Now is the time to plan a getaway on roads less traveled. From the mountains to the southern plains, Georgia offers a perfect combination of historic small towns and wide-open countryside for an off-the-beaten-track vacation. All provide plenty of relaxation, interesting outdoor adventures, with fewer crowds and room to wander. These trip-worthy Georgia destinations inspire with scenic beauty, history, culture and adventure—all yours to explore.
Known as the birthplace of musical genius Ray Charles and significant Civil Rights history, Albany is an ideal resting place en route to/from Savannah, Charleston and Florida. It offers outdoor adventure with plenty of water relaxation. One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, Radium Springs Gardens pumps 70,000 gallons per minute of clear, 68-degree water from an underground cave. Walk through a garden terrace and courtyard where the former Radium Springs Casino once stood. The Kinchafoonee and Muckalee Creeks flow into the Flint River at Lake Chehaw, a 1,400–acre lake great for boating, fishing and paddling. Float the Flint River by kayak or canoe via the Georgia Power Dam, Riverfront Park Launch, Ray Charles Plaza Launch or the Marine Landing input areas. Floats can range from one to seven hours. Kayak Attack Adventures rents kayaks, canoes and life jackets. Continue outdoor explorations at six-acre Riverfront Park, spread out along the Flint River, featuring a beautiful lawn for picnics, a music- and light-animated play fountain, pavilion areas, the Horace King Overlook and a three-mile Riverwalk Greenway Trail ideal for bike rides. The Albany Welcome Center in the Historic Bridge House offers rental bicycles, including a helmet, a lock and basket. For more information, www.visitalbanyga.com.
Americus and Sumter County
In west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and only two hours north of I-10, Americus is an ideal stopping point enroute to Florida. Enjoy a historic driving tour of 47 homes from Victorian to Antebellum. The oldest home in Americus dates to 1833, just one year after the founding of the city. Sumter County is one of only three counties in the nation with two national historic sites. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains honors our country’s 39th president, while the Andersonville National Historic Site is home to the Andersonville National Cemetery and the nation’s only POW Museum. Have a cup at Cafe Campesino Roastery, Georgia’s first and only 100% fair trade, organic coffee company. Then, cool off at Lake Blackshear with fishing, boating, tubing, and skiing. Georgia Veterans State Park has a swimming beach, canoe and kayak rentals, a golf course and even a military museum. For more information, www.visitamericusga.com.
Alpine Helen-White County
Part scenic Bavarian village and part heart-pumping outdoor mecca, Alpine meets Appalachian in Helen, Georgia “Georgia’s Official Outdoor Adventure Destination.” This north Georgia city by the Chattahoochee River strikes the perfect balance between fun mountain town and legit cardio adventure. Yonah Mountain in White County is one of the top three rock climbing spots in Georgia. Outdoor enthusiasts will also find hiking, mountain biking, fishing, tubing, zip-lining and horseback riding. If Smithgall Woods State Park appears to be a secret fishing and hunting retreat, it’s because it was, thanks to a noted conservationist. Five miles of trails and 18 miles of roads allow hikers and bicyclists to explore hardwoods, trout streams, wildflowers and wildlife. Unicoi State Park and Lodge within the Chattahoochee National Forest offer beautiful trails leading to popular attraction points including Lake Unicoi and Anna Ruby Falls. Dukes Creek, Raven Cliff and Horse Trough are other popular waterfalls. A two-mile out-and-back along with the new ADA accessible Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail reveals a glimpse of Hardman Farm State Historic Site with its iconic gazebo built atop an ancient Indian mound. A variety of wineries with outdoor spaces overlooking scenic vistas, as well as restaurants–some overlooking the flowing waters of the Chattahoochee–offering outdoor seating, welcome visitors to enjoy a breath of fresh air. Folks traveling with pets will find many dog-friendly options from restaurants to parks and trails, even lodging. For more information, www.helenga.org.
