In my 20s I got my start in professional photography by exploring the North Georgia State Parks, whose myriad hiking trails and waterfalls provided a great escape from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta.
But my family’s roots in the Blue Ridge Mountains go back hundreds of years. My early Scottish ancestors settled new towns like Wytheville and Abingdon VA, and one (Col. Robert Love) founded the town of Waynesville NC.
Since we launched this site in 2020, we’ve explored hundreds of attractions in dozens of mountain towns in Georgia’s Blue Ridge region.
From major tourist towns like Blue Ridge, Ellijay, and Helen to tiny burghs like Dillard, Lakemont, and Young Harris, we’ve left no stone unturned as we explore in search of our future mountain home.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for excellent adventures in the mountains of Georgia, we’ve got literally hundreds to choose from!
Read on for our guide to the best things to do in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, including all of our favorite hiking trails, tourist attractions, state parks, waterfalls, and other outdoor activities.
Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia Guide
- Appalachian History at Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center
- Apple Orchards in Ellijay GA
- Celebrate Christmas in Helen GA
- Cherokee History at New Echota State Historic Site
- Day Hiking on the Appalachian Trail
- Drive the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway
- Explore Cloudland Canyon
- Fall Colors at Fort Mountain State Park
- Go Tubing on the Chattahoochee River
- Hiking at Amicalola Falls State Park
- Look at Lake Chatuge From Atop Bell Mountain
- Marvel at Minnehaha Falls
- Ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
- See Rock City Gardens on Lookout Mountain
- Spend a Day in Downtown Dahlonega
- Watch the Sunrise at Black Rock Mountain State Park
- Wine Tastings at North Georgia Wineries
- View 4 States From Brasstown Bald
- Visit Tallulah Gorge State Park
- Ziplining at Unicoi State Park
1. Appalachian History at Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center
Built in 1974, the attraction includes a church, working blacksmith shop, and other buildings from the pioneer era (1820s to 1940s).
It’s an amazing attraction for anyone interested in the history of Appalachian culture, and includes an impressive gift shop selling books and souvenirs.
2. Apple Orchards in Ellijay GA
As the heat and humidity of summer in Georgia begin to give way to cooler temps and fall colors, thoughts tend to turn to autumn activities like apple picking, corn mazes, and visiting pumpkin patches.
There are dozens of North Georgia apple orchards you can visit, but most of the best ones are near Ellijay GA. Home to the annual Georgia Apple Festival, the area is widely known as “the Apple Capital of Georgia.”
Each orchard has dozens of different apple varieties available, and most offer activities such as wagon rides, cow milking, and shopping for tasty treats (apple cider, apple donuts, apple pies, etc.) in their farm market.
3. Celebrate Christmas in Helen GA
But it’s also one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in Georgia, from the Lighting of the Village and Christmas Market to the Helen Christmas Parade and Victorian Christmas at the Hardman Farm Historic Site.
The alpine-influenced town is draped in colorful Christmas lights, restaurants like Cimmi’s Courtyard Cafe and Hofer’s Bakery have extra Christmas cheer, and Santa and Mrs. Claus are available for fantastic photos opps.
These are just a few reasons why several Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies have been filmed in the charming little town, which is widely ranked among the best Christmas towns in Georgia to visit.
4. Cherokee History at New Echota State Historic Site
Located at the headwaters of the Oostanaula River, the town was home to the first Indian language newspaper and the signing of the New Echota Treaty, which relinquished all tribal lands east of the Mississippi River.
Reconstruction of the town began in 1957, and it was opened to the public in 1962. In 1973, the Department of Interior designated the park as a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition in the US.
Today, New Echota visitors can explore 12 original and reconstructed buildings, a historical museum with excellent interpretive exhibits, and two lovely nature trails for hiking.
5. Day Hiking on the Appalachian Trail
I was only 6 or 7 years old, but I still remember camping in the wild for the first time, crossing rushing creeks, bathing in frigid waterfalls, and seeing stunning scenery on the North Georgia hiking trails.
From picturesque places like Hogpen Gap and Unicoi Gap to iconic summits like Blood Mountain and Preachers Rock, many of the most beautiful parts of the AT in GA can be reached via moderate day hikes.
And with Springer Mountain (the AT’s southern terminus) located just over an hour north of Downtown Atlanta, most of these trails make for relatively easy day trips from the city or the Blue Ridge Mountains!
6. Drive the Richard B. Russell Scenic Byway
The cooler temperatures make exploring Georgia’s outdoor attractions much more pleasant, and the glorious fall colors make every hiking trail, waterfall, and scenic overlook seem all the more magical.
Taking a road trip on the Richard B. Russell Scenic Byway (a.k.a. Hwy 348) is a great way to soak in the natural beauty. It stretches 23 miles between Blairsville and Helen, with lots of noteworthy attractions along the way.
There are also several stunning overlooks where you can stop and admire the breathtaking views, including Hogpen Gap, one of our favorite places in Georgia to watch the sunset.
7. Explore Cloudland Canyon
The most popular things to do in Cloudland Canyon State Park include a fishing pond, an 18-hole disc golf course, 16 miles of horseback riding trails, and 30 miles of biking trails (bike rentals are available).
But our favorite activity is exploring the park’s 64 miles of hiking trails, including the 1-mile Overlook Trail, the 1-mile Waterfalls Trail, and the 6-mile Sitton’s Gulch Trail, which boasts beautiful wildflowers in spring.
We also love easy access the Cloudland Canyon State Park cabins offer to the West Rim Loop Trail, which has been rated by Backpacker magazine as one of the Top 10 Hikes in the USA!
8. Fall Colors at Fort Mountain State Park
But our favorite thing to do near Ellijay is exploring Fort Mountain State Park, which is located about 17 miles west of town. It’s a great place for camping and hiking, located just over an hour north of metro Atlanta.
The park features a picturesque lake that is truly gorgeous when fall colors start to peak. It also has picnic areas, 15 cottages, 70 tent/trailer/RV campsites, 17 walk-in/pioneer/backcountry campsites, and one group shelter.
There are 25+ miles of multi-use hiking trails to explore. Our favorite is the CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop, which leads to a historic stone tower and a dazzling overlook of the Cohutta Wilderness.
9. Go Tubing on the Chattahoochee River
Growing up in Atlanta, “shooting the ‘hooch” on an inner tube was a popular activity long before country star Alan Jackson made the Chattahoochee River famous.
Though the scenic river runs right through the metro area, its headwaters start near Horse Trough Falls in Helen GA. And tubing on the Chattahoochee River is one of the most popular things to do in Helen in the summer.
Companies like Cool River Tubing and Helen Tubing & Water Park offer tubing trips ranging from 1 to 2.5 hours, with prices ranging from $14 to $18. This fee includes river tubing rental, life jackets, and a shuttle service.
River tubing is a great way to relax, enjoy the scenery, and cool off on hot, humid days. But since rain may lead to water level restrictions, it’s always good to call ahead before making the trip to Helen!
10. Hiking at Amicalola Falls State Park
Located in the Chattahoochee National Forest, just 8 miles from the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, Amicalola Falls State Park is one of the most popular day trips from Atlanta.
Its star attraction, of course, is the 729-foot-tall Amicalola Falls, which is the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
The waterfall can be seen from 3 of the park’s 10 hiking trails, including the West Ridge Falls Access Trail, East Ridge Trail, or the New Appalachian Approach Trail.
If you want to visit for a weekend getaway, the park also includes the Amicalola Lodge and 1- to 3-bedroom state park cabins, all of which include a fully equipped kitchen and a fire-ring, grill, and picnic table outside.
11. Look at Lake Chatuge From Atop Bell Mountain
Created by the construction of the Chatuge Dam on the Hiwassee River in 1942, the picturesque lake is the pride of Hiawassee GA and Young Harris GA.
There are many marinas, restaurants, and other attractions dotting the lake’s 132 miles of shoreline. But for the best view, simply drive up to the top of Bell Mountain Park, which offers a breathtaking 360º scenic overview.
Local businessman Hal Herrin bought the 18-acre summit to preserve it from further mining, and his estate later donated it to Towns County. In 2016, they erected an observation deck named for Herrin.
They’ve added a 2nd platform that climbs to 3,424 feet in elevation, offering stellar views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. But there’s a lot of graffiti on the rocks, which sadly tarnishes the pristine natural beauty.
12. Marvel at Minnehaha Falls
The short trail climbs a set of wooden stairs before leading you on a gentle incline through the forest, reaching the multi-tiered cascades in just 0.2 miles.
The wide base of the falls is scattered with large rocks, which make it a great place to relax, have a picnic, and soak in the impressive scene of the 5-foot waterfall surrounded by rhododendron and other wildflowers.
13. Ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
There are obviously a lot more restaurants, boutiques, and breweries to explore there today. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway remains the #1 Blue Ridge GA attraction.
Departing from the Downtown Blue Ridge railway depot, the BRSR train takes visitors on a 13-mile ride along the Toccoa River to the border towns of McCaysville GA and Copperhill TN (a 125-year-old route).
