Northeast Georgia is often forgotten because while it has several popular towns like Clayton and Dillard, they are much smaller than tourist favorites like Dahlonega and Helen. However, weekend warriors can drive up Highway 23 from Atlanta and in two hours be in the heart of small mountain towns that feature hiking, mountain biking, wine tastings and great Southern meals. Here are four of our favorites along with some must-do outdoor adventures on the trip.
1. Tallulah Falls, Georgia
Visit the waterfalls at Tallulah Gorge State Park: Tallulah Gorge cuts a two-mile canyon into north Georgia and drops 1,000 feet to the Tallulah River. Views are easy to come by on the East and West Rim Trails at Tallulah Gorge State Park , but those extreme adventurers can hike down to the gorge floor. Permits are required as the trek involves a descent of 600 metal steps. Upon reaching the floor, the trail is a 2.5-mile loop that traverses boulders and rocks. The hike is best for experienced hikers with good-traction shoes. Your reward is that you are eye-level with the river’s more popular rapids—Bridal Veil Falls and Oceana. Look up to the sky for a new perspective of the gorge from below.
Cycle around Rabun Lake: Winding country roads make a ride around Lake Rabun refreshing for a city cyclist. This 38-mile loop starts and ends at Tallulah Gorge State Park, so if you plan to leave your car there, just remember you’ll have to pay the $5 parking fee. The route features many rolling hills and curves as you circle Lake Rabun and Seed Lake. Charming little houses dot the sides of the road. Around mile 16 is where the proper mountain climb begins. From there, you ascend more than 500 feet for 5 miles before coasting down winding roads for almost 4.5 miles. See the full route and details here.
2. Tiger, Georgia
Drink at Tiger Mountain Vineyards: At the very cusp of north Georgia wine country, Tiger Mountain Vineyards is a boutique winery that produces its own Georgia-grown wine. The tasting room is quaint, but the wine is bold. You’ll find traditional dry wines made in the European-style including red blends of Cabernet and merlot, whites like the manseng and viognier, and an an award-winning semi-dry rose.
3. Dillard, Georgia
Stay at the Dillard House: Most of the spots to stay in northeast Georgia consist of motels or small chains, but if you're looking to splurge on a weekend escape, the Dillard House is the place to book. The charming, family-owned lodge sits on acres of sprawling country land and even includes its own fully stocked trout pond. Gather a group of friends and rent out one of the cottages, which are available in one or two bedrooms. An added perk of staying at The Dillard House: the meals at the on-site restaurant are ol’ fashioned Southern comfort food. All-you-can-eat buffets are offered for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they are stick-to-your-ribs good.
4. Sky Valley, Georgia
Hike the Bartram Trail: The Bartram Trail starts at the North Carolina border and meanders for 37 miles through north Georgia. The high point of the trail, literally, is when it summits Rabun Bald, Georgia’s second largest mountain peak at 4,696 feet. It then drops into the valley and follows the Chattooga River. For a solid day hike, you can do a 12-mile portionfrom the Warwoman Road trailhead to Beegum Gap. The hike traverses the Blue Ridge Mountains and Tennessee Valley Divide, passing through Ravens Knob, Rock Mountain, Blacks Creek Knob, Double Knob and Flat Top before reaching Rabun Bald’s summit. The views here are beautiful from the CCC Fire Tower. There is a trail access point 0.8 miles after the descent at Beegum Gap.