As we’re exploring the North Georgia mountains for our Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide, we’re also empty nesters searching for our future home.
When our outdoor adventures take us to the natural areas near some of the best small towns in Georgia, we’re also taking time to explore those towns for ourselves.
But we also want to see the heart of these North Georgia mountain towns, to learn more about their history and culture (especially art, music, and restaurants).
Ultimately, we’re searching for the best places to live in the Georgia mountains, and hoping to find the perfect mountain home for ourselves in the process.
To that end, we’ve compiled extensive research on 20 top contenders, including background on what makes each town special as well as the best things to do and places to eat there.
Read on to see if you can guess which one is our current favorite!
Best Places to Live in the Georgia Mountains Guide
Located in the Oothcalooga Valley, halfway between Atlanta and Chattanooga, the north Georgia town of Adairsville has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987.
With a population of around 4900, the charming town is close to larger cities like Calhoun (12 miles) and Rome (18 miles).
But with buildings such as the 1847 Adairsville Depot History Museum and the 1902 Stock Exchange & Public Opera House, it feels like a timeless slice of Georgia history.
Things to Do in Adairsville: The town is best-known for one of our favorite mountain getaways in Georgia, Barnsley Resort. Built around the ruins of an 1840 estate, the 3000-acre resort offers an array of activities, including a full-service spa, Fazio-designed golf course, and shooting grounds.
Adairsville Restaurants: Barnsley Resort offers two of the best restaurants in North Georgia, the casual Woodlands Grill and the more upscale Rice House. In town, Character’s Famous BBQ and the Water Tower Grille are also highly rated.
One of the first small towns in Georgia I visited as a boy, Blairsville is known for an incredible array of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Its many natural wonders include Helton Creek Falls, Nottley Lake and River, the Chattahoochee National Forest, Brasstown Bald, and more.
With a population of less than 700, an elevation of 1,883 feet, and close proximity to both Blue Ridge and Helen, it’s arguably among the very best places to live in Georgia.
Things to Do in Blairsville: Blairsville is home to Vogel State Park, the Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy, and beautiful stretches of the Appalachian Trail. There’s also Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine Distillery, Cooper’s Creek, Reece Heritage Farm, Sunrise Grocery and lots more.
Blairsville Restaurants: The best restaurants in Blairsville include Bean Pod (at Butternut Creek Golf Course), Lala’s Kitchen in the Mountains, and Dan’s Grill.
Blue Ridge GA
When it comes to North Georgia mountain towns, few can measure up to Blue Ridge, which tops our list of favorite places to visit in Georgia.
Though its population (1,444 as of 2018) and property values have exploded in recent years, Blue Ridge is still widely regarded as one of the best places to live in Georgia for families.
It’s got a bustling downtown area, a vibrant arts and restaurant scene, an increasingly progressive cultural identity, and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Georgia mountains.
Things to Do in Blue Ridge: Blue Ridge offers a bevy of outdoor attractions, from Lake Blue Ridge and the Ocoee and Toccoa Rivers to a half-dozen waterfalls and the Benton MacKaye trail. In town, there’s the Art Center, Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, drive-in theater, and historic walking tours.
Blue Ridge Restaurants: From Harvest On Main and Rum Cake Lady to the Sweet Shoppe bakery, the restaurants in Blue Ridge are second to none. For a sampling of the best, take a Blue Ridge Mountains Food Tour.
READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge GA
Located in the foothills of the North GA mountains off I-75, Cartersville is a bustling gateway between metro Atlanta and the Blue Ridge mountain range.
With a growing population of 22,151, it’s one of the larger North Georgia cities, with thriving cultural offerings such as the Booth Western Art Museum and the Tellus Science Museum.
It’s also home to popular natural attractions such as Lake Allatoona, Red Top Mountain State Park, George Washington Carver Park, and more.
Things to Do in Cartersville: For history buffs, Cartersville is home to the Bartow History Museum, Rose Lawn Museum, and Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site. There’s also a historic downtown shopping district and a farmer’s market on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.
Cartersville Restaurants: There are more than 100 Cartersville restaurants to choose from. Popular favorites include Maine St Coastal Cuisine (seafood), The City Cellar & Loft (Southern), Table 20 (Farm-to-Table), and Fire It Up BBQ.
READ MORE: The 10 Best North Georgia State Parks
Cave Spring GA
One of the smallest towns in North Georgia appearing on this list, Cave Spring encompasses just 3.68 square miles of land.
Part of the Rome metropolitan area, the tiny town is widely considered one of the best places to live in North Georgia because of its rich history and picturesque town square.
But of course the town, which is located on the Trail of Tears in Georgia, is best known for the spring from which it takes its name.
