Kids Weekend in the Mountains–Playgrounds, Trains, and Rivers

We took one last getaway before the academic schedule starts again– A four-day weekend in the North Georgia/North Carolina Mountains, with an emphasis on kids’ activities.

This is something we would do more often if we didn’t need to drive through Atlanta to do it.  But we steeled our nerves and just decided to deal with the traffic and go on the trip.  It’s still pretty warm at night, so instead of camping, which we like to do in the mountains, we spent all of our nights in hotels that I had booked for free on points. All of our activities were geared around our traveling companion, the four-year-old Boppo.

Day One.  We only spent about 45 minutes of stop and go in Atlanta traffic on our way to Everland Play next to the Mall of Georgia in Buford.  Everland is a huge indoor play area with tunnels, mazes, and all sorts of bouncy toys.  The fee is $10 per kid, but supervising adults are free!  We arrived at 2 pm, and couldn’t get Boppo to leave until closing at 6 pm. Perfect for kids 2-10.


We stayed at the Fairmont Inn in Gainesville, GA.  We used 7500 Marriott points to book a room with king-sized bed and sleeper sofa.  The breakfast buffet included omelets and fresh fruit salad.  This was a great use of points considering the rack rate was $145.

Day Two. 

We stopped at the US Forest Service office in Gainesville to get our Senior Passes.  Now that we are a “certain age” we qualify for these passes that allow free access for us and our guests in all National Forests and Parks.  The fee was $10 and it is good for life!  It also allows you 50% off other park fees such as camping.

We slowly worked our way up north into North Carolina, stopping frequently at creeks for swimming, and at playgrounds for stretching our legs.  We arrived fairly early at the Holiday Inn Express in Dillsboro, North Carolina. This was a so-so redemption for 20,000 IHG points for a room that retails at about $120. We had a long swim in the indoor pool.  Holiday Inn Express is running a program for the month of August called “Pancakes at Night.”

Weird Holiday Inn Express Pancake Night
Weird Holiday Inn Express Pancake Night

They turn on the pancake machine in the breakfast area at night!  We thought this was strange, but Boppo thought it was a great idea and loved his pancakes after swimming!

Day 3

Our main reason for this trip was to take Boppo on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  We had prebooked tickets online.  You can only take one discount.  We were eligible for a senior discount, or a free child discount.  It worked to our advantage to take the free child discount for a total ticket price for the three of us of $113.  The depot is in Bryson City, NC, and the train travels to the Nantahala Gorge and back.  The antique cars are the cutest.

Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Antique Car
Great Smoky Mountain Railroad Antique Car

You also have the option of riding in an open gondola car which has the best views.  If you want to splurge you can ride in the air-conditioned dining car and be served lunch. There is an hour-long stop at the huge Nantahala Outdoor Center where you can watch people getting outfitted for raft trips.  We appreciated the craft beers that they had on tap at the walk-up snack bar.

Views are wonderful all along the train ride.  There is a long section with lake views, and when you enter the Gorge you see rafters and kayakers negotiating the river.

View from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad
View from the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad

The ride lasts 4 1/2 hours, including the hour stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center.  When you leave the train you are channeled through the Lionel Train Museum.  Admission is $9 but if you are a train passenger admission is free.  The museum is fascinating for adults, and there is a hands-on train table for younger kids. There were tears when we had to pull Boppo away from the museum at closing time.

Lionel Train Museum, Bryson City, NC
Lionel Train Museum, Bryson City, NC

After the train ride we headed south to Georgia for our third hotel stay of the trip at the Holiday Inn Express in Hiawassee, GA.   I ponied up 15,000 IHG points for this hotel, which was retailing for $115/night.  We spent a lot of time in the pool and hot tub, and Boppo again had his pancake snack.

Day 4. 

As we approached Hiawassee the night before,  I noticed a nice playground right on the dammed up Hiawassee River. When we left the next morning we went back to check it out, and found a wonderful beach park owned by Towns County.  There was a large playground with a separate section for very young children, a large, clean, roped-off swimming beach, huge covered pavilion with picnic tables, and swings and benches under the pine trees.   We were here for almost two hours.

Townes County Beach and Playground, Hiawasee, GA
Towns County Beach and Playground, Hiawassee, GA

Working our way south we passed by Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia at 4784 feet.  Admission to the park is $5/person, but this includes the shuttle ride from the Visitor Center to the summit.  We took the shuttle up, but walked the steep trail back down.  We luxuriated in the cool temps at the summit and on the hike down.

Brasstown Bald, GA
Brasstown Bald, GA–64 Degrees in August!

A few minutes after driving down from Brasstown Bald, Boppo fell asleep.  We took turns staying with him as we each took dips in the Nantahala River, where the water temperature was a brisk 47 degrees!

He slept all the way to Atlanta, where we got snarled up in stop and go traffic for a good hour.  Unfortunately Atlanta is the Rubicon we must cross if we wish to go north into the Mountains.



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