Travel

Ultimate Guide to Day Trips & Weekend Getaways from Atlanta – For Every Season

From day hikes to long weekend stays, these are the best places and seasons to step out of Atlanta.

Whether you’re still hesitant to travel by plane due to the pandemic, or you’re just looking to step way, way outside of the perimeter for a breather, there are several outdoor excursions as well as nearby cities that offer numerous activities and sights to see throughout the year. Some may require a longer weekend stay to be worth the drive.

While these locales can be fun any time of year, we think some seasons bring out the best in these destinations, so here are the best day trips and weekend sojourns from Atlanta for every season.

Spring – Chase waterfalls, festivals and food trucks

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls

This is a popular day trip for us to take friends and family who come to visit us because it’s less than 2 hours away (1 hour and 15 minutes on a good day), very scenic, and can even get our hearts racing, with its 604-step ascent to the top of the waterfall.

Amicalola is Georgia’s tallest waterfall. The falls trail is short and sweet at about two miles, but don’t expect it to be breeze. The wooden stairs taking you up to the top of the waterfalls will have your calves burning by the end. A little further up from the top of the falls is a lodge from which you get a panoramic view of the North Georgia Mountains (and can book an overnight stay if you plan for anything more than a day trip).

View from the Amicalola Falls Lodge

Most people who visit us in Atlanta for the first time don’t expect to witness a view like this so close to the city, and we typically make a day of it by also stopping at one of the North Georgia wineries before or after our visit.

Why spring? The snowmelt from the winter gives way to a fully flowing falls.

Read about 10 Scenic Trails and Day Hikes within 2 hours of Atlanta.

Savannah

Forsyth Park fountain

Historic Savannah is absolutely charming with its parks and squares centered around monuments. The arboretum at Forsyth Park in particular features a rich collection of greenery, fountains and the occasional sidewalk musician. If you’re visiting with your significant other, tour the city by horse-drawn carriage, or if you’re staying overnight, check out one of the many ghost tours.

Why spring? The city has become the go-to spot for St. Patrick’s Day festivities if you’re looking for a good time and celebratory way to usher in spring. I would avoid summer unless you’re visiting the nearby Tybee Island Beach (see below), as the town becomes uncomfortably warm.

Read more about what Savannah has to offer.

Cloudland Canyon

Cloudland Canyon is about a 2-hour drive northwest of Atlanta on I-75 and provides picturesque views on a clear day. The West Rim Loop Trail at the top of the canyon is an easy and scenic 5-mile hike tracing the canyon rim. This trail has only a few, short uphill portions, so it’s rather easy for families with kids, elderly or pets. You can cool off by taking the steep grated steps into the canyon to see two beautiful waterfalls. Afterwards, we typically relax at one of the local wineries, such as Georgia Winery, for refreshments.

Why spring? The canyon’s Cherokee and Hemlock Falls will be in full flow from the snow having melted at higher elevations in the North Georgia mountains.

Read more about visiting Cloudland Canyon.

Nashville

Drive 4.5 hours northwest to spend a weekend experiencing authentic bourbon and blues in Nashville, where honky tonk tunes echo from every establishment along Broadway Street. You don’t have to be a country music lover to appreciate all of the live musical talent this city has to offer.

If you’re looking to doll it up and experience the best, catch a formal show at the Grand Oprey. Otherwise, any of the other venues along Broadway will feature gifted local performers as well.

If live music isn’t your thing, enjoy a smooth sip of Tennessee whiskey at a downtown bar like The Stillery or Merchant’s, or try a distillery tour.

Why spring? Ideal weather, and the city’s food trucks assemble in East Nashville each Saturday.

Read more about top places to visit in Nashville.

Summer – Beat the heat with beach vibes and berries

Hilton Head Island  

It takes just over 4 hours by car to get to Hilton Head Island, my new favorite long weekend destination. During the pandemic, I wanted to go somewhere that would feel like a vacation without putting me in close contact with others. I figured if I could get a beachside hotel with a direct ocean view, I need not even leave the room to feel like I had “gotten away.” That was exactly the case in Hilton Head, where we stayed at a VRBO condo at the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, which I found to be affordable, comfortably furnished, and ideal for groups. I loved these accommodations so much that I booked here again a year later.

In terms of activities in Hilton Head, there are beach activities such as fishing, swimming, jet skiing, and parasailing, which I tried for the first time and found to be a completely freeing experience! Once in the air, I could not stop laughing from the giddiness of being lifted weightlessly into the air.

In the resorts you can also golf, play tennis, rent bikes or visit the spa. If you’re looking for a peaceful, relaxing vacation with an ocean breeze, Hilton Head Island does not disappoint.

Tybee Island 

(Photo courtesy of Jis Joseph. http://jiskjoseph.com/)

Tybee Island attracts the general public–think younger crowds than in Hilton Head, but since it’s adjacent to Savannah, it can be a double threat for a fun long weekend destination. Lining the beach are surf shops, beach bars and ice cream shops, where you can cool off.

Why summer? It’s one of the closest beaches to landlocked Atlanta, if you’re craving a beach day to catch some waves and rays.

Serenbe Farms

The farm-to-table experience is unrivaled at Serenbe, where locally-grown, seasonal fare is used to create the dishes at The Farmhouse restaurant.

My experience visiting Serenbe has been staying overnight at one of the spacious guesthouses for a Goizueta women’s alumni retreat, and dining at the Farmhouse. The cottages and village shops are so cute I’ve been meaning go back for a longer weekend stay to visit the boutiques, try some goat yoga, and pick up fresh produce at the farmer’s market.

Why summer? Though I’ve typically visited in winter, I’d love to visit in summer to try the summer fare. In June and July, Serenbe conducts flower arranging, farm-to-table, and wellness workshops for both kids and adults. Plus, you can go blueberry picking.

Chateau Elan

Meanwhile, the berries at Chateau Elan have earned it the reputation as most awarded winery on the East Coast. It’s no wonder, as winemaker Simone Bergese attributes these accolades to the quality of his grapes. Chateau Elan is a roughly 40-50 minute drive north on I-85. This luxurious winery is an elegant spot to celebrate a special occasion or treat yourself. Aside from winery tours and tastings, guests can enjoy golf, stargazing, a cigar club, culinary classes, pre-packed picnics, bike rentals and more.

Chattanooga

View from Lookout Mountain in the summer. (Photo credit: Jis K. Joseph)

Head two hours north by car for panoramic views of Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain, the site of the world’s steepest passenger railway.

Additionally, history buffs can take self-guided tours of sites of Civil War battlegrounds or sit back and hear historians bring to life the events of centuries past on a Tennessee River cruise.

Why summer? One can escape the Atlanta heat by heading underground: tour the subterranean Ruby Falls or the tunnels of Rock City & Gardens in Chattanooga.

Otherwise, Chattanooga Aquarium is an ideal indoor option. Even though many aquariums pale in comparison to Atlanta’s, I still found Chattanooga’s impressive, as it focuses only on river species from around the world (and its winding layout is unique too, reflecting the rivers that it features).


Fall (November) – Watch the leaves turn

Fort Mountain

Trek the Gahuti Trail on Fort Mountain, about 90-100 miles from Atlanta, depending on the part of Atlanta from which you traveling. You’ll witness a kaleidoscope of colors as you cross creeks, the Fort Mountain Lake, and several scenic vistas.

Why fall? You’ll see a range of autumnal shades along the drive and from the mountaintop, and the temperatures will keep you cool as you trek the 7.8-mile trail.

Read more about hiking Fort Mountain.

Tallullah Gorge

It takes about an hour and a half to drive to Tallulah Gorge, a two-mile canyon carved by the Tallulah River. An impressive suspension bridge traverses the canyon.

Why fall? While this could also be lovely in the spring since the falls will be in full flow, the colors are too beautiful to miss– visit when the leaves turn. (But if you go in summer, get a free permit to slide the gorge’s rocks).

Asheville

George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Castle, America’s largest home, is located in Asheville

Asheville has quickly become one of our favorite weekend getaway spots, as it’s too far for a day trip and has an abundant restaurant and brewery scene to check out over the course of several days. If you stay in Asheville, also in close proximity are the Blue Ridge Mountains and Biltmore Estate, which can each take a half day to visit. For anyone with a special diet, be it gluten-free, plant-based or Whole 30, Asheville restaurants and breweries have you covered.

Don’t forget to check out the River Arts District, where you’ll find artisans of diverse talents from foil painting to glass blowing, ceramics, and more.

Why fall? Proximity to the mountains makes it ideal for a scenic drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway to see the fall colors. Crisp temps will also make outdoor brewery crawls enjoyable.

Brasstown Bald

Take a day trip to the highest point in Georgia with a drive and hike up to Brasstown Bald, the viewpoint from which you can see four states on a clear day. For a full-day adventure, try the Arkaquah Trail up to the summit. The switchbacks on this trail, as well as the final steep ascent can be strenuous, but the view from the top will provide the payoff you deserve.

Why fall? The saffron leaves carpeting the mountains will make it worth your while.

Charleston 

The colorful streets of Charleston are worth visiting over the course of a long weekend, especially since this city is almost five hours from Atlanta by car! The French and southern food in the walled seaport make it a foodie paradise. It’s also rich with colonial and Civil War history from the slave trade, to the city’s importance to French, Spanish and English rule, all of which you can learn about via walking tours, museums, or plantation visits.

Charleston is surrounded by plantations, and some people might find touring them disrespectful to African-American communities. I can understand this sentiment, but I also feel you learn so much on one of these visits– especially in witnessing the irony of how palatial estates and entire industries were built on the backs of an entire group of subjugated people.

Why fall? This city was essentially built on coastal marshlands, making the warmer months pretty intolerable.

Read about how to tour Charleston.


Winter – Retreat to winter wonderlands

Helen

The first time I visited Helen in the spring of 2015 with my then-fiance, now husband, I had high hopes. I thought perhaps there was some history of German settlers having found this pocket in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A quick Wikipedia search made me realize that this was just designed as a Bavarian town with no German roots whatsoever. Furthermore, I was turned off by the kitschy gift shops and the sparse vegetarian food options. Even the nearby Anna Ruby Falls (not to be confused with the aforementioned Ruby Falls in Chattanooga) disappointed, as the trail leading to it was a measly half-mile when I was looking for something more strenuous.

However, I visited again recently this past winter with my parents, who love to take pictures and shop, and they found the decor and shops absolutely charming– so much so they expressed interest coming back during a subsequent visit to Atlanta. Their positive reception to Helen made me warm up to it. Plus, we had a delicious dinner at Mully’s Nacoochee Grill, where the food was rich and tasty, and the service was efficient and friendly — hard to find in the days of COVID.

Why winter? Many people may recommend a fall visit since the town hosts with Oktoberfest. However, I found the illuminations and decor in winter make this a delightful place to visit around the holidays, plus, you can purchase apparel, handicrafts, sweet treats and spices as holiday gifts.

Gatlinburg (& Pigeon Forge)

A weekend stay at a cabin is the way to go when visiting Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which become winter wonderlands in the cold months. As a ski town, Ober Gatlinburg comes to life with family-friendly activities like ice bumper cars, ice skating, snow tubing and more. Even those who don’t care for winter activities can take the ski lift to get an aerial view of the city draped in lights. Gatlinburg reminds me of Helen and St. Augustine in Florida, as it’s filled with souvenir shops, but also attractions like Ripley’s Believe it or Not and a haunted house.

What makes the long weekend stay here so memorable is renting one of the cabins with loved ones. These cottages are so abundantly furnished, you need not step outside at all. Some of these chalets are equipped with indoor heated pools, outdoor hot tubs, foosball and pool tables, and even theater rooms. However, when you do get tired of being indoors, you can head into town for outlet shopping, dining, and go karting, or venture into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for hiking. I’ve now done cabins here in the winter with three different groups: my husband, a group of friends, and my family, and all three times I had an amazing time playing games, cooking together, drinking wine and watching movies.

Why winter: Enjoy the snow on the slopes and lights in the city. Gatlinburg is bustling with activity in the cold months, but you can also cozy up to the fireplace in one of the mountain chalets for a quiet retreat.

Providence Canyon 

This canyon, formed by erosion from poor farming practices in the 1800s, is just over a two hours from Atlanta. A little past Columbus, Georgia, this state park has miles of trails to check out. There is of course, the walk through the canyon itself, which is not long at all — about 2.5 miles — but expect your shoes to get wet as you cross a sandy riverbed. There are trails skirting the canyon too.

Why winter? The canyon floor can get quite warm in the other months. Plus, the sky in winter is usually pretty gray so the russet tones are much more pronounced against the dull backdrop of winter.

——–

From day hikes to long weekend stays, there are plenty of reasons to venture far outside of Atlanta’s perimeter throughout the year. All you need is a car, an adventurous spirit, and good company to make the trips memorable.

What are your favorite weekend excursions from Atlanta?

We want to hear from you! What are your favorite day trips and weekend getaways from Atlanta, and when is your favorite time of year to visit? Have you found another season for the above destinations particularly favorable? Share with us in the comments.

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