20 Things You Must Do in North Georgia

Written By: Julie Hostetter

TO CELEBRATE THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY of our magazine, we flipped through thousands of our past pages to come up with top 20 things you simply must do in North Georgia. This is no easy feat, mind you. There are so many amazing sites, cities, museums, hikes, waterfalls, galleries, attractions and experiences to enjoy, and narrowing it down to our favorites was as challenging as hiking up Brasstown Bald in your bare feet! We hope you enjoy exploring these gems in North Georgia. It might take you a year, or two or three to explore all of them but don’t worry you’ll never run out of fun things to do in North Georgia. We can always come up with more!

Cloudland Canyon State Park

1. TREK THE CANYON

North Georgia is blessed with many amazing parks but we have one particular favorite—Cloudland Canyon State Park. Cloudland Canyon in Rising Fawn is located on the western end of Lookout Mountain in Dade County and is without a doubt one of the largest and most awe-inspiring parks in Georgia. Here the scenic Sitton’s Gulch Creek cuts a deep gorge into the

mountain, offering breathtaking views, with thousand-foot deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, wild caves, abundant wildlife and picturesque waterfalls. And if you are feeling adventurous, consider joining the park’s Canyon Climbers Club and get more than a little dirt on your shoes. Want more canyon exploration? Head south to Providence Canyon State Park in Stewart County. Known as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” the canyon

boasts a vista painted in pink, red, purple and orange, creating a magnificent day of exploration. (Learn more about our beautiful state parks in our Fall Color Travel Planner.)

2. HIKE THE TRAIL

There are thousands of miles of trails in North Georgia, but none are as famous and nationally beloved at the Appalachian Trail, which starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and treks more than 2,000 miles through 14 states all the way to Maine. On the Springer summit, a bronze plaque celebrates the trail’s beginning and a vault holds a beloved trail log where hikers scribble down their thoughts about the long journey ahead. But you don’t have to hike all the way to Maine to enjoy the trail. Fall in the Southern Appalachians is reward enough and wildlife frequents the area, from wild turkeys, songbirds and deer, to an occasional black bear or wild hog. Wildflowers, rhododendron and mountain laurel as well as towering pines and hardwoods make this an adventure that will restore your soul. We recommend the 1.9-mile round trip Three Forks to Long Creek Falls trail that will take you to of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls, or the 2-mile round trip Springer Mountain Trail, which is a short yet challenging hike to the trail’s end at Springer Mountain.

Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge

3. AMBLE THROUGH ORCHARDS AND FARMS

Whether you are in the mood for apple picking, tractor tours, you-pick gardens or a delicious tasting room, orchards abound all over North Georgia. Some of our personal favorites include Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, known for its apples, strawberries, bakery and hard cider; Jaemor Farms in Alto, known for its amazing farm market, pumpkin patch and corn maze; B.J. Reece Orchard in Ellijay, known for apples and peaches; and Hillcrest Orchards in Ellijay, which is known for its Apple Pickin’ Jubilee in September through October. The ShieldsEthridge Farm in Jefferson is an outdoor agricultural museum that offers educational and interpretative learning about life on the farm among the intact historical buildings that still stand on their original location.

4. SAVOR A VIEW TO REMEMBER

Some views are pretty, for sure, but some views will simply take your breath away. You definitely will be catching your breath when you visit Bell Mountain Park and Historical Site, which is actually only a few years old, but may just offer some of the best panoramic views in Georgia. Located in Hiawassee, the 18 acres of land was donated by the Hal Herrin Estate in 2016 and, at an elevation of 3,424 feet, offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic of Lake Chatuge and surrounding mountains. The park, which has become a popular place for hang gliders, has added a viewing platform to ensure the best views. Just be aware, it is also the location of graffitied rocks, which is a dash of local color or an eyesore, depending on who you ask. But no worries, the view is still spectacular. For another fantastic view, head to Brasstown Bald on the border of Towns and Union counties, to marvel at the highest point Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level.

