Summer is almost here. Those looking for adventure, history and local flavor should plan a weekend getaway to Dahlonega. Located approximately 60 miles north of Atlanta, Dahlonega is a mountain town rich in history and charm.
There’s still gold to be found
History suggests Dahlonega was the location for the first gold rush in 1828, more than 20 years before gold was discovered in California. Thousands of men flooded north Georgia’s mountainous terrain looking to make a fortune in gold. In the early days of the gold rush, the area was so saturated with gold that one could simply walk along the banks of a creek and pluck small gold nuggets. For many, panning was the easiest method for finding gold. Ultimately, the gold had to be mined from the indigenous quartz rock. It was hard, backbreaking and dangerous work. Miners blasted their way deep into the Dahlonega countryside in search of riches. For some, there were millions made from the tons of gold found in Dahlonega. But it was short lived.
Today one can visit one of the gold mines from years past. Consolidated Gold Mine is the only place where visitors can take guided tours and go thousands of feet down, on foot, into the caverns created in search of gold.
As one descends into the depths of these abandoned mines, a sudden drop in temperature is felt as narrow stairs lead deeper into the earth. The tour guide paints a vivid picture of a mine worker’s life, detailing the everyday dangers of gold mining. From cave-ins to explosions, death sat heavy on workers’ minds as they extracted gold from rock. While in the shafts, visitors get a feel for the cramped, coffin-like conditions.
The town’s other gold mine attraction–Crisson Gold Mines–offers a different gold mining experience. On display is a 125-year-old stamp mill that is still used to crush quartz rock that contains gold. This crushed rock is called ore. The tour also features other gold mining machines and a moonshine still.
The real treat of this tour comes at the end. This is where visitors can get their hands wet and catch a little gold fever. After a brief panning demonstration, one can grab a bucket and sift for ore. Although the panning process is a bit of a strain on the back, the excitement of seeing a tiny sparkle of gold might wash away the discomfort.
More than just gold
Between the gold mines and the Dahlonega Gold Museum, tourists can spend an entire day learning about the city’s golden history. But Dahlonega is far more than a cheeky gold town.
“This is Atlanta’s backyard,” said Jay Markwalter, tourism director at Dahlonega-Lumpkin County. “We have so much to offer…[there’s something for] the adventure seeker, there’s family-fun activities and something for arts and culture and winery people.”
Dahlonega’s downtown square is lined with shops and restaurants that satisfy a variety of tastes. “It’s authentic. It’s not a Disney-built downtown,” said Markwalter. The downtown district was the 2010 winner of the Georgia Downtown Association’s Award of Excellence in Downtown Development.
According to Markwalter, May in Dahlonega should be considered arts month. “You’re probably going to stumble on an event or festival,” he said. “Live music, especially at night, plays a major role in the downtown area.”
Those interested in exploring can get maps for self-guided walking tours of downtown Dahlonega from the visitors center.
The surrounding countryside is known to have one of the highest concentrations of wineries and vineyards in north Georgia–recognized by some as “the Heart of the Georgia Wine Country.” Favorable growing conditions and mountainous elevations make Lumpkin County ideal for a wide variety of European, French hybrids and American wine grapes. Wine lovers can enjoy mountain backdrops while experiencing Dahlonega wine country at vineyards such as Three Sisters, Wolf Mountain and Cavender Creek.
With all the interesting sights and activities Dahlonega has to offer make sure to take in its main natural attraction—its breathtaking mountain landscape. Enjoy.
Appalachian Jam Sessions – Through Oct. 13
Every Saturday through October, north Georgia’s mountain music pickers and singers flock to the Dahlonega Gold Museum State Historic Site. From 2-5 p.m., mountain-style musicians are invited to participate in the Appalachian Jam. Acoustic bluegrass and old-time string music come alive on the Public Square every Saturday. Visitors are asked to bring their own chairs.
First Friday Night Concert Series – Through October
On the first Friday of each month through October, the diversity of local musicians Is showcased at free concerts in Hancock Park, located one block north of the square.
26th Annual Mountain Flower Fine Arts Festival – May 19-20
The 26th Annual Mountain Flower Fine Art and Wine Festival will be on the Dahlonega Public Square. More than 70 artists are expected, and visitors are invited to watch as they create art on the spot. Pottery, two-dimensional art and photography are among the art forms on display.
Wine Festival Weekend – June 2 - 30
This year marks the 11th anniversary of the Georgia Wine Country Festival, held annually at Three Sisters Vineyards in Dahlonega-Lumpkin County. The festival takes place every weekend in June beginning June 2, Festival hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, and admission will be free. www.ThreeSistersVineyards.com.