[Updated June 13, 2023]
But for many people, therein lies a big part of its charm.
Measuring just 1.1 square miles, Blairsville may seem a little sleepy on the surface.
There isn’t much in the way of nightlife here, and many of the local restaurants close by 8PM on weeknights.
But the Union County area is a haven for nature lovers, with several lakes and waterfalls, some of the tallest mountains in Georgia, and the Appalachian Trail all less than 15 miles of Downtown Blairsville.
Read on for our guide to the best things to do in Blairsville GA, including all of the best hiking trails, museums, restaurants, and other attractions the North Georgia mountain town has to offer.
Best Things to Do in Blairsville GA Guide
- Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games
- Climb Brasstown Bald
- Drive the Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy
- Explore Downtown Blairsville
- Explore Meeks Park
- Hike the Blood Mountain Trail
- Hike to DeSoto Falls
- Moonshine Tastings at Grandaddy Mimm’s Distilling Co.
- Mountain Life Museum
- Picnic at Helton Creek Falls
- Sample Blairsville Restaurants
- See Trahlyta Falls
- Shop at Sunrise Grocery
- Spend a Day at Lake Nottely
- Sunset at Hogpen Gap
- Trek Prep at Mountain Crossings
- Visit the Historic Union County Courthouse
- Visit the Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site
- Vogel State Park
- Wander at Byron Herbert Reece Heritage Farm
Cabin Rentals in Blairsville GA
Creekside Cottages– Tucked away alongside a fast-flowing creek less than a mile from Downtown Blairsville, these 4 pet-friendly cabins feature 2 bedrooms and 1 bath. We loved the thoughtful decorative details, the full kitchen, and the excellent use of outdoor space (including creekside picnic tables, fire pits, and swings).
1. Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games
Now in its 17th year, the Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games celebrates the historic and cultural significance the Scots-Irish people have had in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.
Spreading out along the banks of the Nottely River at Meeks Park, the 2-day festival features all things Scottish, from athletic competitions and traditional music to ancestral clans and food (including my personal favorite, haggis).
The opening ceremony is an almost overwhelming experience. Marching bands with blaring bagpipes and drums lead a parade of tartans onto the main field, where athletes compete in Open Stone, Heavy Hammer, and Sheaf Toss competitions.
Entertainment includes live music, Highland dancing, and demos of sheep-herding, blacksmithing, birds of prey, and living history. There are also booths selling everything from Scottish decor and Shortbread to kilts, bow and arrows, and more.
Scottish Festival admission is $20 per day, but children ages 10 and under get in free, with lots of activities for kids to enjoy.
2. Climb Brasstown Bald
Towering at 4,784 feet above the Chattahoochee National Forest, Brasstown Bald is the tallest mountain in Georgia.
The observation deck at its summit offers spectacular 360º panoramas that allow you to see into four states (Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina) on clear days.
There are two options for reaching the summit: You can take a shuttle for a small fee, or follow the paved trail that leads from the Brasstown Bald parking lot to the Visitors Center at the top.
The 0.5-mile hiking trail to the top is short, yet somewhat steep in elevation gain, with lots of benches along the way for those who need to catch their breath.
3. Drive the Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy
Although Georgia doesn’t have any epic driving routes to rival the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway offers a picturesque road trip on a much smaller scale.
Also known as Hwy 348, the road stretches 23 miles from Helen to Blairsville. You could also extend the drive by heading north to Young Harris and Hiawassee, or follow the larger Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway loop (40.6 miles).
But there are enough cool things to do along the Richard B. Russell stretch to make a full day of it, including easy hikes to Dukes Creek Falls (2 miles) and Helton Creek Falls (0.3 miles), the 5.8-mile trail to Raven Cliff Falls, and fishing or hiking at Smithgall Woods State Park.
If jaw-dropping Blue Ridge Mountain vistas are more your speed, don’t miss the three roadside scenic overlooks along Hwy 348, which offer especially stunning views when the fall colors in Georgia start to pop.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Helen GA
4. Explore Downtown Blairsville
Founded after the removal of the Cherokee people in the 1830s, Blairsville was named after Revolutionary War veteran James Blair. Known as “the Paul Revere of the South,” he went on to serve 20 years in the Georgia State Legislature.
The most iconic landmark in downtown Blairsville is the Historic Union County Courthouse, which was constructed in 1899 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s home to the Union County Historical Society, which oversees several museums dedicated to the town’s history.
Other noteworthy downtown landmarks include Blairsville City Hall (formerly the “old” jail, which was built in 1934), the Mountain Life Museum, and the Union County War Memorial Veteran’s Park.
The historic Blairsville Square features much less traffic than other mountain towns we’ve visited.
5. Explore Meeks Park
Located about a mile west of Downtown Blairsville on Highway 515, Meeks Park is one of our favorite recreation areas in the North Georgia mountains.
Established in 1992, the park is divided into 3 sections, with Butternut Creek and the Nottely River running through it.
The first section includes myriad baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, basketball court, skate park, 2 playgrounds, a pool and splash pad, 4 covered pavilions, the Appalachian Sculpture Project, and 4.62 miles of hiking trails.
Lastly, the Meeks Park Dog Park (located next to North Georgia Technical College) offers over a mile of trails, a fenced-in off-leash area, two pens, a state-of-the-art doggie drinking fountain, and a challenging 18-hole disc golf course.
This Union County park is home to several annual festivals throughout the year, including the Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games in June, Butternut Creek Festival in July, and the Blairsville Sorghum Festival in October.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Places to Visit in Georgia
6. Hike the Blood Mountain Trail
The trek begins at the Byron Reece Trailhead near Neels Gap, where you’ll head into a lush valley lined with rhododendron and other GA wildflowers. You’ll meet the Appalachian Trail at 0.7 miles, then head westbound.
The Blood Mountain trail reaches the rocky-topped summit at 2.15 miles, offering stellar sights of the rolling mountains.
You’ll also see a rock building there that was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.
When you’ve had your fill of the breathtaking scenery, simply retrace your steps to return to the trailhead, completing the heart-pumping hike at 4.3 miles.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Fall Fairs in Georgia
7. Hike to DeSoto Falls
Desoto Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls near Blairsville.
Local legend suggests that a piece of Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto’s armor was found there long after his expedition to the New World in the 1500s.
The DeSoto Falls trail once included three different waterfalls, but the trail to the uppermost falls was closed long ago (though some experienced hikers say it is still navigable today).
The hike follows a paved path before crossing over Frogtown Creek, where you’ll get your first glimpse of Lower DeSoto Falls through the trees.
At around 1/4-mile you’ll reach a wooden viewing platform where you can see them up close.
After a second bridge crossing, you’ll reach the spectacular 80-foot cascades of Upper DeSoto Falls and another viewing platform, where you can marvel at their beauty.
Note that these waterfalls are much more impressive after recent rains.
8. Moonshine Tastings at Grandaddy Mimm’s Distilling Co.
Growing up in the Deep South, moonshine was a staple of the Appalachian cultural heritage (but, of course, illegal).
It’s owned by country musician Tommy Townsend, who uses family recipes passed down by his grandfather Jack McClure, a notorious bootlegger in the Blue Ridge Mountains who was friends with former Governor Zell Miller.
Dubbed “Grandaddy Mimm’s Corn Whiskey,” it is produced on stills that were designed by McClure, which you can see on brief tours of the facility.
They also offer tastings of their potent moonshine, vodka, and Georgia whiskey, with 8 samples for around $5.
All of the varieties we tasted are delicious, but the Apple Brown Betty and Blackberry Moonshines make for particularly sweet sippin’!
READ MORE: 30 Fascinating Blue Ridge Mountains Facts
9. Mountain Life Museum
Launched in 1976, the non-profit Union County Historical Society was created “to preserve and promote the history and culture of Union County.
The society maintains 3 historic structures in Blairsville, two of which are part of the Mountain Life Museum, which is located just a few blocks from the square.
The 1861 John Payne Cabin, corn crib, and barn (which were relocated from a Union County farm) provide an authentic slice of Appalachian history, including period antiques and photographs of the owner’s family.
10. Picnic at Helton Creek Falls
The Helton Creek Falls trail is one of the shortest, easiest waterfall trails in Georgia. It’s just over a half-mile round-trip, yet offers amazing ROI for minimal energy investment.
The water tumbles down a sliding rock face into a tranquil pool that kids and dogs love to splash around in.
After that, the short trail ascends approximately 30 feet in elevation to a viewing platform at the top, where you can see Upper Helton Creek Falls in all its glory.
This is a great place for an afternoon picnic, with large boulders and trees scattered around the pool at the base of the falls.
Note that it can get crowded, so we recommend arriving early to ensure maximum elbow room at this gorgeous spot.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Waterfalls Near Helen GA
11. Sample Blairsville Restaurants
But there are several ambitious entrepreneurs (mostly metro Atlanta transplants) who are working to change that.
We had excellent breakfasts at the G & G Bakery & Café (formerly known as Grinds ‘n’ Glazes), which had great coffee and pastries, and The Sawmill Place, a fantastic farm-to-table restaurant that sourced ingredients from local farms.
Their sushi, poke, seaweed salad, and “Chef Kim’s World Cuisine” menu offered a wonderfully refreshing change of pace.
Our two favorite places to eat in Blairsville couldn’t be more different. The Blairsville Restaurant- Grits & Greens is exactly what it sounds like, offering the tastiest down-home Southern fare I’ve had since my Granny passed away.
And Michaelee’s Italian Life Caffe is the most romantic restaurant in Blairsville, offering upscale Italian fare right on the Blairsville Square.
12. See Trahlyta Falls
Located in Vogel State Park and surrounded by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Trahlyta Falls is another one of those North Georgia waterfalls that offers maximum payoff for minimal time and energy investment.
The easy, 0.8-mile trail to reach begins near the Visitor Center, circling the lovely Trahlyta Lake, passing the state park’s cabins, and offering excellent views of Blood Mountain along the way.
After a short descent to reach a set of wooden stairs, the observation platform at the bottom gets you right up close to the 110-foot-tall waterfall.
But the truth is that the best full view of this spectacular waterfall can be seen right from Gainesville Highway, without ever entering the park!
If you’re coming from Blairsville, look for the pull-offs on the right-hand side of the road just before you reach the Vogel State Park entrance.
13. Shop at Sunrise Grocery
Built back in the 1920s, Sunrise Grocery is an authentic country store and the oldest business in Union County still in its original location.
They sell all sorts of stuff, including fresh produce, ethanol-free gas, camping gear, fishing supplies, homemade soaps, and notoriously delicious “WORLD FAMOUS boiled peanuts.
It’s our favorite place to stock up on traditional Southern foods such as F.R.O.G. Jam, preserves, country ham, and fresh apple cider made from locally grown apples.
They’re also well-known for their pumpkin patch, which the place a very popular stop for people road-tripping to see the fall colors in North Georgia.
14. Spend a Day at Lake Nottely
One of our favorite lakes in North Georgia, Lake Nottely is a Tennessee Valley Authority reservoir that was created in 1942 by the damming of the Nottely River.
Stretching approximately 20 miles northwest from Blairsville, the 4,180-acre lake features 106 miles of shoreline, with an average depth of 35 feet and a max depth of 98 feet.
Boating, jet skiing, fishing, picnicking, and paddle boarding are all popular activities, as is camping at the Poteete Creek Campgrounds, which offers 59 campsites.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Lakes in Georgia to Visit
15. Sunset at Hogpen Gap
Hogpen Gap is one of three stunning scenic overlooks located along the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. But it deserves special mention for a several different reasons.
First off, the overlook is located right along the Appalachian Trail, and the strenuous 14.5-mile stretch from Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap is widely considered one of the most challenging and beautiful hiking trails in Georgia.
Secondly, this one of the few places in Georgia where the Appalachian Trail crosses a major road.
So it’s a very popular place for “trail angels” who want to share food, water, and other gifts with weary AT thru-hikers.
But in our opinion the #1 reason to visit Hogpen Gap is for the splendiferous sunsets the overlook offers.
16. Trek Prep at Mountain Crossings
Hiking 14 miles on the Appalachian Trail with my parents and their church youth group when I was 6 years old is one of earliest formative memories of exploring the outdoors.
From carrying my heavy backpack uphill and taking off my boots to ford a rushing creek to camping in the forest, my fond memories of the trip remain strong nearly 50 years later.
But what I remember most clearly is picking up freeze-dried food and other hiking essentials at the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center, a.k.a. Mountain Crossings. It’s the only place where the 2,179-mile AT runs through a man-made structure.
Made famous by Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, this colorfully eclectic retail store/hostel/backpacker hangout is housed in a historic brick building about 30 miles from the AT’s southern terminus.
Whether you’re a thru-hiker looking to refine your gear before making your way north to Maine, or simply a day hiker interested in AT history, it’s a must-see stop at Neels Gap.
17. Visit the Historic Union County Courthouse
Unfortunately, the courthouse suffered from years of neglect and fell into a state of disrepair around the Great Depression.
It was condemned and slated for demolition in the 1970s, but the Union County Historical Society was formed to protect and preserve it.
It has since been completely restored, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Most of its rooms house museums covering everything from Blairsville history and U.S. military history to an extraordinary collection of dollhouse-style miniatures.
But the highlight of the free attraction is the historic courtroom, which still has several pieces of original furniture and is often used for live musical performances.
18. Visit the Track Rock Gap Petroglyph Site
It should be noted that this Blairsville attraction is temporarily closed (as of March 2022), due in large part to mindless vandalism of what is arguably the most important archaeological site in Georgia.
Located in the Brasstown Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the 52-acre Track Rock Gap Archaeological Area is home to the most significant petroglyphs of ancient Native American origin in Georgia.
Much like the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site in Calhoun, the mysterious carvings in 6 table-sized soapstone boulders pre-date the arrival of the Cherokee in Georgia.
The Cherokee people called the site Datsu’nalasgun’ylu (where there are tracks) and Degayelun’ha (the printed or branded place).
Historic mentions of the petroglyphs date back to 1834, but the unfortunate carvings of people’s initials into these sacred stones are much more recent. This is why we can’t have nice things…
19. Vogel State Park
Vogel State Park offers 17 miles of hiking trails, including the easy Trahlyta Lake Trail loop and Byron Herbert Reece Nature Trail, the moderate 4.1-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail, and the strenuous 12.8-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.
The park also offers 90 tent, trailer, and RV campsites; walk-in and pioneer campsites; and 35 cabins ranging in size from one to three bedrooms.
20. Wander at Byron Herbert Reece Heritage Farm
Though it’s not an official Georgia State Historic Site, the Byron Herbert Reece Heritage Farm is one of the best places to visit in Blairsville for anyone interested in the early 20th century Appalachian way of life.
Located a mile north of Vogel State Park on US 129, the 9.3-acre Reece Heritage Farm offers free admission and self-guided tours of a property packed with authentic farm buildings and equipment.
Developing the interpretive history attraction is a long-term project of the Byron Herbert Reece Society, which honors the life and work of the native Blairsville poet/author.
They’ve restored the main barn and corn crib, constructed period buildings (chicken coop, spring house, and smoke house), and relocated/renovated the Reece family house, which is a Welcome Center and home to the Reece Family Museum.
They also built a pedestrian bridge across Wolf Creek, created the Poetry Trail Garden, and constructed a 2,620-square-foot pavilion that is used for weddings and other large private events. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted