by Bill Vanderford, Southeastern Travel Editor

The short drive from the main highway along the cascading waters  of  Dukes Creek to The Lodge at Smithgall Woods allows a visitor the opportunity to view the pristine beauty of the Georgia mountains as they appeared before the onslaught of developers. Even the buildings that comprise The Lodge were built with thought and respect so that they blend naturally into the surrounding picturesque environment. In fact, the entire landscape of Smithgall Woods is like an artist's tapestry that is illuminated by sunlight filtered through a misty canopy of sheltering hardwood trees.

The 5,555-acre tract of prime mountain property was acquired by the state of Georgia in 1994 from noted conservationist and businessman Mr. Charles A. Smithgall, Jr. It was immediately designated as a Heritage Preserve under the State's Preservation 2000 Program, which is the highest legal assurance possible that the land will be used only in conjunction with strict preservation and conservation guidelines and that it will be maintained in its natural condition for present and future generations to enjoy.

The Lodge actually consists of five distinctive cottages with ample room for a total of 28 overnight guests, which makes Smithgall Woods an excellent place for individuals or corporate groups to enjoy complete privacy away from the distracting noises of the utside world. The primary dwelling is the Smithgall Cottage that is situated artfully between Dukes Creek and Dover Creek and is connected to the garage and driveway via a covered walk bridge that spans a beautiful section of tumbling waters on Dukes Creek. This two-story building is constructed entirely of Montana lodge-pole pine and features four superbly appointed bedrooms. A little farther down the well-groomed foot path is the Creekside Cottage, which is a three bedroom bungalow nestled along a scenic part of Dukes Creek. The five bedroom Dover Cottage is found a short distance up the babbling waters of Dover Creek and overlooks both the creek and the green openness of the paddock. The Garden and Laurel Cottages are identical log cabins that sit atop a small ridge and offer one bedroom, a parlor, kitchen, and deck.

Throughout the cottages, one will find rich fabrics, overstuffed lounge chairs and sofas, extremely comfortable beds, antique armoires, oriental rugs, wildlife and botanical prints, and Indian artwork. The public areas of The Lodge have residential-style kitchens, shared great rooms with oversized stacked stone fireplaces, and outdoor decks complete with comfortable rocking chairs.

Meals at Smithgall Woods are truly a scrumptious culinary experience that are prepared exquisitely. Guests may dine on the mouthwatering gourmet Blue Ridge Mountain cuisine inside or creekside on one of the decks. Eggs, crisp bacon, and spicy sausage with "cat head" biscuits and homemade gravy make breakfast an unforgettable experience. Lunch is normally prepared according to the guests requests and delivered in a picnic basket so that it can be enjoyed fully at one of the many gorgeous outdoor settings at Smithgall Woods. Top all of this off with wine, beer, cocktails, or other beverages  around an evening bonfire, and one will find total relaxation after a perfect day in the outdoors.

Add a more than one-hundred year old authentic cabin that displays what early settlers had to do to survive in these mountains, and anyone will leave  Smithgall Woods with a much better perspective than when they arrived. Also, outdoor educational programs are given to school-age children on other parts of the 5,500-acre preserve through the Smithgall Woods-Dukes Creek Conservation Area Visitors Center.

 Though hiking and mountain biking are always an option at Smithgall Woods, Dukes Creek has been named by Trout Unlimited as one of the "Top 100 Trout Streams in America". At Smithgall Woods, however, all fishing is limited to artificial lures with barbless hooks, and all trout must be  carefully and promptly released back into the more than twelve miles of pristine mountain streams on the property.

Spending a night at Smithgall Woods is more expensive than going to the local bed and breakfast, but this magnificent preserve has a natural ambience that is almost impossible to find in our modern world. The constant sounds of water cascading over rocks, birds singing, and trees swaying with the wind more than blot out any distant noises of civilization. Mix that with the smells of mountain laurel, rhododendron, and numerous hardwood trees, plus the visual feast of a gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountain setting, and no amount of money could give one the feeling of tranquility experienced at Smithgall
Woods. If one wants to enjoy a stay at this beautiful place, however, reservations are a necessity, and they may be obtained by calling toll-free 800-318-5248 or 706-878-3087.