As a lifelong metro Atlanta resident, I’ve always felt that the natural beauty of the state of Georgia is vastly underrated.
Even local residents tend to forget the amazing amount of green space we’re blessed with, which offers endless excellent opportunities for recreation and ecotourism adventures.
But taking day trips from Atlanta is a great way to explore all the beauty the Peach State has to offer, from cool caves, majestic mountains, and dazzling lakes to rushing rivers and wondrous waterfalls.
With hundreds of city parks, more than 40 state parks, and five national parks located in North Georgia alone, the South’s most bustling metropolis also boasts plenty of outdoor activities.
And most of them can be reached in less than two-hour road trips from Atlanta.
Whether you prefer relaxing activities like fishing, biking, and tubing, or extreme adventures like rock climbing, spelunking, and ziplining, read on for a diverse array of options for amazing day trips from Atlanta.
THE BEST DAY TRIPS FROM ATLANTA GUIDE
- Amicalola Falls State Park
- Apple Picking in Ellijay
- Biking the Silver Comet Trail
- Boating on Lake Lanier
- Black Rock Mountain State Park
- Chasing Waterfalls in Rabun County
- Climb Blood Mountain
- Cloudland Canyon State Park
- Day Hiking the Appalachian Trail
- Driving the Richard B Russell Scenic Hwy
- Explore Downtown Blue Ridge
- Hiking in the Chattahoochee National Forest
- Fly Fishing for Trout
- Fort Mountain State Park
- Learn Native American History
- See 4 States at Brasstown Bald
- Shoot the Hooch
- Spelunking Northwest Georgia Caves
- Sunsets on Lake Allatoona
- Tallulah Gorge State Park
- Wine Tastings at North Georgia Wineries
- Visit Alpine Helen
- Unicoi State Park
- Vogel State Park
- Whitewater Rafting on the Chattooga River
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1. Amicalola Falls State Park
This is largely thanks to its easy access, easy hiking trails (some of which are paved with recycled rubber), and 729-foot cascading waterfalls (the tallest east of the Mississippi River).
Amicalola (Cherokee for “tumbling waters”) has seen marked improvements in recent years, including the addition of a new observation deck that provides incredible scenic vistas.
Hardcore backpackers often come this way, making the 8.5-mile hike to Springer Mountain, which marks the southern end of the 2,135-mile Appalachian Trail.
But most visitors go for more casual hikes, fish for freshwater trout in the well-stocked pond, and enjoy a quiet picnic near the base of the falls. It’s a beautiful way to spend a warm spring or autumn day!
READ MORE: The 15 Best Scary Escape Rooms in Georgia
2. Apple Picking in Ellijay
Apple picking in Ellijay is best from early September through the end of October, right as the fall colors in North Georgia begin to reach their peak.
There are many great apple orchards in Ellijay GA to choose from for Atlanta day trips, including Hillcrest Orchards, Panorama Orchards, and the Red Apple Barn. But B.J. Reece Orchards is tops among the perennial favorites.
The family-owned farm encompasses 120 acres and offer around 30 different kinds of apples, including Cameo, Candy Crisp, Fuji, Gala, Mutsu, Red Delicious, and Winecrisp.
They usually start offering u-pick apples around Labor Day. But the orchard’s market offers bagged apples, apple cider donuts, “World Famous” fried pies, and other tantalizing treats all year round.
Visiting Reece Orchards is also a family favorite for other reasons, including activities such as a petting zoo, cow milking demonstrations, and old-fashioned wagon rides.
3. Biking the Silver Comet Trail
Formerly the route of the Silver Comet passenger train, this paved recreational trail extends 61.5 miles from the northwest Atlanta suburb of Smyrna all the way west to the Alabama state line.
The trail also offers direct access to Heritage Park, which features more than 14 acres of wetlands and the ruins of Concord Woolen Mills.
Don’t have a bike? No problem! Just rent one from Comet Trail Cycles, which offers full and half-day rentals on carbon road bikes, comfort hybrids, youth bicycles and child trailers.
Of course the path can also be used for hiking, jogging, and rollerblading as well.
4. Boating/Kayaking on Lake Lanier
Encompassing 38,542 acres in Gainesville GA, this immensely popular lake was named after 19th century Georgia poet Sidney Lanier.
Lake Lanier was formed when the Buford Dam was created in 1956, with water flowing in from both the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers. It’s the biggest lake in Georgia, with around 700 miles of shoreline.
Recreational activities here include boating, water skiing, swimming, kayaking and standup paddle boarding. There’s also great fishing, with commonly caught species such as bluegill, catfish, redbreast, spotted bass, striped bass, white bass, and walleye.
