Ellijay, Georgia is a tiny town of less than two thousand people in a little over 2.5 square miles. It is halfway between Blue Ridge and Jasper, just 75 miles north of Atlanta.
Originally Cherokee territory, Ellijay also takes its name from the Cherokee word Elatseyi meaning “many waters.” Ellijay is located near the confluence of the Cartecay and Ellijay rivers, known then as the Coosawattee River, as well as the lovely Carters Lake.
White settlers formed Gilmer County in the 1830s and designated Ellijay the county seat. Ellijay remained completely remote until 1880s when some activity from the railroad and timber industries came through.
However it was not until the 1990s, after the creation of the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway, that nature lovers and tourists started rushing in.
This new parkway made it easy for people to zip from Atlanta straight to the North Georgia mountains.
Ellijay is surrounded by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests and Blue Ridge Mountains, and holds the Cohutta Wilderness Area, Springer Mountain Area Hiking Trails, Rich Mountain WMA, and other trails.
The famous Appalachian Trail begins in Georgia at Springer Mountain, and nearly 80 miles of the AT run through Georgia, so it has become quite the “AT” community.
Georgia has seven official natural wonders including Amicalola Falls, Stone Mountain, Tallulah Gorge, the Okefenokee Swamp, Radium Springs, Providence Canyon, and Warm Springs, all in or within a short drive from Ellijay.
Ellijay is also a short drive from Blairsville and Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point, at nearly 4,800 feet. Brasstown Bald is home to Georgia’s only “cloud forest” where the forest is constantly drenched from its altitude and position inside the clouds. We visited Blairsville and Brasstown Bald in 2021 and had a wonderful time.
Need a laugh? Check out the Early Cuyler monument when you visit the Cartecay River Experience. Cuyler is the lead character of an obnoxious, cringy, and highly offensive animated show called The Squidbillies that people either love or hate.
Its fictional setting is in a community just outside of Ellijay, which is how the monument landed here. Either way, it is a funny and unexpected sight to see.
Ellijay has become increasingly famous holding its title of Heritage Apple Capital of Georgia. It is full of vineyards, orchards, farms, and U-Pick apple barns.
Ellijay River Vineyards, Buckley Vineyards, Engelheim Vineyards, Cartecay Vineyards, Reece’s Cider Company, Panorama Orchards & Farm Market, Ott Farms & Vineyards, R & A Orchards, BJ Reece Orchards, Hillcrest Orchards, Mountain Valley Farm & Store, and the Red Apple Barn are just a few of these places open to the public.
For more cool history and facts about Ellijay, visit the Gilmer County Historical Society and Civil War Museum in the historic Tabor House.
Ellijay has some really great places to eat. My top pick is La Catrina Tacos & Margaritas, with a second location in East Ellijay, which makes this a good time to explain that.
East Ellijay is actually south of Ellijay proper, and no one really knows the clear perimeters. The two towns are collectively called “The Ellijays” and share common municipalities and attractions.
Back to the food, though.
La Catrina serves birria, one of my favourite dishes. This was the best birria I have had outside of Tampa, and I am a hound for finding places that serve it. Fresh slow-cooked beef or pork roast inside grilled tortillas, served with a spicy red consommé. Mmm.
The Catrina salad comes with a delish avocado dressing and juicy grilled chicken.
We allllso shared the Burrito Catrin with grilled chicken, chorizo, beans, rice, queso and pico de gallo.
We also tried a Philly Cheesesteak (minus the green pepper) and squash casserole, and honestly that casserole was my favourite of all the things.
Ellijay Coffee House (formerly the Martyn House) is a MUST when you visit Ellijay. Their selection of baked goods, kombuchas, teas, and hot drinks are unique.
They sell a lot of oddball, horror, and cult classic memorabilia, and part of the coffeehouse is a vintage record store and arcade.
The Shack Restaurant and Ellijay Wood Fired have been packed each time we have been in town, but we will be going back for them.
The Roof Ellijay, Back Porch Bistro, Zen & Juice, Boardwalk Pizza & Pub, Cornerstone Café, Cartecay River Brewing Company, and River Street Tavern are all on our list too, so check back for future updates.
Most of you all know I am not into shopping but Ellijay has plenty of great boutiques, home goods, gift shops, antiques, and local crafters/artisans with work for sale.
Two random bits- I recently learned that former President Jimmy Carter & his wife Rosalynn have a second home in Ellijay, and I really enjoy this Penland’s-Ballards mural below.
Ellijay is a fun place to visit, but plan accordingly to catch some of the festivals the town hosts each year. In May, go for the Taste of Ellijay and Georgia Apple Blossom festivals. In fall, go for the Dancing Goats Folk Fest each September, and the Georgia Apple Festival each October.
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