Blue Ridge/Fannin County
Just 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate-575, Blue Ridge is at once outdoorsy, earthy, upscale, contemporary and historical. Centered around the Blue Ridge Depot, downtown’s historic buildings blend perfectly with modern industrial and mountain architecture, showcasing the arts, galleries, antiques, unique shopping and dining. Yet 40 percent of the county is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest, sweeping visitors a million miles away. Hikes to five refreshing waterfalls range from just .1 mile to 9.5 miles. Two bucket-list hiking adventures, the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail begin in southern Fannin County at Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Trek across the 270 foot long Swinging Bridge on the Toccoa River, the longest east of the Mississippi. The Toccoa offers tubing, canoeing, kayaking and rafting, while the Ocoee River is an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience. Both rivers have made Blue Ridge the Trout Fishing Capital of Georgia. On Lake Blue Ridge, visitors and locals pontoon, paddleboard or kayak, lingering on the water for stunning sunsets. In the mood for entertainment? The Swan Drive-In Theatre is one of three remaining in Georgia, offering first-run movies on weekends. For more information, www.blueridgemountains.com.
Cartersville and Bartow County
Head to a small town just 45 minutes north of Atlanta in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains for a big taste of outdoor fun, with surprising city-style attractions. Cartersville offers the parking, accessibility and charm of a beautifully restored historic downtown with two award-winning Smithsonian-affiliated museums, high-end shopping and dining. Easy-to-moderate hiking is just two miles off Main Street, while a short drive through Bartow County offers hiking, biking and kayaking trails. Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site showcases an ancient Native American mound builder cultural center. Hike to a hidden battlefield or climb a ridge to a hidden ironworks with a fascinating 1860s history. Allatoona Lake, a 12,000-acre water-sports and fishing paradise encompass 270 miles of shoreline and Red Top Mountain State Park, marinas and recreational areas. Float away on the Etowah or Euharlee rivers; outfitters supply rentals and shuttles. May through September, visit the Cartersville Farmers Market, 8 a.m.-noon each Saturday at the Historic Public Square for fresh produce. Don’t miss a visit to the small town of Adairsville: the entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For more information, www.visitcartersvillega.org.
About an hour and a half south of Atlanta, Columbus is the ultimate urban outdoor escape. From birdwatching to urban whitewater rafting, even inter-state ziplining, there’s surprising adventure in the Peach State’s coolest uptown. Pedal the 11-mile Fall Line Trace, a multi-use bike and pedestrian rails-to-trails and see a different side of the city. State-of-the-art wave-making technology controls Columbus, GA Whitewater, a mild to wild adventure from Class I rapids and a Lazy River to a famous Class V rapid. The 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River in the heart of Uptown Columbus is the world’s longest urban whitewater course, named one of the Top 12 Man-Made Adventures in the World by USA Today. Rent a bike, take a run, skateboard or Segway to experience more than 15+ miles of RiverWalk. Watch the river action from RiverWalk Island where paddlers and rafters take on Heaven’s Gate, one of the largest rapids on the river. The Audubon Society’s Bird Garden at Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center is designed to attract birds and bird-watchers. Take flight on the Blue Heron Adventure across the Chattahoochee River to Alabama on the only 1,200-foot dual-zip line that connects two states, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour. For more information, www.visitcolumbusga.com.
Douglas County and Douglas County Film Trail
In Georgia’s Douglas County ten butterfly trails intersect with film tours and cozy yurts meet with a luxury resort lifestyle only 30 minutes west of Atlanta. Home to the world’s largest cuckoo clock and the official Hydrangea Capital of the South, Douglas County offers visitors one-of-a-kind pursuits. More than 700 movies and TV shows have been filmed in and around Georgia’s Douglas County. From “Stranger Things” to “The Hunger Games,” from “Driving Miss Daisy” to “Smokey and the Bandit” and “The Walking Dead,” the Douglas County Film Trail offers upfront, outside views of on-screen attractions. Notable locations throughout Douglasville and Douglas County have been marked with ‘DC Film Trail’ signs to designate them as official film locations. The website gives details on each production and location; navigate to the movie reel to explore all of the possible stops along the trail. Douglas County offers 8,000 acres of outdoor recreation venues, more than any other county in Metro Atlanta. Tour the Douglas County Butterfly Trail, a self-guided tour of 10 public butterfly gardens. With 10 yurts, five tent campsites and 2,549 acres of serene wilderness, readers will find quiet respite at Sweetwater Creek State Park. Outdoor activities include 15 miles of hiking trails, fishing docks and a 215-acre lake. A wooded trail follows a stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. For more information, www.exploredouglascountyga.com.