There are plenty of great picnic spots and camping opportunities on the lake, with 40 parks and 10 campgrounds along the shoreline.
There’s also the upscale Lanier Islands Resort, which offers a variety of lodging options, plenty of lakeside amenities, and one of our favorite North Georgia Christmas events.
5. Black Rock Mountain State Park
Located near the town of Clayton, it’s one of the impressive North Georgia attractions, offering 5 hiking trails that range in length from the .10-mile Norma Campbell Cove Trail to the 7.2-mile James E. Edmond Trail.
The most popular is the 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail, which takes you through some of the park’s highest forest. The exceptional views span some 80 miles into North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
There are numerous scenic overlooks in the park offering amazing sunrise and sunset vistas, as well as fishing, kayaking/canoeing in Black Rock Lake, and visiting the Foxfire Museum of Appalachian culture and history.
The park is also home to one of the most picturesque campgrounds in the region, as well as our favorite Georgia State Park cabin rentals.
6. Chasing Waterfalls in Rabun County
There are an estimated 700 waterfalls in the state of Georgia, the vast majority of which are located in the North Georgia mountains.
Every hiker has their personal favorite North Georgia waterfalls. But, for our money, the best place to visit multiple mind-blowing waterfalls in one day is Rabun County, in the northeast corner of the state.
Want easy trails to wondrous waterfalls with very little hiking involved?
Check out Toccoa Falls, Minnehaha Falls, Becky Branch Falls at Warwoman Dell, and Hurricane Falls at Tallulah Gorge (which you can view from the top after a short walk to the Rim Trail).
If you visit Minnehaha, it’s a short drive to the Lake Rabun Beach Campground, where you can hike to Panther Falls and Angel Falls on a moderate 1.75-mile round-trip trail.
7. Climb Blood Mountain
One of the most popular North Georgia mountains for hiking, Blood Mountain is the first trail I ever remember hiking with my parents as a young boy.
From the Byron Reece Trailhead near Neels Gap, the adventure takes you through a creek valley lined with rhododendron and other wildflowers. You’ll meet the Appalachian Trail at .7 mile and head westbound.
Once you’ve had time to catch your breath and get your fill of the sensational scenery, the hike retraces the outbound route to return to the trailhead.
8. Cloudland Canyon State Park
This 3,485-acre state park, located 35 miles north of sleepy Summerville GA, is rarely crowded except on peak summer weekends. But it offers a diverse range of activities for outdoor enthusiasts of all fitness levels.
Casual nature lovers can simply stay in the picnic area parking lot, where you can get stunning overviews of the canyon without ever breaking a sweat.
But hardy hikers will love the 4.8-mile West Rim and Waterfalls Trail, which offers more in-depth exploration of the area (which ranges in elevation from 800 to around 2,000 feet).
The gorge was cut into the mountain by Sitton Gulch Creek, producing striking rock outcroppings that are offset by colorful wildflowers. These stunning views grow increasingly spectacular in the autumn months, when the fall colors begin to change.
The park really earns its name in the morning, when the rolling fog over the hills makes it seem as if you’re walking in the clouds. In addition to 100+ campsites, they also have recently renovated Cloudland Canyon State Park Cabins and 10 awesome yurts.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Summerville GA
9. Day Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Georgia
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most iconic hiking trails in the world, stretching 2,190+ miles across 14 different states. Due to its length, most thru-hikers 5 to 7 months to tackle the entire trail.
Trekking from Georgia to Maine isn’t possible (or advisable) for the average hiker. But the AT in Georgia offers an array of easy, moderate, and strenuous trails that explore some of the state’s most scenic summits.
The most popular sections include the aforementioned Blood Mountain trail, the Springer Mountain Loop, Preacher’s Rock, and the Long Creek Falls trail.
If you’re up for a more strenuous trekking challenge, there’s the 5.2-mile hike from Dicks Creek Gap to the summit of Powell Mountain, the 8.6-mile Three Forks to Springer Mountain section, and the 14.5-mile stretch from Hogpen Gap to Unicoi Gap.
10. Drive the Richard B Russell Scenic Highway
Though North Georgia doesn’t offer any epic winding roads to rival the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway offers a stunningly picturesque mountain route on a much smaller scale.
Also known as Hwy 348, it stretches 23 miles from Helen to Blairsville GA. But it’s easy to extend the drive by heading further north to Young Harris and Hiawassee, or following the larger Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway loop (40.6 miles total).
There are plenty of cool things to do along the Richard B. Russell stretch to make a full day of it.
