I’ve been exploring the North Georgia mountains since I was a young boy, camping and hiking with my parents and our church youth group (which they led).
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.
READ MORE: 101+ Things to Do in the North Georgia Mountains
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
READ MORE: The Top 30 Blue Ridge Mountain Towns in GA & NC
1. Appalachian History at Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center
One of our favorite things to do in Clayton GA, the Foxfire Museum & Heritage Center is a fantastic place to learn more about how Appalachian culture shaped the North Georgia mountains.
Made famous by the Foxfire Books, the living history museum is home to more than 20 historic Appalachian buildings, each of which is filled with colorful art and artifacts from the Rabun County area.
Built in 1974, the attraction includes a church, working blacksmith shop, and other buildings from the pioneer era (1820s to 1940s).
In the last few years they’ve added a tribute to the Cherokee people that called this part of Northeast GA home, curated with help from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee NC.
It’s an amazing attraction for anyone interested in the history of Appalachian culture, and includes an impressive gift shop selling books and souvenirs.
READ MORE: 30 Fascinating Facts About the Appalachian Mountains for Trivia Buffs
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.”
Everyone has their favorite apple orchards, but the most popular ones include B.J. Reece Orchards, Hillcrest Orchards, Mack Aaron’s Apple House, R&A Orchards, and the Red Apple Barn.
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.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Apple Orchards in Ellijay, Georgia
3. Celebrate Christmas in Helen GA
Helen GA is a quirky little mountain town best known for its colorful Bavarian architecture, German restaurants, kitschy gift shops, and loads of family friendly tourist attractions.
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.
READ MORE: 15 Fun, Festive Ways to Celebrate Christmas in Helen GA
4. Cherokee History at New Echota State Historic Site
The New Echota State Historic Site in Calhoun GA became the capital of the Cherokee Nation in 1825, and remains one of the most important indigenous sites in the United States today.
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.
After the Georgia Gold Rush hit Dahlonega and Helen in 1829 and the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830, most of the New Echota residents were removed and sent on the Trail of Tears.
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.
READ MORE: The Moon Eyed People & Other Cherokee Legends
5. Day Hiking on the Appalachian Trail
One of my favorite childhood memories of growing up in North Georgia was backpacking 14+ miles of the Appalachian Trail with my parents and the church youth group they led.
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!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Day Hikes on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia
6. Drive the Richard B. Russell Scenic Byway
From enjoying Georgia’s fall fairs and festivals to picking apples or visiting a pumpkin patch, Autumn is a great time to explore my native state.
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.
Our favorites include Smithgall Woods State Park and nearby waterfalls such as DeSoto Falls, Dukes Creek Falls, and Helton Creek Falls.
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.
READ MORE: 25 Fun Activities Where You Can Experience Fall in Georgia
7. Explore Cloudland Canyon
One of the largest of Georgia’s state parks, Cloudland Canyon encompasses 3,538 acres of lush forest, 1,000-foot-deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, and hiking trails to amazing waterfalls.
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!
READ MORE: The 15 Best North Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites
8. Fall Colors at Fort Mountain State Park
With a population of around 1,800 people, Ellijay GA has a lot to offer, from the charming downtown shopping district and foodie-friendly restaurants to myriad apple orchards and wineries.
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.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Ellijay GA & Gilmer County
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 tube 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!
READ MORE: The 10 Best Places for River Tubing in North Georgia
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.
Other activities in the park include live reptile exhibits, Georgia birds of prey demonstrations, guided hikes, and some of the best ziplining in Georgia.
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.
READ MORE: The 25 Best North Georgia Waterfalls (& How to Get to Them)
11. Look at Lake Chatuge From Atop Bell Mountain
Ranking right alongside Lake Blue Ridge and Lake Burton among our favorite lakes in North Georgia, Lake Chatuge encompasses nearly 11 square miles on the border between Georgia and North Carolina.
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.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Hiawassee GA & Young Harris GA
12. Marvel at Minnehaha Falls
Like the area around Brevard NC, Georgia’s Blue Ridge region is home to hundreds of wondrous waterfalls, many of which are so remote that they’re rarely (or never) visited.
But if you’re looking for a spectacular waterfall that’s ridiculously easy to get to, check out the Minnehaha Falls Trail, which is located near Lake Rabun in Rabun County GA.
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.
READ MORE: The 25 Best Easy Hiking Trails to Waterfalls in Georgia
13. Ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
The first time I visited Blue Ridge GA back in the early 1990s, it was one of those quintessential quiet, sleepy mountain towns. Not much to do but relax and enjoy the surrounding natural beauty.
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 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.
Located atop Lookout Mountain (which straddles the border between GA and TN), Rock City Gardens has been one of the most popular Chattanooga-area attractions for 90 years now.
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!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lookout Mountain GA/TN
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.
Unfortunately, this boom in gold mining led to the Georgia land lotteries, which stole land from the indigenous Cherokee and sent them westward on the tragic Trail of Tears.
You can learn a lot about this history at the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which is in the heart of Downtown Dahlonega and surrounded by some of the town’s best antique shops, boutiques, and restaurants.
Outside of the Historic Dahlonega square, other nearby attractions include an array of excellent wineries, visiting Lake Zwerner and Water’s Creek Falls, and hiking the Preacher’s Rock Trail.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Dahlonega GA & Lumpkin County
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.
There’s a lot to do in the park, including swimming and kayaking the 17-acre Black Rock Lake, campgrounds with 60 tent and RV sites, a playground, and visiting the Foxfire Museum.
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.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Clayton GA & Rabun County
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.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Wineries in the North Georgia Mountains
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.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Blairsville GA & Union County
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.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Places to Live in the Georgia Mountains
20. Ziplining at Unicoi State Park
Helen GA is a unique town known for its Alpine influences and its Oktoberfest (the largest outside of Germany) and Christmas celebrations.
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.
For a rush of pure adrenaline, check out the Unicoi Zipline & Aerial Adventure Park, which offers 3 levels of ziplining adventures that last from 1 to 4 hours (including one zip over the 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