Things to Do in Cave Spring: Located in 29-acre Rolater Park, the limestone cave offers impressive stalagmites and the “Devil’s Stool” formation. The spring (which locals drink from) feeds a swimming pool and stocked trout pond. There’s also paddling Big Cedar Creek and hiking the Pinhoti Trail.
Cave Spring Restaurants: Dining options in Cave Spring are limited. But A&B Creekside, Local Joe’s, and Linde Marie’s
Cherry Log GA
Cherry Log has always ranked high on my wife’s list of best places to visit in Georgia because her beloved aunt used to own a mountain cabin there.
Though there are only 47 permanent residents, the tiny town (1.2 square miles) is a seasonal hotspot thanks to its prime location in the mountains of North Georgia.
Located between Ellijay and Blue Ridge GA in the Rich Mountain WMA, Cherry Log offers proximity to two of the best cities in North Georgia, without all the hustle and bustle tourism brings.
Things to Do in Cherry Log: Small town living is the biggest attraction here, but you can also visit the Expedition Bigfoot Museum, go horseback riding with Cowgirl Up Stables, or take a tour with Jon Ron Toccoa River Outfitters.
Cherry Log Restaurants: The Pink Pig BBQ joint is the only restaurant in Cherry Log proper. But beloved Blue Ridge restaurants such as The Black Sheep and Chester Brunnenmeyer’s Bar & Grill are just over 5 miles away.
As we search for our future mountain home, Blue Ridge had topped our list of the best city to live in Georgia until last October, when we visited Clayton for the first time.
With a population of 2,183, Clayton is large enough to provide infrastructure, a beautiful downtown area, and a noteworthy farm-to-table foodie scene.
But it’s surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in Georgia. Black Rock Mountain State Park, the Warwoman WMA, and the “Wild & Scenic” Chattooga River are all in town. And there are countless other outdoor adventures nearby.
Things to Do in Clayton: Rabun Bald, Tallulah Gorge, and Moccasin Creek State Park are all within 15 miles, as are four lakes (including Burton, Rabun, and Seed). We also explored countless waterfalls, including Angel Falls, Becky Branch Falls, Hemlock Falls, and Minnehaha Falls.
Clayton Restaurants: Clayton is increasingly emerging as a foodie hotspot thanks to chef-driven restaurants like Fortify Kitchen & Bar (New America) and Fortify Pi (pizza). Locals also love the burgers at Universal Joint and down-home comfort food at the Clayton Café.
READ MORE: The Best Things to Do in Clayton GA
One of the most popular towns near Helen GA, Cleveland is best known for Babyland General, the home of the Original Cabbage Patch Kids.
But the “City of Mountain Breezes,” population 4,104, has a lot more to offer those who want to live in the North Georgia mountains.
With a historic courthouse-turned-museum dating back to the 1800s, shopping in Merchant’s Square, and loads of outdoor attractions nearby, this is a great little mountain town to live in.
Things to Do in Cleveland: The town is located in White County, whose Unicoi Wine Trail features five wineries and nine tasting rooms. For nature lovers, there’s also fly fishing and paddling the Chattahoochee River, climbing Mount Yonah, and hiking to Dukes Creek and Raven Cliff Falls.
Cleveland Restaurants: The Cleveland restaurant scene is fairly conservative compared to other cities in North Georgia. Popular eateries include the Soda Fountain Café, Rib Country BBQ, Creekside Deli, and Clyde’s Table & Tavern.
Dahlonega is famous as the site of America’s first gold rush in 1828 (21 years before California), which brought thousands of prospectors and more than $6 million worth of gold.
Nearly 200 years later it’s also known for music (Zac Brown and the Bear On The Square bluegrass festival), Appalachian crafts, and a beautiful historic downtown square.
With numerous vineyards and North Georgia Premium Outlets nearby, the town of 6,884 residents high among the best places to live in the mountains of Georgia.
Things to Do in Dahlonega: Shopping for arts & crafts and sampling local wineries are among the most popular pastimes here. But there’s also paddling and fishing the Chestatee River, hiking Amicalola Falls State Park, and visiting the Dahlonega Gold Museum and Consolidated Gold Mine.
Dahlonega Restaurants: The historic Smith House Inn offers excellent family-style dinners, while the award-winning Oar House Restaurant offers classic cuisine on riverside decks. Other local faves include Capers On The Square (Greek), Bratzeit (German), and Hoka Hoka (Japanese/sushi).
Located 57 miles north of downtown Atlanta, Dawsonville is home to the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. It’s also 20 miles from Mt Oglethorpe, the southern tip of the Blue Ridge range.
But the town of 3,109 is probably best known for the Amicalola Falls State Park, which features the tallest waterfall in Georgia (729 feet), and third highest east of the Mississippi.
Long known as one of the best places to visit in the Georgia mountains, it has also emerged in recent years as a perfect place to live.