Start the morning fishing or hiking at Smithgall Woods State Park, then head north on Hwy 348 for fairly easy waterfall hikes at Dukes Creek Falls (2 miles round-trip) and Helton Creek Falls (0.3 miles).
If taking a gander at jaw-dropping scenic vistas is more your speed, don’t miss the three roadside scenic overlooks that are located along Hwy 348.
All of them are worth a stop, but our favorite by far is Hogpen Gap, which is located along the Appalachian Trail. It’s a great place for an evening picnic while you soak in the dazzling colors of an amazing sunset!
11. Explore Downtown Blue Ridge GA
One of our favorite Blue Ridge Mountain towns in GA, the charming town of Blue Ridge has long been considered one of the best places to visit near Atlanta.
There’s an extensive array of outdoor activities nearby, including horseback riding, white water rafting on the Ocoee River, ziplining, and boating and kayaking at Lake Blue Ridge.
There’s also lots of great hiking trails, including the Benton MacKaye Trail, the AT, and several impressive waterfalls near Blue Ridge (including Long Creek Falls, Fall Branch Falls, and Sea Creek Falls).
To learn more about the Fannin County area, hop aboard the historic Blue Ridge Scenic Railway and take a journey through the North Georgia mountains along the Toccoa River, just as travelers did in the late 19th century.
READ MORE: The 20 Best Things to Do in Blue Ridge GA
12. Hiking in the Chattahoochee National Forest
The Chattahoochee National Forest encompasses around 867,000 acres of largely pristine land, offering some of the most rewarding opportunities for outdoor adventure in North Georgia.
Our favorite easy hiking trails in the National Forest include the 0.8-mile Toccoa Swinging Bridge trail near Blue Ridge, the 0.4-mile Sosebee Cove trail near Blairsville, and the 1-mile Lake Chatuge trail in Hiawassee.
Those seeking moderate hikes in the forest will enjoy the 3-mile Rabun Bald trek near Clayton, the 4.9-mile the Raven Cliff Falls trail near Helen, and the 3-mile Grassy Mountain Tower trail in the Cohutta Wilderness.
Hardy hikers will love the challenging elevation gain offered by the 4.4-mile Yonah Mountain trail in Helen, the 8.4-mile Smith Creek Trail to Anna Ruby Falls, and the 12.9-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail in Vogel State Park.
13. Fly Fishing for Trout
Atlanta anglers seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of the 9 to 5 life often head north of the city, where an array of different rivers and streams await.
There, colder waters provide an ideal habitat for trout, not to mention wildlife such as beaver, waterfowl, raccoons, and white-tail deer.
Experienced fly fishing guides such as River Through Atlanta’s Chris Scalley can help you find the best hush-hush hotspots, where you can immerse yourself in Mother Nature’s pastoral beauty while also reeling in some tasty supper.
Scalley, who was recognized by Field & Stream magazine as a finalist for their 2007 Heroes of Conservation Awards for his efforts to protect the area’s sport fishery, offers a few tips on the best areas to land a big one.
“I’m a big fan of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, specifically the areas near Bowmans Island, Settles Bridge, and Jones Bridge. I also like the Conasauga River and Jacks River section of the Cohutta Wilderness; and the Chattahoochee National Forest’s Jones Creek, and High Shoals Creek.”
14. Fort Mountain State Park
In fact, the #1 thing to do at the state park is to explore its 25+ miles of hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails (which includes 8+ miles on the Gahuti Trail).
If you can only do one, the CCC Fire Tower Combination Loop is our favorite. Its total distance is listed as a mile, but you can easily extend it to around 2 miles.
From the parking lot, take the trail on the right, going past the “Stone Tower Trail” sign and continuing east on the Stone Wall Trail. This takes you on a rarely-traveled path around the Fort Mountain summit, with incredible views and massive boulders.
It eventually connects to the West Overlook Trail, which takes you to an awesome overview of the surrounding landscape.
Retrace your steps and you’ll see signs leading to the 4-story CCC Stone Tower, which was built back in the 1930s. Head back down the mountain from there to see the mysterious stone wall and CCC-built steps.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Cabin Rentals in Ellijay GA
15. Learn Native American History
Before the 1828 Georgia gold rush and Georgia land lotteries, which forced the removal of indigenous people on the tragic Trail of Tears, Cherokee people had lived in the North GA mountains for hundreds of years.
And while you may not learn much about this sad chapter in U.S. history in school, there are plenty of North Georgia day trips that will immerse you in the 100-year history of Native American history.
For the ancient history, check out the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site in Cartersville.
The prehistoric archaeological site contains one of the largest Indian mounds in North America, which were built by indigenous peoples of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture starting around 900 AD.
For more recent history, visit the New Echota Historic Site in Calhoun.
Established as the capital of the Cherokee Nation in 1825, the town was home to the first Indian language newspaper, the signing of the New Echota Treaty (which relinquished all tribal lands in the Southeast), and the beginning of the Trail of Tears.
Other excellent sites where you can learn more about Native Americans in Georgia include the Track Rock Gap Archeological Site in Blairsville, the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University in Waleska, and the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home in Rome.
16. See 4 States From Brasstown Bald
Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest mountain, towering at 4,784 feet above sea level. It’s also arguably the best place in the state to get a view of fall colors in the North Georgia Mountains at their most radiant.
The “Bald” refers to the unparalleled, unobstructed 360-degree view visitors get from the top, where you can see four states (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee) simply by turning your head.
As a result, the moderate hiking trail up to the Observation Tower can get a bit crowded during peak season, as can the shuttle that takes visitors most of the way to the top.
But with rocking chairs, a small picnic area, and remarkably scenic surroundings waiting at the summit, it’s a fantastic place to spend an autumn afternoon!
17. Shoot the ‘Hooch on a SUP
Made famous by country singer Alan Jackson, the Chattahoochee River stretches from northeast Georgia down through metro Atlanta suburbs such as Roswell and Sandy Springs.
“Shooting the ‘hooch” on a raft, tube, canoe, or kayak has been a local tradition for decades.
In recent years, High Country Outfitters has been offering a new way to experience one of Atlanta’s favorite outdoor recreation pastimes, with 3- and 6-mile jaunts down the river’s in-town heart (from Powers Ferry Rd to Paces Mill Rd) via stand-up paddle board.
The company has several certified paddleboard instructors on staff, as well as equipment rentals for self-guided trips.
“We’ve all sat down in a kayak or canoe and floated down the river,” says veteran guide John Sloane, the son of the owners.
“But when you’re on a paddleboard, it’s like walking on water, and also a tremendous workout. It’s very easy to do, but it’s an amazing workout from your feet all the way up to your shoulders, and especially your core.”
18. Spelunking Northwest Georgia Caves
TAG is the popular nickname for the beautiful area in the Cumberland Plateau where northwest Georgia meets Alabama and Tennessee.
Thanks in large part to the Southeastern Cave Conservancy, the area has lured spelunkers from all around the world eager to explore its labyrinthine underground passages. Pigeon Mountain is particularly popular, thanks to its vast network of limestone caves.
Pettyjohn’s Cave has six miles of previously mapped passageways that often attract a healthy weekend crowd. The 13 miles of Ellison’s Cave that have been explored include the 440-foot-deep Incredible Dome Pit and the 586-foot-deep Fantastic Pit.
Note that underground caves and caverns can be extremely dangerous for people without proper equipment or caving experience.
So please learn more about the sport before embarking on your first spelunking expedition, and we highly recommend hiring local guides if possible.
READ MORE: 7 Cool Caves & Caverns in North Carolina
19. Sunsets on Lake Allatoona
We’re biased towards 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona. It’s the closest of Georgia’s lakes to our house, we’ve kept our pontoon boat docked there for 13 years, and it’s our home away from home when we’re not traveling.
It’s also home to 1,562-acre Red Top Mountain State Park (named for the iron-rich soil’s deep red color). It’s 45 minutes from downtown Atlanta, making it one of the most popular Georgia day trips for nature lovers.
The lake attracts avid boaters and fishermen all year-round, and the park’s 15.5 miles of hiking trails provide frequent wildlife sightings, including herons, egrets, kingfishers, osprey, geese, and ducks.
Lake Allatoona is an incredible place for a picnic, swimming, kayaking, and standup paddle boarding, with numerous parks (including Dallas Landing Park and Cooper’s Furnace Day Use Area), campgrounds, and marinas along its shores.
It’s also a magical place to just sit back and watch the sun set over the water.
20. Tallulah Gorge State Park
Georgia may not be able to match the Grand Canyon for sheer size and scope. But this 2,689-acre park is arguably among the most impressive canyons east of the Mississippi.
Considered one of Georgia’s “Seven Natural Wonders,” Tallulah Gorge is two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep, with over 20 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. It’s also home to some of the most majestic waterfalls in North Georgia.
Permits for hiking in the gorge (which take you close to the waterfalls) are available at the park’s Interpretive Center. But note that spots tend to fill up quickly on the weekends, so it’s best to arrive early in the morning.
If you choose to tackle this unique trekking adventure, be sure to carry plenty of water, as the bottom of gorge can get extremely hot on sunny days.
