Amicalola Falls, Cherokee for "tumbling waters." is well known as one of the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Crystal clear waters plunge over seven cascading falls for 729 feet. At a distance the falls appear to descend in one continuous line. In reality, only the upper part of the falls drop freely while the lower portion is actually six consecutive falls, cascading through a steep rocky creek.
Inspired by the wonders of waterfalls, mountain vistas and forest covered land, the Kraft family decided to stake out 140 acres of mountain forest for a modest vacation getaway. Today they have built what has become a highly renowned resort, that has grown beyond their own expectations.
Forrest Hills Mountain Resort is situated in the heart of the North Georgia Mountains. It was in this area that the state's first gold rush captured the minds of fortune seekers in the 1830's. Located just 12 miles east of Forrest Hills, is the original gold capital of the eastern United States in the historical town of Dahlonega, Georgia.
The Blue Ridge Highlander just happened across Forrest Hills, via their first class web site. After we e-mailed Frank J. Kraft, owner and operator of the resort, he read our magazine and was very impressed. He invited us over the mountain to check out his operation.
My partner and I approached the resort using highway 52 which passes directly in front of Amicalola Falls. The first time I came across this set of falls in 1994, I was stricken by its presence. The falls become visible from the highway several miles before you reach them. The closer you get, the more you strain to catch a glance of the silver ribbon. The height of the falls is amazing, but the most intriguing aspect of them is the way the silver waters divide the mountain slope. The emanating waters appear to flow from a mystical hole that breaks the line where the blue heavens meet the green earth.
Four miles east of the falls on hwy 52, we came to a sign on the left side of the road directing visitors to Forrest Hills Resort. We made a left and drove a couple of miles following the signs.
Arriving at Forrest Hills, I dropped Mrs. Highlander off at the main office to meet with Frank. I took this time to roam about, getting a feel for the resort, incognito. It was the height of the fall season. A dramatic color backdrop displayed the unique vision of a family that took a simple idea about accommodations and turned it into a remarkable experience for both romantic getaways and professional gatherings. There is a peaceful harmony about the place, as couples and honeymooners move about. Around the corner I see casually dressed corporate types, all with their own agenda.
At first I didn't understand the mixing of the two concepts until I gave it a little thought. Couples stroll about a resort that offers both privacy and seclusion. What could be more romantic than a secluded cabin in the mountains with a hot tub and fireplace?
Then there are the organized groups, gathering within the lodges and conference areas, away from any disruption of city life. The solitude offers an atmosphere for perfect concentration. Two completely different ideas coinciding harmoniously. Each concept reflects unification, teamwork, restoration, new and renewed goals.
The way most of the resort was planned afforded no crossover, a sense of spaciousness transcends the entire 140 acres. Individual lodges bearing names like Bear's Den, Eagle's Nest, Deer Trail and Tree Topper provide private gatherings for professionals and church groups. Private bedrooms, meeting suites, setting rooms and catered meals keep each group focused on its own goal. A Convention Center serves larger audience with its cathedral ceilings and rustic decor within a wooded setting.
It's the forest that creates the atmosphere and sets the tone of this resort, Forrest Hills is bordered by the Chattahoochee National Forest. Within the resort's acreage, there are 55 buildings. Private roads weave about lodges, inns, restaurants, cabins, cottages, conference centers, stables, swimming pool, large hot tub, tennis courts and the main office and gift shop.
One of the most interesting concepts I found within the resort was the fact that they had different styles of cabins for different taste.
In the Mountain Laurel Resort area of the property, there are the Mountain Laurel Cupid Cabins. These accommodations are secluded and luxuriously designed one bedroom cabins.
The Cupid Cabins are more contemporary, they are beautifully furnished with a king size bed, fireplace, and a whirlpool spa enclosed within a garden room. There is a large window with a view of the beautiful forest surrounding the cabin. Each cabin also has a deck with a swing to enjoy the sounds and sights of nature. As though that were not enough, these cabins are 1,000 sq. ft. Seldom do you get the luxury of space when visiting a cabin.
The Mountain Laurel Inn has contemporary one bedroom suites, with either king or queen size beds, a gas fireplace, garden whirlpool tubs and ThermoSol steam shower in the bathroom. The first level has porches, while the upper levels have balconies, each with a swing or rocking chairs.
Next are the Forrest Hills' Victorian Cottages. When I first wandered into this particular area I thought I had left the resort and entered a private residential neighborhood. These cottages resembled beautifully designed Victorian homes averaging 1,500 sq. ft. One of the cottages appears to be a restoration of an original Victorian home built on the property, the other two are Victorian replicas set high above the older home with views of distance mountains. Each of the replicas has a unique design of its own. All of them are two story cottages with porches and white picket fences. These cottages are beautifully furnished in the Victorian style. They have garden bathrooms, a wood burning fireplace, full kitchens, a private game room and a large outdoor deck with a private outdoor hot tub. This neighborhood of a gone by era, represents a more romantic time, a white gazebo is just a stroll away.
Forrest Hills also has the more rustic cabins. But don't let the word rustic fool you. All the the luxuries of modern convenience is provided within the rustic setting. You are not going to loose out on any of the amenities. There is a queen bed with a canopy, large hot tub in the bedroom, a wood burning fireplace in the living room, a kitchen, and a porch with a swing.
You'll find all the amenities for a romantic mountain getaway within each of the cabins and cottages. It is the seclusion of each accommodation that impressed me the most. You can visit this mountain hideaway and either lose or find yourself, leaving the rest of the world behind.
Due to the set up and location of the resort, you could spend the entire day at the resort hiking, horse back riding, mountain biking, playing tennis, and swimming. Or you could take time to discover the mountain side with its quaint towns and natural wonders. Golfing is also just 10 minutes away.
Three restaurants at the resort offer an array of dining delights. From a romantic candle light dinner, to fully catered banquets. You may choose to keep your stay at Forrest Hills a private event and dine in your cabin or step out and meet with the other guests, the choice is yours.
A fully operational stable makes its home at the resort, offering horseback riding, carriage rides and wagon trips. They also offer cookouts, camp outs, and trips to the River House for outdoors cooking and live entertainment.
In our three visits to Forrest Hills I noticed that the guests I met were some of the most cordial I have ever encountered. They seemed to have taken on the feeling of the resort, a certain peaceful contentment. They were all happy to be there, taking with them memories that will last a lifetime.
Forrest Hills is many things to many people. It offers the benefits of a major resort with the humble hospitality of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Couples begin their lives here. Other couples regenerate a new beginning founded on previous commitments to one another. Corporate visitors and church groups initiate new goals toward continual success, and teamwork. People come to this resort to get away from outer distractions. They leave a little richer in life's experience growing within the simplicity of its natural surroundings.
Forrest Hills offers the complete mountain experience. The resort is large, yet intimate, thanks to the seclusion of each cabin. After touring the grounds and it numerous building, driving its private roads and sampling its restaurants you begin to sense something very different about this particular resort. You begin to look upon it as a unique but modest town. It is by the vision and the hard work of the Kraft clan that has made Forrest Hills what is today.
At the head of the family operation is Frank J. Kraft, along with his wife Joan Kraft, Frank's sons David, Steve, daughters Michelle and Denise. Frank is a very cordial man who wears humility on his sleeve, he's a real hands on type of guy who you'll find making the most critical business decisions or performing the most menial task at the resort. Why? Because Frank wants to. This is Frank's life, his home, his passion. He wants everyone's visit to reflect the love he has for Forrest Hills.
In 1977, Frank was living in Palm Beach Florida and was employed by Florida Light and Power Company. Rea Trimmer, a neighbor of the Krafts and a former resident of Big Canoe, North Georgia became one of the heirs to 140 acres near Amicalola Falls and was looking for a buyer. After a bid and a unusual turn of events Frank was able to acquire the land. At the time this area was only a moderately popular region of North Georgia.
Frank then applied for a $25,000 loan at a local bank to begin development on the land. The banker explained although he had a beautiful piece of property, the site was too remote to attract guests. He then politely turned him down. This by no means was going to stop the Kraft clan. Winter was on the horizon when Frank challenged his kids to build a cabin on the land.
Frank's kids began to build their very first cabin in what would turn out to be one of the coldest winters in North Georgia. Son David recalls, "we were working on the cabin when the snow began to fall. We thought it was great. Growing up in Florida we never had that winter wonderland experience. The local folks didn't feel the same affection toward the white crystals the way we did. Snow began to accumulate on the roof, so I climbed up on top to clean the snow off. A large car pulled up and a man got out and walked up to the cabin, and began talking to us. He said, he and his wife decided to take a drive up to Amicalola Falls, with the snow they expected beautiful sights. The man then said that they were on their way back home when he remembered Frank and the property. He thought he and his wife would stop by to see the place." David said, "we told him about the family's plans to put up a few cabins and how excited we were to be working on the project together. The man listen intently then bid them a friendly good luck and was gone. A few days later my dad called us from Florida and wanted to know what we had told the man that stopped by the property the other day. I told him nothing much, just what we were doing and how excited we were to be doing it. At this time my dad said thanks, he was the banker I had spoken to and he agreed to give us the loan...funny how fate works."
The Kraft clan pushed on to build 5 more rental cabins and in 1982 Frank retired from his Florida job and began construction on larger cabins with a romantic theme. In 1983 Frank built the Forest Hills Restaurant to accommodate guest. He then went on to add a swimming pool, gift shop, etc. while son David opened a corral.
Like most great visions, it began with an idea and it grew beyond their own expectations. The Kraft clan didn't start out to build such a large resort. By their vision this development grew through popularity, and now reflects the unique quality that makes it a successful resort and an enjoyable experience for all that visit.
Forrest Hills, has a 20 year history of enduring passion and enough stories to fill a novel. As a journalist, I often find within the simplest of stories the true essence reveals itself. Frank recounts, "one day an elderly mother and her daughter checked in. They drove up from Tallahassee, Florida. The mother who appeared to be in her eighties looked rather tired. After settling into their cabin the daughter visited me at my house and informed me that her mother was not in good health. She was worried about her mother and wondered if maybe they should relocate closer to the hospital in town, which was 12 miles away. I told her that a construction crew was in a cabin close by and they could check in on them tonight. Later that evening I decided to pay the ladies a visit myself. We talked for two hours. The next day they told me they planned on staying after all. She said the large windows gave them a beautiful view of the woods and foliage. From their view they could watch birds, squirrel, raccoons and deer moving about freely. The mother felt that if these were her last days on earth this would be the perfect place to be. The ladies not only stayed the planned two weeks, they extended their visit another week. They made three more visits before the mother passed on. I still hear from the daughter." Frank stated, "that's one of the best parts of Forrest Hills, we get to know our guest and they become as part of the family."
It's that endearing word "family" that shows itself at Forrest Hills. Its why I used the term clan for the Kraft family. Like all families, strong opinions arise, but its the devotion to the vision that has unified the hearts of these individuals. It is the family that makes Forrest Hills Mountain Resort the very special place it is.
The underlined theme here is hospitality and service in a unique setting that allows visitors the opportunity to unify and set goals for their own particular future in an atmosphere designed for enjoyment.
It is for these obvious reasons that for six years in a row, Forrest Hills has received Lodging & Hospitality Magazine's rating as one of the top 100 resorts in the country and was given AAA rating by Mobil Guide in 1992
Strolling the grounds and talking with some of the guests and the folks that are a part of the resort gives one a sense of peace. If you've never been a guest at Forrest Hills it's time to take the adventure. You'll be joining the ranks of the many who journey here time after time.
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