Things to Do in Dawsonville: In addition to the AT and Amicalola Falls, Dawsonville offers adventures on the Etowah and Amicalola Rivers and hiking the Dawson Forest. Other attractions include the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame, Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze, and Burt’s Pumpkin Farm.
Dawsonville Restaurants: Restaurants in Dawsonville largely focus on American fare, with Papa’s Place, Big D BBQ, and Blue Bicycle among the local favorites. For international fare, try Chef Tommy Thai Cuisine and Fajita Grill Mexican Restaurant.
Horseback riding is one of our family’s favorite things to do in the Georgia mountains, and the Dillard House Stables was the first place we ever did it.
The Dillard House (which is also home to one of the best restaurants in North Georgia) really helped to put this tiny town of 370 residents on the tourist map.
Things to Do in Dillard: The Dillard House is easily the town’s #1 attraction, but there’s also fishing at Andy’s Trout Farm, tastings at the R.M. Rose & Co Distillery, antique shopping, and sampling Georgia wines at Lazy Bear Furniture. There’s more to do in Clayton, which is just 6 miles away.
Dillard Restaurants: The Dillard House is the can’t-miss restaurant in Dillard, serving up classic Southern family-style meals. But there’s also good food to be found at Annette’s Cafe, The Cupboard, and the Hush Cuban Cafe & Oyster Bar.
Located in the foothills of the North GA mountains, Ellijay is best known as the “Apple Capital of Georgia,” with impressive array of pick-your-own orchards and even an apple tree maze.
But despite its small size (3.6 square miles) and population (1,737), the town also hosts festivals that draw visitors from surrounding states, including the Georgia Apple Festival, Georgia Apple Blossom Festival, and Taste of Ellijay.
It’s widely considered one of the best cities to visit in Georgia, with a charming historic downtown area filled with antique shops and delicious dining options.
Things to Do in Ellijay: From vineyards and farms to the Tabor House & Civil War Museum, Ellijay offers an array of adult activities to choose from. But families also love its outdoor activities at Carters Lake, the Ellijay River, and the vast Cohutta Wilderness.
Ellijay Restaurants: With so many farms and wineries around, it’s no surprise the Ellijay restaurant scene has a lot to offer. The Jolly Roger Seafood Market & Grill has some of the area’s best seafood. Cantaberry Restaurant, River Street Tavern, and the Cajun Depot Grill are also highly rated.
There are two very different sides to the city of Helen, one of the most poplar places to vacation in the Georgia mountains.
The often crowded Alpine village combines Bavarian and Southern influences, with cobblestone paths, German architecture, and beer gardens all around.
But outside the touristy town you’ll find some of the most beautiful places in Georgia, with the Chattahoochee National Forest and Unicoi State Park offering loads of wilderness to explore.
Things to Do in Helen: From hiking to Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls to driving the Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy and tubing down the Chattahoochee River, activities here are endless. You can also zipline at Unicoi, pan for gold at Dukes Creek Mines, or celebrate Oktoberfest.
Helen Restaurants: Many restaurants in Helen trend towards the kitschy German side, with bratwurst and beer steins both common staples. But Bigg Daddy’s Restaurant & Tavern, Cimmi’s Courtyard Café, and Mully’s Nacoochee Grill definitely stand out above the pack.
READ MORE: How to Get to Anna Ruby Falls in Helen GA
With a population of 897 people on just 1.63 square miles of land, the picturesque mountain town offers more than 100 miles of shoreline, the Hiawassee River, and numerous waterfalls.
It’s also a first class destination for hikers: At 3,424 feet, Bell Mountain is one of tallest mountains in North Georgia, offering spectacular overviews of the lake and town.
Things to Do in Hiawassee: The river’s a great spot for trout fishing, while High Shoals Falls offers excellent hiking. Hamilton Gardens is a haven for plant lovers, and don’t miss the historic Pioneer Village at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, which is especially gorgeous when lit up for Christmas!
Hiawassee Restaurants: Hiawassee’s food scene isn’t as highly rated as some North GA towns. But The Happy Hawg (BBQ), Tilted Café (American), Barney’s Tap & Grill (Seafood), and the Main Street Grill diner are among the most popular places among locals.
READ MORE: The Best North Georgia Christmas Events
For us, choosing the best place to live in the Georgia mountains is all about location, and we were immediately enamored with the mountain community of Lakemont during our recent visit.
The unincorporated town of 1,761 centers around Historic Lakemont Village, which includes some buildings dating back to 1910.
The charming town offers excellent upscale shops and some spectacular lake houses. But what truly makes it special is the natural beauty and outdoor attractions that surround it.
