Saturday, October 18, 2008

Georgia’s Premier Getaway - The Lodge at Smithgall Woods


The drive through the rolling hills and plush forests of northeastern Georgia really set the mood for what we were to find at Smithgall Woods. We spent about an hour in the car navigating through some of the most beautiful woodlands that we’d seen in a long time. It was even necessary for us to stop the car a few times just to get out, breathe in the clean air and take in what seemed to be “the perfect forest.”

Once we arrived at the property, we entered the welcome/visitor center for the 5,600 acre conservation area that is home to the Lodge at Smithgall Woods. Greeted at the desk by a very friendly attendant, who not only got us checked in, but proceeded to inform us about the lodge, its amenities as well as their current conservation efforts. Inside the visitor center we had an opportunity to see and hear about three snakes that were currently being nursed back to health so that they could be freed once again into the surrounding hills.

Once we arrived at the Garden Cottage, we were shown around by one of the friendly staff members, who went above and beyond to go over everything that we would or could want to know about the cabin and surrounding property. The ‘cottage’ was actually more like a state of the art condo, disguised on the outside as a rustic retreat. Inside we found all of the modern day amenities ranging from full kitchen, living room, bedroom, TVs and washer and dryer to a rustic porch spanning the entire front side as well as a 6 person hot tub hidden in a wooded nook along the side of the cabin. Our cabin faced a perfectly formed herb and vegetable garden that Smithgall’s chefs use for their organic meals.

After getting our things settled we went outside to meet up with John Erbele, the property’s General Manager and resident expert on the lodge, the grounds and the history of the area. John was, from the very beginning, a very informative, funny and personable guide and he wasted no time loading us into one of the lodge’s vans to tour us around the property.



The Lodge at Smithgall Woods is made up of 4 cottages (Creekside, Garden, Dover and Laurel) plus the Smithgall (the main lodge). With its total of 14 rooms Smithgall never has more than 28 guests on the property at a time. Surrounded by acres of hemlocks, pines, oaks & rhododendron along with walks along the many hiking trails and exploring the banks of the two pristine trout streams ultimately brings you to a seemingly flawless, ‘fairytale’ piece of the world. Smithgall also has 60 (out of the 100 on the planet) endangered evergreens growing safely on the premises.

As we were on-site on an ‘off’ day and there were no cooks on the property so we decided to make the 5 minute drive to the small town of Helen for dinner and some general exploring. Driving through the town you can’t help but to do a double take. It is as if someone decided that a small woodsy area in the hills of northeastern Georgia would be a good place to replicate a small German village…one that maybe Hansel and Gretel could use as a second home. Filled with shops, restaurants and markets, Helen is a worthwhile stop when visiting the Lodge at Smithgall Woods.


Within the Smithgall Woods Conservation area, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources does a great job of both maintaining the natural look and feel of the forest and landscape, but also strictly enforces their regulations which help to keep the resident wildlife populations intact. It is nice to know that the hunting and fishing regulations will keep these woods full of the deer, wild turkey, bear, rabbit and pristine trout that we witnessed feeding and playing in their safe haven at Smithgall. Dukes creek runs through Smithgall Lodge it is strictly ‘catch and release’ and enforces barbless hooks. The largest trout caught at Smithgall was 29 ½ inches long!

One of 7 lodges operated by Georgia State Parks, The Lodge at Smithgall Woods is by far one to make a point to visit. Make sure to reserve your cottages ahead of time. Prices range from $249 to $399 per night…and is well worth it. Smithgall Lodge is the ultimate destination for corporate retreats, spiritual discovery and a wonderland for nature enthusiasts. Although children are welcome, it is NOT geared towards children; however, they do have children’s educational programs and provide natural resources for youth programs.


For reservations, please contact the lodge at 800-318-5248 or send an email to gretchen_vanderbunt@dnr.state.ga.us
The Lodge at Smithgall Woods State Park 61 Tsalaki Trail Helen, GA 30545 800-318-5248 Lodge Reservations 706-878-3087

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