Known as “Georgia’s Lake and Mountain Paradise,” the town was named after the Cherokee word Ayuhwasi, which means meadow. It was settled circa 1820, and designated as the seat of the newly formed Towns County in 1856.
Like most of North Georgia, the area was primarily inhabited by the Cherokee people in the early 19th century. But they were ultimately displaced after the Georgia gold rush, and forced to move west on the Trail of Tears.
Located at approximately 2000 feet above sea level, the town is surrounded by some of the largest mountains in Georgia. The most frequently visited is Brasstown Bald, which is also the state’s tallest at 4,784 feet.
But that’s just one of the many natural attractions that make this area an increasingly popular destination for outdoor recreation.
Read on for our guide to the 15 best things to do in Hiawassee GA and neighboring Young Harris GA, including Bell Mountain, Blue Hole and High Shoals Falls, Brasstown Valley Resort, Lake Chatuge, and more.
Best Things to Do in Hiawassee GA Guide
- Bell Mountain Park
- Brasstown Bald
- Brasstown Valley Resort
- Crane Creek Vineyards
- Georgia Mountain Fair
- Hamilton Rhododendron Gardens
- Hike to Blue Hole Falls & High Shoals Falls
- Hike the Chatuge Trail
- Mountain Country Christmas Lights
- Picnic at Lake Chatuge Beach
- Rent a Boat from Young Harris Water Sports
- Sample the Best Hiawassee Restaurants
- Spend a Day in Young Harris GA
- Splash Island Water Park
- Towns County Veterans Memorial Park
1. Bell Mountain Park
If breathtaking scenic overlooks and/or beautiful lakes are your thing, a drive up to the top of Bell Mountain ranks high among the best things to do in Hiawassee GA.
Located at an elevation of 3,400+ feet, the 18-acre Bell Mountain Park and Historic Site was donated to Towns County in 2016 by the estate of Hal Herrin (a local real estate agent who passed away in 2014).
Today, the Hal Herrin Scenic Overlook offers spectacular 360º panoramas of Lake Chatuge and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains from several different platforms.
Sadly, the rocks at the Bell Mountain summit have been almost completely covered in graffiti. And we’re not talking about the gorgeously artful murals you’ll find in town, but childish desecrations of natural beauty.
Still, the summit offers a sensational view of the lake, and one of the most impressive vistas in all of North Georgia.
2. Brasstown Bald
The 1.1-mile round-trip hike from the Brasstown Bald parking lot to the summit is surprisingly challenging due to its steady incline. But there are places along the way to stop for a rest, so the trail is doable for most able-bodied hikers.
For those who prefer a quick, easy trip to the top, there is a shuttle to the top available for a small fee.
Brasstown Bald also offers a Visitor Information Center, a general store featuring locally made products, a mountaintop natural science & history museum, and some of North Georgia’s most picturesque picnic spots.
3. Brasstown Valley Resort
If you’re looking for the best places to stay in Hiawassee, the mountain resort makes a great base for exploring the area. It offers 102 guest rooms and 8 rental cabins (each with a full kitchen, gas grill, and fireplace, and some pet-friendly options).
But even if you’re not staying on the property, the resort’s amenities make for a great day trip. They include a full service spa, horseback riding tours, 18-hour golf course, and one of the best restaurants in the Hiawassee area.
If you visit the resort, make time for a stop at the overlook named in honor of Georgia State Representative Ralph Twiggs, a Hiawassee native and an avid “Mountain Man.”
The breathtaking view (seen in the lead image for this story) encompasses a 50-mile amphitheater formed by the Brasstown Mountains, which encircle the verdant valley below.
4. Crane Creek Vineyards
Widely regarded as one of North Georgia’s best wineries, Crane Creek Vineyards encompasses 20+ acres high in the hills of Young Harris GA.
Crane Creek was founded by Eric Seifarth, who fell in love with wine while stationed in Northern Italy as an Army officer.
Some of their top red wines include Hellbender (which is 100% Norton), Raven (which is 100% Cabernet Franc), and Mountain Harvest (a signature Chambourcin-dominant red blend).
Their best-selling white wines include Enotah, a 100% barrel-fermented Chardonal (a sustainable Chardonnay hybrid), and Seyval Blanc.
In 2022 they relaunched their popular Vintner’s Tours, which are offered every Saturday from June through October by reservation only. They also offer walk-in tastings of their award-winning wines during normal business hours.
5. Georgia Mountain Fair & Fall Festival
The Georgia Mountain Fair (now in its 71st year) takes place August 19-27, 2022. It includes daredevil shows, livestock exhibits, the Miss Georgia Mountain Fair Beauty Pageant, a parade on 8/20, and live bluegrass and country music.
The Georgia Mountain Fall Festival takes place October 7-15, 2022. It includes a strolling Cowboy Circus, the Brunon Blaszak Royal Bengal Tiger Show, and concerts by major acts like the Oak Ridge Boys and Aaron Tippin.
Admission to the festivals is $12 per day, or a 3-day pass for $33, but children ages 12 and under get in free. Note that all Midway Rides come with an additional charge.
If you want to make a weekend of it, there are campgrounds on-site, with 200+ campsites for RV and tent camping.
6. Hamilton Rhododendron Gardens
Also located at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, this 30+ acre botanical garden is home to the largest collection of native azaleas in the Southeastern United States.
Hamilton Rhododendron Gardens was established in 1982 by Fred Hamilton, a Sears executive-turned-plant breeder. He moved 1,000+ plants to the current site, which currently boasts more than 1,500 rhododendrons.
But of course that’s not the only type of flora you can see here. There are dogwood trees, rare forest perennials, and an array of colorful wildflowers (including trillium) that typically peak from early April through late May.
The garden includes two lovely hiking trails– a 1-mile trail and a 2-mile trail– as well as walking paths that lead along the shore of Lake Chatuge and to a popular fishing hole.
The attractions also hosts events such as the Rhododendron Festival (weekends in April-May), the Hiawassee Highlands Wine Festival, and the “Acoustic Sunsets” series of Thursday night concerts in peak summer.
7. Hike to Blue Hole Falls & High Shoals Falls
One of our favorite hikes to North Georgia waterfalls, this popular trail is located about 11 miles south of Hiawassee.
Note that the bridge across High Shoals Creek (at around a half-mile in) recently suffered irreparable damage, but there are stepping stones to help you get across.
You’ll reach Blue Hole Falls first, where the water tumbles 20+ feet down a rock face into the beautiful blue pool for which it was named. In our opinion, this is one of the most picturesque swimming holes in North GA.
At around 1.2 miles you’ll reach the switchbacks and stone stairs down to High Shoals Falls, whose breathtaking 50-foot cascades make this one of the more popular North Georgia waterfall trails.
8. Hike the Chatuge Trail
The 1-mile, dog-friendly hiking trail takes you through the forest along the banks of a small peninsula, offering sensational views of the shoreline and southern Appalachian Mountains along the way.
The trail is relatively flat and well-maintained, but there are some root-filled sections that can get slippery after it rains.
But we love it because the short path is almost completely shaded by the dense forest canopy. And there are several places along the route where you (or your dog) can slip into the water to cool off.
9. Mountain Country Christmas in Lights
One of our favorite places to see Christmas lights in North Georgia, the 2022 holiday event runs from November 24 through December 23.
This Southern-fried holiday light show includes Christmas music (which is often provided by local church groups), Appalachian arts and crafts, country-style food, and of course pics with Santa Claus.
Back again for the 2022 celebration is “Cow Town,” which offers attendees a chance to milk a cow or help make butter, ice cream, and soap the old-fashioned way.
Best of all, the price of admission is just $7 for adults, while kids ages 12 and under get in free!
10. Picnic at Lake Chatuge Beach
Commonly known as Lake Chatuge Beach or Towns County Beach, this recreation area right off Highway 76 is an excellent place to enjoy the fun opportunities the lake has to offer.
Located about 2 miles from the Hiawassee Town Square, next to the Towns County Pickleball Courts, the public beach has free parking.
Lake Chatuge Beach boasts lots of white sand perfect for making sandcastles, a roped-off swimming area, a beautiful North Georgia mountains backdrop, a covered pavilion, picnic tables, and a large playground for the kids.
There’s also a little snack shack that sells floats and chair rentals. But there is no lifeguard on duty here, so swimmers must do so at their own risk.
11. Rent a Boat from Young Harris Water Sports
As much fun as a day at the beach can be, there’s nothing better than exploring the lake in your own boat or jet ski.
We’ve kept a pontoon boat on Lake Allatoona for 12+ years now. Our favorite thing in the world is to park it in hidden coves tucked away from the main lake, watching Georgia birds, butterflies, turtles, and other wildlife.
Located on the western side of Lake Chatuge off Hwy 76, Young Harris Water Sports has been one of the area’s most popular places for boat rentals and jet ski rentals for 20 years now.
They also have a 13,000-sq-ft Boat Sales Center, a Marine Service Center, and a Lake Chatuge Wake Shop selling wakeboards, water skis, tubes, kayaks, SUPs, and other marine supplies.
12. Sample the Best Local Restaurants
Hiawassee GA is a relatively quiet small town, with a population of around 1,100 people.
There are a few great restaurants in Hiawassee that we would heartily recommend, such as the scrumptious BBQ of The Happy Hawg and Tilted Cafe, which has a great selection of cocktails and craft beer from Georgia breweries.
But most of our favorite restaurants we visited were actually in neighboring Young Harris, ranging from 4 to 9 miles from the Hiawassee Town Square.
13. Spend a Day in Young Harris GA
Located just 8 miles from Downtown Hiawassee, Young Harris GA is a quaint little town (population 1,059) that is worthy of a day trip visit.
The town was named after Young Harris College, a private Methodist-affiliated liberal arts college founded in 1886, which currently has around 800 students.
Though its total land area is just 0.95 square miles, the tiny mountain town offers an excellent array of things to do that belies its diminutive size.
In addition to the aforementioned restaurants and activities at Brasstown Valley Resort, there’s also the Carolina Crawlers Off-Road Adventure Park, the Rollins Planetarium, hiking the Miller Trek Trail, and several waterfalls to explore.
14. Splash Island Water Park
When I was growing up, fun on the water usually involved an inner tube taken from an actual tire, with a huge metal nozzle on the side.
My cousins and I had a blast jumping into, onto, and over that thing during our summer days on Lake Hartwell. But Lord help you if that metal nozzle scraped your body on your way in!
The Splash Island Water Park on Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee would’ve blown 12-year-old me’s little mind. It features a massive floating obstacle course, with ladders, slides, climbing walls, and more.
If you need a place where the kids can get all their ya-yas out, this is the perfect place to watch them exhaust their energy. There’s also a lovely white sand beach with rental chairs and umbrellas from which to do so.
15. Hiawassee Town Square
If you’re seeking more tranquil adventures, the Hiawassee Town Square is a small, quiet green space located in the center of downtown Hiawassee.
Also known as Veterans Memorial Park, the square is home to a Blue Star Memorial Marker, with numerous signs honoring locals who served in the United States Armed Services.
The park also features live music on the Square every Saturday from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with food vendors from local restaurants, dancing, and other forms of family-friendly fun. –by Bret Love; all photos by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett unless otherwise noted