Why this Georgia mountain town has become a gay-friendly hot spot

Credit: AJC

Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

The mountain town of Blue Ridge, Georgia, has beautiful mountain vistas, festivals aplenty and some of the coziest bed and breakfasts one can find. The cherry on top for some travelers: its welcoming gay community.

The city, home to about 1,444 residents, has had an influx of LGBT-owned businesses open in the past few years, and, according to a Williams Institute study, the mountain community is home to one of the largest populations of gay couples in the state.

The surrounding Fannin County has the fourth highest concentration of same-sex couples, while neighboring Gilmer County has the state's fifth highest, according to the California-based think tank. This puts the Blue Ridge-area in the top 2 percent of counties in Georgia and in the top 10 percent in the nation. It was recently recognized by Thrillist as the most gay-friendly city in Georgia. Atlanta, Savannah and Columbus received honorable mentions on the list.

"It's a great little mountain community," Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality, who frequently vacations in Blue Ridge with his husband, told Thrillist. "It's a very friendly, pleasant atmosphere that a lot of folks wouldn't expect in a very conservative part of Georgia."

The list of reasons that gay couples have flocked to this unsuspecting town in North Georgia could get quite lengthy.

The history, gorgeous mountains and endless list of things to do and more might be the start of it.

Here are few things you might not have known about the emerging gay-friendly community:

It's left the logging in the past.

View from hike hear Blue Ridge, Ga.

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Originally a logging town, Blue Ridge's bustling downtown district is now home to high-end restaurants, such as the Blue Ridge Brewery  and the Black Sheep Restaurant, art galleries and antique shops, including town-favorite High Country Art & Antique. The area is peppered with cozy bed and breakfasts that range from rustic to luxurious. And with such a large LGBT population, it's easy to find gay-owned businesses, like the popular downtown hair salon Indulgence Hair Studio, catering to the area's sizable tourist population.

It's perfect for the outdoor adventurer.

Blue Ridge is located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, a stone's throw away from Tennessee and North Carolina. Visitors to this beautiful part of North Georgia have their share of outdoor activities, thanks to the town's proximity to the Lake Blue Ridge reservoir, Toccoa River and Appalachian Mountains. Horseback riding, hiking, camping and kayaking are all within easy reach. Plus, it's easy to find options for both novices and experts alike.

It's a destination for the arts and festivals.

There are also year-round festivals, including the Blue Ridge Jazz and Wine Festival, which takes every summer. It features international and regional wines, as well as both local and national jazz musicians. Festival-goers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or a picnic blanket while they enjoy an afternoon of great food and wine in a relaxing setting.

The annual Independence Day Parade is renowned for its stellar marching band, which happens to perform in drag. Even if you miss the summer festivities, autumn brings a breathtaking change to the scenery. The colors during the fall make for some serious leaf peeping along Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which winds around the Toccoa River and provides stunning views in either open-air or climate controlled rail cars.

The annual Arts in the Park event kicks off fall in October in the heart of the city's downtown.

For more on what locals and visitors alike love about Blue Ridge, visit http://www.blueridgeheritage.com.

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