Ellijay and Gilmer County
Spectacular hikes laced with waterfalls, rapid river sports and the North Georgia mountains are just a few of the ways to escape in Ellijay and Gilmer County, 80 miles north of Atlanta and 65 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee. More than 100 miles of nationally recognized single-track trails have earned Gilmer County the official designation as “Georgia’s Mountain Biking Capital.” Explore 59 mountain bike trails, 11 mountain hiking trails and some of the best trout waters in the Southeast. At Fort Mountain State Park hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will discover a mysterious indigenous Indian rock wall, a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Cool Springs Overlook with a view of the Cohutta Wilderness area. Tube and fish three main rivers or kayak, canoe or boat along the 65 miles of undeveloped, pristine shoreline of Carter’s Lake. The backroads provide time-travel to small town atmosphere and nostalgia. Seasonally, pick apples and dig home grown “taters” at area farms. “Georgia’s Apple Capital” produces over 250,000 bushels annually in over 30 varieties, and several farm stores are stocked year-round with fragrant apple pies, pastries, jellies and produce. Downtown Ellijay offers a real general store and a storied bike shop, antiques and unique and affordable art. For more information, www.gilmerchamber.com/explore-the-ellijays
Spend a day, evening or weekend in Henry County, Georgia, only 30 minutes south of Atlanta. At Southern Belle Farm, seasonal strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches are fresh-picked from the fields and top homemade mouth-watering pound cake, ooze from cobblers or fried pies and complement swirls of cool ice cream. East of Atlanta along I-20 two granite outcrops offer natural wonders, compelling history and heart-pumping activity. Vibrant history and intriguing cultural changes from early settlers to immigrant rock cutters, freed slaves and Trappist monks are noted at Panola Mountain State Park, the crown jewel of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, one of only three NHAs in the state. Panola Mountain is a 100-acre granite outcrop similar to Stone Mountain, but smaller and more pristine. Take on a tree climbing workout using a rope and a harness to swing to and walk on branches 30-plus feet off the ground. Hit the trails throughout Henry County; paved PATH Foundation trails connect to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and Vaughters’ farm, a tribute to the county’s rural past. For more information, www.visithenrycountygeorgia.com.
Just 20 minutes north of Atlanta, Roswell is located on the northern banks of the Chattahoochee River in an area the Cherokee Indians once called Enchanted Land. Today, Roswell enchants with 30 miles of wide-open spaces, bike trails, a scenic Riverwalk and the historic antebellum mansions Barrington Hall, Bulloch Hall and Smith Plantation. Wayfinding signage guides drivers, riders and walkers from Riverside Park to the Historic District and the Canton Street area. On the banks of Vickery Creek, find the ruins of the Roswell Manufacturing Company Mills that flourished when cotton was king. Constructed in 1839 and 1853, these mills were burned by Union forces in July of 1864. Some 400 millworkers, mostly women and children, were deported for manufacturing Confederate uniforms and tent fabric; their tragic story is told on a commemorative marker. The original machine shop and the waterfall created when the creek was dammed to provide water power can be viewed from the interpretive trail. A covered pedestrian bridge over the creek connects the walking trail that begins in Old Mill Park to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area trail system surrounded by rolling forest. This stunning and historic trail is made perfect by the waterfall rushing from a steep rock bluff. For more information, www.visitroswellga.com/.