Just south of the North Carolina border, the highway hamlet of Dillard (pop. 339) is a mini fiefdom of the Dillard family, whose name dates back to the 1700s in these parts. For generations, the Dillards have run a local hospitality empire based around the sprawling set of bungalows, lodges, and a restaurant all going by the name Dillard House (706/746-5348 or 800/541-0671, rooms around $70 and up), on a hill above US-441 at the south edge of town. Heading up the complex is the Dillard House Restaurant, famous for its all-you-can-eat country cooking and its glass-walled dining room, where diners can enjoy plates of classic country ham, fried chicken, vegetables, cornbread, and assorted relishes and desserts. The legendary institution may today impress you as more institution than legend—bus tours dominate the clientele—but you never leave hungry. Rooms are around back in low-slung lodges scattered near a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a petting zoo.
In addition to the rambling inn, the family oligarchy operates a row of roadside businesses off US-441, selling collectible and keepsake souvenirs.
Mountain City: Foxfire Museum
The monolith of Black Rock Mountain imposes an early twilight on Mountain City (pop. 1,088), the community that stretches along US-441. Tucked away on the west side of US-441 just south of the turnoff to Black Mountain State Park, the modest Foxfire Museum (706/746-5828, Mon.-Sat., $8 adults) is part of a radical cultural and educational movement that began here in the mid-1960s when local schoolteacher Eliot Wigginton, frustrated in attempts to motivate his uninspired high-school students, assigned them the task of interviewing their elders about how things were in “the old days.” The students, inspired with the newly discovered richness of their Appalachian heritage, assembled the written interviews into a magazine, which they named Foxfire after a luminescent local fungus.
The magazine expanded to a series of Foxfire books, and more than eight million copies have been sold worldwide. The program’s twofold success—educational innovation and folk-life preservation—further broadened as the then-emerging back-to-the-land movement seized upon these books as vital how-to manuals for subsistence farming and generally living off the grid. The Foxfire organization still runs classes and events on a 106-acre campus in the hills above town.
Slicing through the Appalachian wilderness along the Georgia-South Carolina border, the Chattooga River rates among the nation’s top 10 white-water river adventures, attracting some 100,000 visitors a year for rafting, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, swimming, fishing, and riverside hiking. The Wild and Scenic-designated river was seen in the movie Deliverance, based on the book by Georgia poet and novelist James Dickey. Ever since the movie was released, authorities have been pulling bodies out of the river—not toothless mountaineers but overconfident river-runners who underestimate the white water’s power.
The largest town in the area, the down-home mountain community of Clayton (pop. 2,047) is a popular base for excursions into the wild forest and Chattooga River areas. US-441 has grown into an exurban morass of Walmart sprawl, but Main Street is a three-block length of wooden and brick storefronts on a sunny rise just west of the highway.
Black Rock Mountain State Park
At the wind-worn summit of 3,640-foot Black Rock Mountain, a flagstone terrace looks out over a grand Appalachian panorama: If there’s no fog, you can see clear to the South Carolina Piedmont 80 miles away and as far as the Great Smokies to the north. The highest state park in Georgia, Black Rock Mountain State Park offers hiking trails and accommodations in addition to the splendid vistas. Set off in a ring at the top of the mountain are 10 fully furnished spacious cottages updated with electricity, heat, and air conditioning. The cottages cost $85-250 per night, sleep 8 to 10 people, and are available for rent mid-March through mid-December. There’s also a pair of campgrounds. The park is three miles north of Clayton, well signed to the west of US-441. For information or for reservations for the cabins or the campgrounds, contact the visitors center (706/746-2141, reservations 800/864-7275) near the summit.