Hikers can also follow rim trails to scenic overlooks and cross a suspension bridge that is 80 feet high, offering some of the best views in the park.
During specific times of the year, they open the Tallulah River dam to offer excellent white-water kayaking and rafting opportunities!
21. Wine Tastings at North Georgia Wineries
The unique climate and soil conditions of the North Georgia mountains make it the perfect place for growing grapes and producing wine.
Despite the fact that there have been vineyards in the state for centuries, Georgia wineries didn’t gain much attention until the 1990s. But in recent years they’ve garnered national notoriety for their award-winning wines.
There are now nearly 60 licensed wineries in Georgia, which is nearly double the number of a decade ago. Many of them offer wine tastings with breathtaking mountain views and southern hospitality.
The town of Dahlonega GA is home to many of the most popular North Georgia wineries, including the 57-acre Frogtown Cellars, the 184-acre Three Sisters Vineyards, and the award-winning Wolf Mountain Vineyards.
But our favorite is the Montaluce Winery, which is also home to one of Dahlonega’s best restaurants.
Other wonderful wineries in North Georgia include Bear Claw Vineyards in Blue Ridge, Habersham Winery in Helen, and the Fainting Goats Vineyard & Winery in Jasper.
22. Visit Alpine Helen
The charming town boasts cobblestone walkways, German-inspired architecture, and lots of great German restaurants, where you can enjoy everything from schnitzel and wurst to massive steins of beer.
When you’re not exploring the tourist-oriented town, you can explore some of the myriad hiking trails, including Yonah Mountain and a diverse array of impressive waterfalls near Helen (such as Anna Ruby, Dukes Creek, Horse Trough, Raven Cliff, and Water’s Creek Falls).
Other popular things to do in Helen GA include tubing down the Chattahoochee River, panning for gold and gems in the Dukes Creek Mines, riding the Alpine Mountain Coaster, and visiting Unicoi State Park.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Helen is their annual Oktoberfest festival in autumn, which is the largest in the world outside of Germany.
But we also love spending Christmas in Helen GA, which includes the lighting of the village, a Christmas parade, Christkindlmarkt, and more.
READ MORE: The 15 Best Rental Cabins in Helen GA
23. Unicoi State Park
Though it’s located just a few miles from downtown Helen, Unicoi State Park & Lodge feels like a secluded haven for outdoor adventure lovers.
Popular Unicoi hiking trails include the Bottoms Loop Trail (which passes by an old homestead), the Lake Trail, and the Smith Creek Trail (which stretches from the campground to the Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area).
Other fun activities in the park include archery, an air gun range, a GPS scavenger hunt, guided nature hikes, fly fishing classes, guided kayaking, and paddle boarding classes.
There are also plenty of campsites for RV and tent camping to choose from, each of which includes water, power, a fire ring, grill, sewer, and dump station nearby.
24. Vogel State Park
Not far from popular Blairsville GA Restaurants, Vogel is one of the oldest North Georgia State Parks. It was established in 1931, with buildings constructed during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
With its dynamic landscapes and spectacular views of Blood Mountain, Vogel State Park remains one of the most visited parks in north Georgia, offering 17 miles of hiking trails.
The popular Trahlyta Lake Trail crosses an earthen dam created by the CCC in 1935, while the Bear Hair Gap Trail takes you past picturesque Trahlyta Falls and through the lower ridges of Blood Mountain.
Other fun activities in the state park include visiting the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum and renting kayaks, stand up paddle boards, pedal boats, and bikes.
If you want to make it an overnight or weekend visit, the park also offers 1- to 2-bedroom cabins, walk-in campsites, a 50-person pioneer campsite, and RV-accessible campsites.
25. Whitewater Rafting on the Chattooga River
North Georgia’s Chattooga River is most famous as the place where much of the classic action flick Deliverance was filmed. Today it is an extremely popular place for whitewater rafting.
Designated by Congress as one of America’s “Wild and Scenic” rivers back in 1974, the Chattooga offers challenges for rafters of all skill levels in the picturesque setting of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
For more extreme adventure lovers, there’s Section IV, where Class IV and V rushing whitewater speeds you down the river at a breakneck pace, climaxing with an invigorating plunge down the legendary Five Falls and Soc-em-Dog.
For families seeking a kinder, gentler ride, there’s also Section III, a beginner-friendly float trip with a Class IV ending at Bull’s Sluice.
Going with an experienced tour outfitter such as Southeastern Expeditions will ensure safety and maximum enjoyment of your whitewater rafting adventure. –By Bret Love; lead image by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett