Visitors can experience the rugged outdoors at one of their many campsites or rent a cottage, which can accommodate up to eight people, perfect for groups. To enjoy the luxuries of a modern hotel, stay at the lodge. The rooms are clean and welcoming after a day of hiking, canoeing, fishing and boating.

And whether you’re staying for a day or a week, a stop by the lodge restaurant is a must. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets daily featuring fresh fish, specialties such as London Broil and an array of delectable desserts. There are also gift shops near the restaurant and inside the visitor’s center, in case you’re looking for a souvenir or information about the region.

If you want to sample some of what Unicoi has to offer — free of charge — stop by Saturday for Outdoor Adventure Day. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the park will offer free activities, including airgun shooting, archery, hayrides, fishing, canoeing, skeet shooting and live animal shows.

Although the park offers plenty to do no matter when you visit, you don’t want to miss some of the surrounding hikes in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The most famous of these, perhaps, includes Anna Ruby Falls, appreciated for its ease of access from the road. A 0.4-mile hike on relatively flat ground leads seekers to a double waterfall named for a Civil War colonel’s daughter. The falls are only four miles from Unicoi State Park.

If you’re ready to venture further afield, there are many more waterfalls in the area, including Dukes Creek, Raven Cliffs, Horse Trough, High Shoals and DeSoto falls. Nominal fees are charged for certain sites.

For those who have a limited amount of time, visiting Raven Cliffs Falls and Duke’s Creek Falls in the same day is possible, since the trails are only a mile apart on the Richard Russell Scenic Highway, aka Georgia Highway 348.

While trekking among the Blue Ridge Mountains, be sure to bring ample amounts of water, bug spray and sunscreen. Stay on the trails and pay attention to signs and notices. For example, the Forest Supervisor’s Office has published an alert notifying the public of black bear activity on the Appalachian Trail.

For more information about Unicoi State Park, visit www.gastateparks.org/Unicoi. For more about the Chattahoochee and Oconee National Forests, go to www.fs.fed.us/conf.

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