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7 hidden gems of Pine Mountain

Pine Mountain and its surrounding communities in western Georgia have long been a retreat for presidents and plant lovers alike.

Head south on I-85 from Atlanta for about 80 miles to these Pine Mountain hidden gems.

Where to stay

Tucked on a rolling mountain between Pine Mountain and Warm Springs, the Mountain Top Inn and Resort offers the full getaway experience. The property features a traditional inn, including a nearby pool and clubhouse with games and lounge, as well as private cabins and a three-story lodge fitted with fireplaces and heart-shaped jetted tubs. From the inn, you'll see views of the nearly 10,000 acres of surrounding woods. Mountain Top also has an event facility with a pavilion and chapel for weddings, reunions and other gatherings.

Azaelas, butterflies and more

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In 1930, Cason J. Callaway set aside land in the area for conservation after discovering it was home to a rare azalea. That garden has since evolved into the 6,500-acre Callaway Gardens resort that maintains its history with the Overlook Azalea Gardenwhere thousands of the bright shrubs burst into bloom each springIf you miss the peak bloom, Callaway Gardens is also home to the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, where 1,000 butterflies flutter in an enclosed tropical conservatory.

Roosevelt's Little White House (For the AJC)

Little White House

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was still governor of New York in 1932 when he built his vacation cottage in Pine Mountain. The retreat became known as the Little White House upon his presidential inauguration a year later, and it and the surrounding small towns were instrumental in his New Deal programs such as the Rural Electrification Administration. Visitors can tour the home and museum, which houses the "Unfinished Portrait" for which Roosevelt was posing in 1945 when he died of a stroke.

The Roosevelt Pools

The 88-degree mineral-rich water that originally drew F.D.R to western Georgia is no longer open for public swimming −with one exception. Visitors to the Little White House can check out the Roosevelt Pools, the complex about a mile away from the cottage that Roosevelt built with the hope that exercising in the buoyant water would cure his polio. The complex was vacant for 30 years before the state took it over a decade ago, but the pools remain empty. However, check for announcements from Georgia State Parks, which does fill the pools for special events about once a year so that visitors can enjoy time-limited sessions in the warm water.

Waterfalls and rocky outcrops

Also deeply rooted in FDR's historic era as president is the state park named for himThe FDR State Park, the largest in Georgia, offers swimming, fishing, horseback riding and 42 miles of trails. The Pine Mountain Trail, considered a jewel for the state, winds 40-miles past waterfalls and rocky outcrops and includes six smaller loops designed for day hikes. Expect to see foxes, deer and wild turkeys along the trail.

Wild Animal Safari features more than 650 animals in a drive-thru animal park in Pine Mountain. CONTRIBUTED BY AMBER KELLEY

A Georgia safari 

If you prefer seeing the sights by car, the Wild Animal Safari offers a drive-through exotic animal experience just north of Pine Mountain. More than 550 animals – including elk, zebra, bison, giraffe, camels and more – live in the 500-acre park. They are accustomed to cars, wandering up along the 3.5-mile loop for food. The park also offers a bus tour for those who want to keep their vehicles in the lot, as well as a walking area that resembles a traditional zoo.

Romantic mealhorses included

A Victorian home, nestled on a large plot of land with grazing horses, is actually Pine Mountain's most romantic restaurant. The reservation-only Carriage & Horses Restaurant features steak and seafood, live entertainment and breathtaking views from its perch on Butts Mill Road. A second location in downtown Pine Mountain is open for lunch only.

One-tank trips is an occasional series from The Atlanta Journal Constitution that highlights places you can visit on – you guessed it – one tank of gas. Contact Stephanie Toone at stephanie.toone@ajc.com with questions or ideas.

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