Downtown Blue Ridge

5. ALL ABOARD FOR SCENIC SITES

If you are looking for a nostalgic journey through North Georgia, then grab your ticket for the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in Fannin County. Your journey starts in the thriving town of Blue Ridge, which is a shopping and dining mecca in and of itself, and takes guests on a four-hour, 26-mile roundtrip journey along the Toccoa River through the picturesque North Georgia countryside headed to the charming sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. Here you have two hours to explore the towns before your hour-long return to the Blue Ridge depot. And in fall, it’s an especially good way to see tree colors changing.

Habersham Winery in Heleb

6. Follow the Wine Highway

North Georgia is home to more than 25 wineries that are constantly offering new and creative blends and varietals. While is impossible to pick our personal favorite, we can at least highlight the most award-winning. Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Tiger produces red and white wines from 100-percent Georgia-grown grapes in Rabun County. Three Sisters Vineyards and Winery in Dahlonega boasts not only an amazing view of the mountains but also 10,000 premium vines. Habersham Vineyards & Winery in Helen is one of Georgia’s oldest and largest wineries and has been winning awards since 1983. The charming Wolf Mountain Vineyards and Winery in Dahlonega won the state’s first-ever Gold medals at the respected San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles International Wine Competition. But whatever winery you choose, be sure to track your journey along the wine highway and pick up a “passport” at any participating winery, which will bestow the holder with one free tasting at participating wineries during a 10-day excursion.

7. SAMPLE SOUTHERN COOKING

There are meals and then there are meals to remember. A banquet that is more than food, but an experience in culture. So, if you really want a taste of the region, you will have to dine at one of the following restaurants at least once! We begin our culinary tour at The Smith House in Dahlonega, which has been serving up heaps of Southern hospitality since 1899. Here home-cooked, country cooking in a family-style setting has brought comfort to many a weary traveler. Next stop, the famed Dillard House in Dillard, where mountain views are as delicious as the sweet tea and biscuits. For a delectable meal in charming Georgia inns, reserve a dinner at the Beechwood Inn in Clayton, Glen Ella Springs in Clarkesville or the Lake Rabun Hotel in Lakemont. For Southern food with a modern twist, check out The City Cellar & Loft in Cartersville, Table & Main in Roswell and Queenie’s Southern Restaurant and Bar in Canton. For delicious yet speedy Southern staples for take-out, curbside and picnicking, check out Stanley’s on North Broad in Rome.

Consolidated Gold Mining Co., Dahlonega

8. MINE FOR ADVENTURE

Georgia was the largest gold producing state in the Eastern United States for a spell. The gold may be mostly gone from the hills but there is plenty of history and fun to be mined in the quaint Gold Rush town of Dahlonega in Lumpkin County. Here you can tour underground mines, amble through a mining

museum and even pan for gems and jewels for some family fun. Consolidated Gold Mining Co. offers underground mine tours as well as gemstone and gold panning and the nearby Crisson Gold Mine offers gemstone mining and a 130-year-old Stamp Mill, the only one of its kind in Georgia. And you won’t want to miss the Dahlonega Gold Museum, housed inside the Lumpkin County Courthouse.

9. SWING INTO ACTION

If you have yet to visit the Swinging Bridge over the Toccoa River then it’s time to start booking. The 270-footlong bridge is the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi River. Located on the Benton MacKaye Trail and the Duncan Ridge National Recreation Trail in Fannin County, the bridge is accessed by trails on each side of the river. Both are short, pleasant walks for families, so no worries. In case you were looking for a bit more heart-pounding adventure, then check out ways to soar in our Leaf Peeping From the Sky.

Booth Western Art Museum

10. MEANDER THROUGH MUSEUMS

North Georgia is home to some of the best museum’s in the entire state, and once you take a tour, we think you will agree. One of our favorites is the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville. This Smithsonian-affiliated museum is, simply put, gorgeous! Paintings, sculptures and modern art that represent the vast beauty of the American West transport guests to the wild landscapes found across our nation. Famous Western artists like George Catlin, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell rub elbows with awe-inspiring legends like Ansel Adams, Warhol as well as more than 150 Native American artifacts. Another top-rate museum in Cartersville is the Smithsonianaffiliated Tellus Science Museum, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Here you can stroll through the time of dinosaurs, join a fossil dig,

take a space voyage via the planetarium, and marvel at the amazing Weinman Mineral Gallery. Other museums not to miss include the Currahee Military Museum in Toccoa and the Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth. And for some quick, silly family fun, why not check out North Georgia’s self-proclaimed “Biggest” family attractionExpedition: BigFoot The Sasquatch Museum in Cherry Log.

Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Sautee Nacoochee Center

11. ADMIRE LOCAL CRAFTS

The North Georgia area is rife with local artists that make the world so much more colorful. First visit the beautiful Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia in Sautee Nacoochee. Showcasing the handcraft skills of countless Southern artists, the museum traces 200 years of the region’s folk pottery history and offers special events, an amazing gift shop, adult and youth workshops and a driving tour brochure of local artists.

A few of our favorite shops and local artists include 12 South Artisan Market in Hartwell, Mark of the Potter, Hickory Flat Pottery and Soque Artworks in Clarkesville, The Gourd Place in Sautee, Butler Galleries in Clayton and Brad Walker Pottery in Dahlonega.

Georgia Moonshine

12. SIP LOCAL MOONSHINE

We have Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in Georgia in the 1780s to thank for our knowledge of distilling fruits into alcoholic libations. Whether you prefer apples, corn or peaches, we can turn those crops into some mighty tasty whisky or brandy. We recommend you sample these spirited concoctions at Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery in Dawson County, Grandaddy Mimm’s Moonshine in Union County and Moonrise Distillery in Clayton, where you can enjoy their libations with special tastings and get a behind the scenes tour of the distillery in action. Just be sure to pick your designated driver beforehand!

Gold City Corral & Carriage Company

13. GIDDY UP AND GO

North Georgia loves horses, so if you are looking for a horseback riding adventure, you simply have to name the time and place. One of the most unique offerings is the Gold City Corral & Carriage Company in Dahlonega. Here you can get a taste of the Old West with horseback trail rides, carriage rides, dinner wagon rides, hayrides and more. They even offer a scenic, horse-drawn wagon ride that culminates at a fabulous cookout under the stars! Other horseback riding adventures can be enjoyed at Appalachian Trail Rides in Mineral Bluff, Trackrock Stables in Blairsville, Sunny Farms North in Dahlonega, Brasstown Valley Stables in Young Harris and Georgia Frontiers in Canton.

Dahlonega’s Bear on the Square

14. SWAY TO THE HOMETOWN BEAT

Whether you prefer “Georgia on My Mind” or “The Devil Came Down to Georgia,” our state can whip up some beautiful harmonies and a wicked fiddle player, too. So, enjoying the local music should be on your list. Of course, Athens made its mark in the early evolution of alternative rock and new wave thanks to bands like REM, Widespread Panic and B-52s. Here, you can enjoy a music history walking tour, music festivals (when there isn’t a pandemic) and plenty of hot spots to hear live music such as The Foundry, The Rialto Room at Hotel Indigo, The Classic Center Theatre and the 40-Watt Club, just to mention a few. October 18 marks the Historic Athens Porchfest, where four historic neighborhoods turn their porches into stages of local bands as music lovers stroll through for a listen. Other live music hotspots are Historic Dahlonega, home to the Crimson Moon, “southeast’s most intimate music revue,” and Matilda’s Music Under the Pines in Milton. Here, beloved bands like Atlanta’s own The Breeze Kings and other local favorites such as Mudcat and Swami Gone Bananas take “the porch” to play while guests decorate tables with lavish outdoor picnics and dance away the night under the twinkling lights hanging above in the shadow of towering Georgia pines.

Geocaching

15. GEOCACHING IN GEORGIA

You can join the world’s largest treasure hunt right here in North Georgia. If you aren’t familiar, geocaching is a recreational activity for hunting for hidden objects by using provided GPS locations, typically posted by organizations, cities or even counties. One such county that is passionate about its geocaching is Jackson. They have created a fun trail that consists of 30 caches all over Jackson County. You can pick up the trail passport at the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce or the Braselton Town Hall. Or even easier, just download online at tourjacksoncounty.com. Also, Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites offer 47 caches in 44 state parks. Happy hunting!

Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site in Cartersville

16. EXPLORE OUR NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY

Georgia has a rich tapestry of Native American sites to explore. First stop, the Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site in Cartersville. Here, you can begin an insightful trek across earthworks that once were home to several thousand Native Americans from 1000 AD to 1550 AD. The park contains six large earthen mounds, a plaza, village sites, borrow pits and a defensive ditch across 54 acres of land. In nearby Rome, you can explore the Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home, who was a prominent Cherokee leader in the mid 19th century. Next, New Echota State Historic Site in Calhoun is one of the most significant Cherokee Indian sites in the country. The site offers 12 of the original and reconstructed Native American buildings, on-site fishing, scenic nature trails, self-guided tours, a visitor center and informative exhibits. And last but certainly not least is the Chief Vann House State Historic Site in Chatsworth, located just under 25 miles from Echota, which was the first brick residence in the Cherokee nation. Built by Cherokee leader James Vann in 1804, the 137-acre plantation offers guided house tours, a family-friendly, half-mile of winding nature trails, 19th century Cherokee farmstead and visitor center.

North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland

17. MEET SLOTHS, OTTERS, AND KANGAROOS

What is it about sloths that we love so much? They are cute, expert nappers, move as slowly as sap on a vine and they are also hard to spot at zoos because they typically like to sleep the day away. Well, you are in luck, because North Georgia offers some amazing one-on-one experiences with exotic animals at the North Georgia Wildlife Park in Cleveland. The Sloth & Friends

Experience allows guests 8 years and older to meet these adorable creatures in their new habitat, where you can pet, feed and marvel at these furry friends in a personal encounter that lasts nearly 45 minutes. And it’s not just sloths you can meet. The zoo offers personal experiences with otters, wolves, foxes, cougars, hedgehogs, and a “Meet the Babies” experience.

Fly fishing photo courtesy Are Humphries

18. FLY FISHING ON THE SOQUE RIVER

“Amazing Trout Fishing,” “Monster Trout” and “A Fisherman’s Paradise” are just few of the phrases used to describe this stretch of fisherman’s fancy on the pristine Soque River. The river starts and ends in Habersham County, and the river’s icy temperatures are the secret to the success of the large rainbow, brook, and brown trout that you can catch here. The average trout weighs between 4 and 12 pounds, but with few public access points, it’s best to hire a fishing guide to enjoy the fishing fully! For more fishing spots, turn to page 54 where we feature North Georgia’s fishing glory in full detail.

19. GO RETRO

Looking for something fun with a little twist of nostalgia? Then you are in luck because North Georgia is home to several historic theaters and drive-ins that will delight the young and old. Take a drive to Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater in Trenton, Swan Drive In in Blue Ridge or the Tiger Drive In Theatre in Tiger. Here you can enjoy a blast from the past that is seriously en vogue right now as you sit in the comfort of your car and watch movies on the big screen. Next, head to Toccoa for the Historic Ritz Theater, which features a variety of movies, musical acts, comedy shows and more. Originally constructed in 1939 and carefully restored by the City of Toccoa and the Fox Theatre Institute, the theatre has been artfully recreated from historic photographs, drawings and studies to ensure a historically fun evening. Other showstoppers include the beautifully restored Strand Theatre on Marietta’s historic square and the Historic Holly Theater in Dahlonega.

Freds Famous Peanuts in Helen, photo by Geoff L. Johnson

20. SNACK ON GEORGIA PEANUTS

Did you know that the peanut is Georgia’s official state crop? And our one and only Georgia U.S. President was a peanut farmer? We even produce nearly half of the peanuts produced in the country each year! Peanuts are big business in Georgia, bringing in more than $600 million to the state. Most of our peanuts are the Runner type, with about half of the supply making peanut butter and the other half used to make snacks and candy. And luckily for us, you can taste for yourself the “snacks and candy” variety at any one of the many homegrown boiled peanut stands peppered (or should we say salted) around North Georgia. One of our favorite is Fred’s Famous Peanuts in Helen, but there are many tasty options along your winding scenic travels.

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