Things to Do in Lakemont: As its name implies, this town centers on a lake (Lake Rabun), with Lake Seed and Lake Burton both within 12 miles. Angel Falls, Panther Falls, and Minnehaha Falls are all adjacent to Lake Rabun, while Tallulah Gorge is less than 5 miles away.
Lakemont Restaurants: There are only a few restaurants in Lakemont, including The Open Door at Alley’s Ol’ Store, the Lake Rabun Hotel Restaurant, and Louie’s On The Lake. But the Glen-Ella Springs Inn Restaurant is nearby, and the downtown Clayton restaurants are just 7 miles away.
READ MORE: How to Get to Minnehaha Falls at Lake Rabun
As Atlanta’s metropolitan area continues to expand north, Rome (which is just 56 miles from downtown ATL) is essentially evolving into one of the city’s outlying suburbs.
Located in the foothills of the Appalachians, this bucolic Southern city is growing into one of the largest towns in North Georgia, with a population of 37,248.
With Berry College at its northern end and three rivers (the Coosa, Etowah, and Oostanaula) meeting in its center, the town offers a unique mixture of rural and urban Georgia’s past and future.
Things to Do in Rome GA: With its 13.5-mile Downtown Heritage Trail System, the Rome spur of U.S. Bicycle Route 21, and loads of trails on the Berry campus, there’s lot of outdoor options. Don’t miss the Rome History Museum, Chieftains Museum, and various other local historic sites.
Restaurants in Rome GA: There are nearly 150 restaurants in Rome, so you can find everything from American (Harvest Moon Cafe, Doug’s Deli Downtown) and Italian (Provino’s, Bella Roma Grill) to International cuisine (Yummy Thai, Las Palmas Mexican, Blue Fin Japanese, etc).
Sautee Nacoochee, GA
One of the more picturesque towns in the foothills of the Applachians near Helen GA, Sautee Nacoochee is a hotbed of Georgia history.
It’s named after the Nacoochee Indian Mound archeological site. Its 1915 excavation revealed 75 graves (some with high status artifacts) dating the Cherokee landmark to the 15th/16th century.
With a population of less than 200, the 1.5-square-mile offers an impressive range of attractions, as well as proximity to larger towns such as Helen and Cleveland.
Things to Do in Sautee Nacoochee: The Sautee-Nacoochee Center offers an in-depth look at local history, including a museum, African-American heritage site, and the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia. Nearby you’ll find the Stovall Covered Bridge, Mt Yonah, and numerous wineries.
Sautee Nacoochee Restaurants: Bernie’s Restaurant and the Old Sautee Store Market & Deli are the only two noteworthy restaurants in town. Fortunately, Helen hotspots like Spice 55 Thai & Sushi and Mully’s Nacoochee Grill are less than 4 miles away.
Known as “The Valley Above the Clouds,” Suches is a tranquil town of 1,017 people located in Union County, about halfway between Dahlonega and Blairsville.
It sits at an elevation of 2,792 feet in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, with wilderness surrounding the town on all sides.
With the Appalachian Trail (and nature-lover hotspots like Preacher’s Rock and Woody Gap) in their backyard, this under-the-radar Georgia mountain town is truly a hikers haven.
Things to Do in Suches: If you love the great outdoors, Suches offers endless options to explore. Some local favorites include the Lake Winfield Scott Recreation Area, Dockery Lake, Sosebee Cove, Sea Creek Falls, and fishing at Deep Hole Recreation Area and the Valley at Suches.
Suches Restaurants: There are really only 3 restaurants in Suches– Bootlegger’s Grille, Wildcat BBQ, and the biker-friendly Two Wheels of Suches (also a campground/lodge). But Cleveland’s Riverside Tavern and Dahlonega’s Wolf Mountains Winery Restaurant are just 7 miles away.
Sky Valley, GA
With elevations ranging from 3,200 to 4,200 feet, Sky Valley is the highest city in Georgia. Located at the border between Clayton GA and Highlands NC, it’s surrounded by the Nantahala Forest.
The town’s center is the Sky Valley Resort & Country Club, whose par-73 championship golf course is open to the public. But its surroundings are wild, including the massive Rabun Bald mountain.
This is one of the most upscale Georgia mountain towns, with award-winning vineyards, loads of art and antique shops, spas and high-end restaurants. And just 268 residents!
Things to Do in Sky Valley: The golf course and hiking trails are the main activities Sky Valley Resort’s 2,300 acres have to offer. But with Dillard, Clayton, and Highlands all within 10 miles, there is plenty to do nearby, including hiking, horseback riding, and numerous waterfalls.
Sky Valley Restaurants: The only restaurant in Sky Valley proper is the resort’s Turn Cafe. But Bella’s Junction Cafe (1.2 miles), Dillard’s Cupboard Cafe (3.4 miles), and Clayton’s Ristorante Paoletti are all within a 10-15 minute drive.