They occasionally offer special trips that combine train rides with white water rafting or river tubing. And don’t miss a chance to visit during Christmas, when kids can go on a festive train ride with Santa Claus!
READ MORE: The 25 Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge GA
14. See Rock City on Lookout Mountain
Growing up in the state of Georgia, you couldn’t drive very far into the mountains without seeing the famous “SEE ROCK CITY” signs painted on barns, birdhouses, and mailboxes.
Their 4,100-foot-long Enchanted Trail features amazing rock formations, magical caverns, 400+ native plant species, and breathtaking panoramic views where you can see up to 7 states on a clear day.
There are also numerous restaurants and gift shops along the way, and plenty of scenic spots where you can sit and take in the scenic sights.
We love visiting during their Rock City Enchanted Garden of Lights celebration, which ranks right alongside Stone Mountain Christmas and the Atlanta Botanical Garden for the best Christmas light displays in Georgia!
15. Spend a Day in Dahlonega
One of the most popular places to visit in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, Dahlonega was the site of the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829, the first major gold rush in the USA.
16. Watch the Sunrise at Black Rock Mountain State Park
The highest of all the state parks in GA, Black Rock Mountain State Park sits at an elevation of 3,640 feet.
So the park offers incredible sunrise and sunset views of Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as stunning scenic overlooks of the town of Clayton in the valley below.
Visit the Black Rock and Blue Ridge Overlooks for amazing views of the fog rolling in with the morning sunrise, while the Nantahala and Tennessee Rock Overlooks offer the best sunset views.
But the most popular thing to do here is exploring the park’s 11 miles of trails, ranging from the easy Black Rock Lake and Norma Campbell Cove Trails to the more difficult James E. Edmond and Tennessee Rock Trails.
17. Wine Tastings at North Georgia Wineries
The unique climate and geography of North Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains offers the perfect conditions (a.k.a. terroir) for growing grapes and producing wine.
In fact, grapes have been grown in the region for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that North Georgia wineries started to gain national recognition.
Today there are dozens of great wineries in Georgia, many of which boast an array of award-winning wines. Some also offer vineyard tours, wine tastings, and various seasonal events.
Some of the most popular wineries in the Blue Ridge region include Montaluce Winery and Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega, Cartecay Vineyards and Engelheim Vineyards in Ellijay, Fainting Goat Vineyards in Jasper, and Chateau Meichtry in Talking Rock.
18. View 4 States From Brasstown Bald
With an elevation of 4,784 feet, Brasstown Bald is by far the highest point in the state of Georgia. So it’s arguably the best (not to mention first) place to see the glorious fall colors at their peak.
Towering over the Chattahoochee National Forest, the mountain’s towering summit rewards you with striking 360º views of four states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) on a clear day.
There are two ways to reach the Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center at the top. You can either hike the steep 0.55-mile trail up from the parking lot, or take a quick shuttle that comes free with your $7 entry fee.
Once you reach the top, the far-reaching scenic views will take your breath away, with the rolling hills of GA’s Blue Ridge Mountains stretching and far as the eye can see.
19. Visit Tallulah Gorge State Park
Much like Cloudland Canyon, Tallulah Gorge State Park is home to dramatic waterfalls, 20 miles of fantastic hiking trails, and an incredible 1,000-foot canyon that was carved out over centuries by the Tallulah River.
The Rim Trails lead to spectacular scenic overlooks and cross an 800-foot-high suspension bridge, offering some of the park’s best views.
There’s also the Tallulah Gorge Floor Trail, which requires a permit. If you choose to do this strenuous trek, be sure to pack all the hiking essentials, as the bottom of gorge can get extremely hot on sunny days.
This park is also considered a great place for kayaking, especially when they open the Tallulah River dam (at a certain times of the year) to offer white-water rafting opportunities!
If you want to make a weekend of it, Tallulah Gorge lodging options include 50 campsites for tent, trailers, and RVs; a pioneer campsite that can hold 25 people; and 3 backcountry Adirondack shelters.
20. Ziplining at Unicoi State Park
But Unicoi State Park, which is located about 3 miles from Downtown Helen, is a great place to immerse yourself in the natural side of the famous tourist town.
There are tons of fun things to do at Unicoi, such as hiking to Anna Ruby Falls, fly fishing on Smith Creek, target practice at their archery and air gun range, and kayaking and swimming in Unicoi Lake.
If you want to make a weekend of it, consider booking one of the recently renovated Unicoi State Park Barrel Cabins, which were built in the early ’70s and offer great views of the lake. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett