RABUN COUNTY, Ga. — Where can you find goats on a roof, a bit of nostalgia, a disco Airbnb, golf, comedy and a rodeo, all with scenic views, waterfalls and more? It’s Georgia’s best kept secret, Rabun County, in the northeast Georgia mountains.
“On a spring weekend, there’s no more beautiful place to be than the mountains of northeast Georgia,” Celebrate Clayton festival chairwoman Kathy Ford said.
Let’s start with those goats. Visitors find them on the roof at the appropriately named Goats on the Roof in Tiger, Georgia.
“The number one question is, ‘Why, why are there goats on the roof,’” April Phillips from Goats on the Roof told wsbtv.com’s Nelson Hicks. “And my answer to every single person is ‘Why not, like why not?’ They have you interested, it made you stop.”
What exactly is Goats on the Roof? It’s a souvenir store, an ice cream shop and now a retro candy store and rock and mining facility.
But the goats are the headliner here.
“My favorite thing is, what brings me pure joy is seeing the people,” Phillips said. “It doesn’t have to be kids, it’s children of all ages, that see when the goats come out and play. They, they love it. Their eyes light up. And that’s special to us.”
There are more than a dozen goats. Yes, they’re real; they aren’t stuffed. The goats roam from rooftop to rooftop. Legend has it that they’re direct descendants of aliens and they roam the roof awaiting the arrival of the Mother Ship of the Goat Universe. Before that day comes, guests can pet and feed them.
Here’s something else from out of this world, at least to anyone under 40: a drive-in movie theater. Just down the road from Goats on the Roof is the Tiger Drive-In. There used to be over 5,500 drive-in theaters worldwide, but now there’s only 350. The Tiger Drive-In was built in 1954 and operated until 1984, when it closed. Twenty years later, Tom Major’s wife asked him to reopen the drive-in that her father had run for 30 years.
“I priced the screen, (it was going to cost) $60,000. I didn’t have $60,000, so I begged Georgia Power for six poles,” theater owner Tom Major said. “And I promised to buy their power. And we built that screen for $6,000.”
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, March thru November, the Tiger Drive-In shows a popular flick. It has proved to be a popular spot.
“It really is because it’s a true family experience,” Major said. “And it’s memorable. Particularly with the pandemic, you’re in the open air, you can walk around. We’ve got a play ground. Our food is excellent.”
The Tiger Drive-in hosts concerts and camp outs. The drive-in doubles as a campground, too.
“My wife got the first camper,” Major said. “She wanted to go camping with our kids and grandkids. I don’t like camping. So, I plugged in the power and plugged in the water and put a little deck on there and (now) rent it on Airbnb. It was so successful, I got another one and I got another one.”
The area is home to something else you don’t see much of any more—a rodeo.
The Rabun County Arena hosts numerous rodeos throughout the year, including nearly a dozen youth events.
“We have (contestants) as young as three-year-olds out here riding barrel and pull patterns, being lead by their parents,” Jeff King from the Rabun County Arena said. “We’ve got a few that do it all on their own, they don’t want their parents with them. They do the mutton-busting when they ride the sheep. (They do) goat tying, goat untying, scaled down a little bit. We have steer riding, which 18 and under (contestants) ride steers, they might be 500-pound steers, 600-pound, 700-pound steers that they get to ride. (It) really gets your adrenaline running when you’re 14 years old and it’s got horns sticking out both sides.”
Rabun County hosts an adult championship rodeo each year, along with a handful of dog shows.
“If you’ve never seen a full-speed agility show, up close, it’s fun to watch,” King said. “They’ll run probably 30 different courses during the day. They run 10 to 15 dogs per class or however many show up for that event.”
Goats, a drive-in theater and rodeos; those might be a little unexpected on a trip to the north Georgia mountains, but mountain views and waterfalls, those are there year-round and always await visitors on a getaway. Some of the best of both can be had at Sky Valley, Georgia’s highest city.
There’s golf to be played at Sky Valley Country Club. At an average elevation of 3,500 feet, it’s Georgia’s highest course, plays to 7,000 yards and offers seven sets of tees. It’s been named Georgia’s No. 1 rated public golf course, and hole number seven was picked as the best par three by the Georgia Golf Trail.
“It’s a par three, it’s 150 yards from the whites,” Roy Akin from Sky Valley Country Club said. “It’s over a little pond. It’s a challenging hole, falls off on the left, but it’s one people like a lot. It’s one of our more scenic ones.”
Enjoy mountain views from nearly every hole on the course. And while people routinely flock to the area to see the leaves change color, the spring isn’t a bad time to play either.
“You’d be surprised how great it looks when the leaves start coming back, and all the different greens, and flowers start to bloom and everything,” Akin said.
Spring brings a number of events to Rabun County, too.
“The last weekend in April, this year the 24th and 25th of April, we are having Celebrate Clayton on Main Street in downtown Clayton,” Ford said. “This is a two-day, rain or shine, outdoor, fine art and craft festival. It’s been on the Main Street in Clayton since 1999.”
And that Saturday night, James Gregory, the “Funniest Man in America,” will entertain guests at the Rabun County Civic Center.
“Alot of people will be making a weekend, or at least a night and a day out of it, maybe a whole weekend because it’s just endless the things they can do,” Annie Berryman from Rabun County Events and Venues said. “If the weather is nice, they can go hiking, shopping, eating outdoors at some of the wineries. There’s really no end to what they can do.”
A week later, the community market kicks off.
“Our community market opens May 1 and will go all the way through October 30. It’s locally grown and locally made products,” Berryman said.
Spring marks wedding season, as well. The natural beauty all around the county sets the perfect backdrop to say “I do.” Splendor Mountain is one of more than a dozen picturesque spots to tie the knot. It’s available for weddings, but for those looking for a peaceful getaway, too.
“This is a safe haven for me and I hope everyone that does come here enjoys the silence, or just the sound of the water, or the breezes,” Chevin Woodruff from Splendor Mountain said.
Everyone loves to visit the north Georgia mountains during the fall to see the leaves change, but with all the fun, beauty and hidden gems the area offers during the spring, the best kept secret about Georgia’s best kept secret might be that the spring is the best time to visit.
This story is sponsored by Rabun County.