To North Georgia and Back: A Leaf-Peeping Mini Road Trip to the Mountains

Hike to the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast at Amicalola Falls State Park for stunning autumn views.
Hike to the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast at Amicalola Falls State Park for stunning autumn views. Alan Cressler
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There's a gorgeous patchwork of fall colors to see from Atlanta to North Georgia, but the quality of sights all depends on the route you take. The right path will take you through many-hued forests, incredible state parks, and beautiful landscapes in smaller towns. Each of these destinations is worthy of a weekend visit in its own right, but if you want to get the full overview of autumn in Georgia, then follow this two-day mini road trip itinerary. Starting and ending in Atlanta, this journey will bring you to the most majestic of fall views by car, on foot, and even by train. If you don’t have time for an overnight, many of the stops on the list make for a great day trip from the city.

Start your journey from Atlanta on Interstate 75 North, and keep going until you hit a fork toward Marietta and Chattanooga. From there, take the Red Top Mountain Road exit, which leads to the eponymous red-soil state park on Lake Allatoona. A $5 visitor pass will get you into the park, where you can take in all the waterside yellows and reds. There are more than 12 miles of trails to trek, but if you want to get a fully-rounded leaf-peeping trip, you can't stay too long.

Fall colors abound in Georgia, especially if you know where to find them.
Fall colors abound in Georgia, especially if you know where to find them. Pawel Loj

Your next destination is a little more than an hour away: Amicalola Falls State Park, home of the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast. For an incredible view of the fast-flowing waters, use the 8.5-mile trail to Springer Mountain, the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. If that distance seems a bit robust or you’re feeling short on time, there are multiple other shorter routes you can choose as well. Rustic cottages and a mountain-top lodge are tempting accommodations, but don’t stop now, you've got more locations for fantastic foliage ahead.

A perfect spot for a midday snack is at Ellijay’s Hillcrest Orchards, which proclaims to be the most popular apple orchard in the North Georgia mountains. Buy freshly picked apples or a special treat from the bakery before continuing on your travels north to Blue Ridge.

Enjoy the views on foot, by horseback, or even from the water in beautiful Blue Ridge.
Enjoy the views on foot, by horseback, or even from the water in beautiful Blue Ridge. Becky Vaughters/ChattOconeeNF

Blue Ridge is easily the crowning jewel of this trip, as about 40 percent of its county's land is part of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This lovely mountain town, which has retained a small population and low-key feel despite its undeniable tourist appeal, offers plenty of outdoor activities. Horseback riding is one of the best ways to view the changing leaves, and whitewater rafting is perfect for committed thrill-seekers. Pontoons are also available to rent for a leisurely trip around Lake Blue Ridge.

The restaurants and bars in downtown Blue Ridge keep things simple but delicious, with Joe's BBQ on East First Street being a clear favorite. Blue Ridge Brewery on Depot Street offers local brews and live music on the weekends, while Chester Brunnenmeyer's Bar and Grill on East Main Street offers a slightly more upscale feel with craft brews and signature cocktails, yet still proudly embraces its rustic vibe.

Stay overnight in Blue Ridge at a rental cabin or lodge overlooking the Chattahoochee. There's no shortage of places to stay and many have luxurious outdoor hot tubs onsite. You've got another full day coming up, so wind-down while you can.

At the heart of Blue Ridge is its working railroad. In the morning, take the 10am scenic fall foliage trip that includes a two-hour layover in McCaysville and Copperhill, where you'll find even more small-town charm and stunning landscapes. There's also a pumpkin patch route where every passenger is encouraged to choose their own pumpkin to take home.

For some of the best fall foliage viewing around, make the trip to the summit Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald.
For some of the best fall foliage viewing around, make the trip to the summit Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald. Ashley Harrigan

From there, you'll ascend to Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia at a whopping 4,784 feet. About an hour's drive from downtown Blue Ridge, it's right up against the North Carolina state line, which is visible—along with South Carolina and Tennessee—from the mountain’s lookout tower. Weather permitting, you can even see the Atlanta skyline to the south.

Head back toward Atlanta by way of Highway 19 South and you'll run through Suches, dubbed "the Valley Above the Clouds," and through Dahlonega, the site of the first major gold rush in the United States. Stop there for a bite on the Historic Square, where the fare runs the gamut of German, Swiss, Italian, Mexican, Cajun and, of course, Southern cuisine. Your route will take you into Coal Mountain in Forsyth County, too. If it's not yet dark, you'll be able to squeeze in a little more leaf-peeping before hopping back on Highway 19 and riding straight into Atlanta.

When you get back into city, finish off your trip with a great meal and drink at any number of fantastic pubs and restaurants.

Originally written for Atlanta CVB.

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