The fall leaves in Georgia seem to take their sweet time, waiting until the end of October and early November to flourish. But once they do, bursting into a brilliant spectrum of yellow, orange and red, we Georgians are granted a seasonal show which rivals that of New England. Fulfill your seasonal itch for fall foliage and head to these scenic spots in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, which also offer ample opportunity for hiking, paddling and climbing.
1. Blood Mountain to Vogel State Park
Highway 19/129 winds through the Chattahoochee National Forest to the south and leads north to Blairsville. Test your driving and sightseeing skills as you weave through hairpin switchback turns. The highway alternates between a two- and three-laned highway, with several pull-off spots for lingering over scenic vistas. As you drive from the south before Vogel State Park, make a detour onto the gravel Helton Creek Road to view Helton Creek Falls. The hike is a 0.6-mile descent to the base of the cascading falls.
After the falls, continue to Blood Mountain for a two-mile, 4,458-foot ascent. (Park at the Walasi-Yi Interpretation Center at Neel’s Gap, where the Appalachian Trail intersects Highway 19/129). After a pretty steep, staircase hike to the summit of Blood Mountain, you’ll be rewarded with a sprawling blanket of golden color from the changing trees in Chattahoochee National Forest.
A short trip North on Highway 19/129 leads you into Vogel State Park and Lake Trahlyta Falls. One of Georgia’s oldest state parks, Vogel State Park is nestled at the foot of Blood Mountain. To reach its iconic falls, follow the walking trail to the north end of the park to Wolf Creek. A side trail leads to a viewing platform to see the falls, and both Blood Mountain and Slaughter Mountain rise in the background.
2. Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway
Consider Highway 348 Georgia’s version of the Blue Ridge Parkway. A scenic, 14.1-mile byway that meanders along the Nottely River, taking you from Alternate State Highway 75 northwest of Helen to Brasstown Bald and Highway 76. Right off the highway is both Hogpen Gap and Tesnatee Gap, both sections of the Appalachian Trail.
Hogpen Gap is the spot for climbing these 60-foot cliffs. In the winter, the spot consistently forms ice and is popular for both top rope, lead and mix routes. At Tesnatee, follow the white trail blazes for a 2.25-mile out-and-back hike. You’ll gain elevation within the first quarter mile, and while it's a short excursion, rocks and switchbacks add some additional challenges.
3. Brasstown Bald
Georgia's highest elevation is atop Brasstown Bald , a mountain that soars 4,784 feet above sea level. At the summit, an observation deck offers gorgeous views of the Chattahoochee National Forest to the south and east, and North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest to the north. Get there by taking GA SR 180.
Then continue your trip to Hiawassee and Deep Hole Recreation Area, off GA 60. If you're feeling really adventurous, put in for a paddle at Toccoa River, a west-to-north flowing river that flows 13.8 miles to Sandy Bottoms. The brilliant reds of sourwood and dogwood trees reflect against the smooth, flowing river, as you float along.