Perfect Fall Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Atlanta

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Even with so many festivals, traveling exhibitions, and other great things to look forward to in Atlanta this fall, there is bound to come a time when you just feel like getting out of the city for a bit. And while a full-on vacation in a nice, far-away location is always welcomed, a nice day trip or weekend outing can also give you exactly what you need—without breaking the bank. There are so many worthwhile nearby travel destinations that are just a short road trip away, so if you’re in dire need of an escape from Atlanta, you’re in luck. Here are 18 scenic road trips for you to embark on this fall.

Historic Westville
Historic Westville

Columbus, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
Known for being one of the best nearby places to go white water rafting (which you can actually still do during the fall) Columbus has much more to offer than its aquatic attractions and activities. For those who love visiting museums and historical sites, Columbus boasts attractions like Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Historic Westville, The Ma Rainey House & Blues Museum, and more. Plus, outdoor areas like the Columbus Dragonfly Trail and Heritage Park offer beautiful open-air experiences while also serving as nods to the city’s industrial heritage. With a short, straight-forward road trip filled with color-changing trees, a visit to west Georgia may be exactly what you need right now.
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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours, 15 minutes
One of the longer drives featured in this guide, a road trip to the coast of South Carolina will set you back four hours or so, but once you arrive at Hilton Head Island, you’ll be happy you made that trek. In addition to the gorgeous beach scenery, there will be several exciting arts and food experiences taking place on the island, including the 2021 Crescendo Celebration arts and culture festival, the Historic Bluffton Arts & Seafood Festival, and the 5th Annual Gullah Food Festival. Since the trip to Hilton Head takes a bit longer, it makes for a great weekend trip, meaning even more time to explore its beaches and delicious Lowcountry cuisine.
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callaway gardens
Callaway Gardens | Callaway Gardens

Callaway Gardens, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 15 minutes
This resort property near Columbus, Georgia offers lots of activities that all age ranges and group sizes can safely experience as the pandemic continues and the weather changes. We’re talking socially distanced hiking, golfing, tree-top zip lining, wildlife areas, and other exhilarating outdoor activities. Coupled with its reopened spa and beautiful garden areas, Callaway Gardens is the perfect weekend trip for families of all ages and sizes.
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Dahlonega Resort
Cane Creek Falls in Dahlonega, Georgia | Discover Dahlonega, Georgia

Dahlonega, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
One of the best ways to stay warm in these chilly evenings is to have a drink, and Dahlonega is the place to go to grab an extravagant one. Even in light of COVID-19, Dahlonega’s fantastic wineries have mostly remained open, meaning that winery hopping, phenomenal mountain views, and cozy cottages await you in northern Georgia. Tastings are pretty affordable, and you can (responsibly) buy additional glasses—or bottles—of wine afterwards. Just be sure to bring a DD or opt for proper transportation when visiting any of Dahlonega’s wineries.
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Helen, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
Helen is an adorable Germantown nestled in the mountains of North Georgia. This place is ideal for celebrating Oktoberfest in the fall, but it’s honestly a great getaway all throughout fall and winter. There are plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy throughout your whole trip, from burning some firewood in the cabins to exploring Anna Ruby Falls, and visiting Helen’s kitschy souvenir shops is a must.
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Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden | Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden

Summerville, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
You’ll undoubtedly feel like you stepped back in time when you visit this tiny, sleepy mountain town. Surrounded by scenic trees and hills, Summerville is jam-packed with friendly locals, park attractions like Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, and myriad activities for the nature lover—as well as the very creepy Corpsewood Manor, plagued with a gruesome history. And don’t let the name fool you—Summerville’s historic sites make for great cool-weather adventures, especially when Finster Fest returns this year on October 9 and 10.
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Toccoa Falls, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 34 minutes
Just as its name—which is a Cherokee word for beautiful—implies, Toccoa Falls is a magnificent sight and the South’s answer to Niagara Falls. A semi-hidden gem, it’s the highest single-drop waterfall east of the Mississippi, with 186 feet of swirling water that swiftly plunges into an equally gorgeous canyon and is actually 26 feet higher than Niagara Falls. Bring along your hiking shoes and a picnic lunch. There are lots of wooded spots to relax and eat while taking in the majestic falls.
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Brasstown Bald, Georgia
Brasstown Bald, Georgia | FIND Outdoors

Brasstown Bald, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 30 minutes
In addition to being the highest mountain in Georgia, Brasstown Bald is arguably the most beautiful. From atop the towering observation deck perched nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, visitors can catch breathtaking 360-degree views that, on clear days, includes Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
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Chattanooga
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee | Visit Chattanooga

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
With museums, river cruises, and a plethora of city tours available, Chattanooga has tons to do. But focus on the city’s Riverwalk. Chock-full of shops, parks, restaurants, bars, and more, the 13 paved miles will keep you busy all weekend. Throw that all in with an old railway-turned hotel, and you’ve got a very fun trip on your hands.
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Pepper Place, Día de los Muertos Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama | INBirmingham

Birmingham, Alabama

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 15 minutes
Alabama’s largest city has a rich civil rights history, and it has also undergone a cultural revival in recent years. Like Atlanta, many of its popular festivals are finally set to return this year after being canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. On September 25, the 19th Annual Fiesta Festival—which is Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage—will take place at Birmingham’s Linn Park, and the all-day event will feature cultural exhibitions, authentic Latin food, live performances, and much more. Also, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has officially reopened as well, so in addition to enjoying all the brews and late-night moves that Birmingham has to offer, you can also sneak in a history lesson as well.
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Providence Canyon State Park, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 15 minutes
Ever heard of Lumpkin, Georgia? If so, thank Providence Canyon State Park, aka “The Little Grand Canyon,” for putting it on the map. With more than 1,000 acres of deep, rocky canyons caused by poor farming practices in the 1800s, plus native wildflowers and vegetation, it looks tremendously cool and totally out of place in Georgia. A surefire way to both social distance and experience one of the state’s most amazing natural wonders, the park should be on your summer bucket list. Due to an influx of visitors during the pandemic, access to Providence Canyon State Park is being monitored and limited, so be prepared to wait for admission.
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Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina | New Belgium Brewing

Asheville, North Carolina

Distance from Atlanta: Three hours, 30 minutes
Nestled in the spectacular Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is a beautiful town that’s also home to some of the country’s best craft breweries (Wicked Weed, New Belgium, Green Man, Wedge) and restaurants. If that all sounds good, but you'd rather work up an appetite, you’ll find no shortage of outdoor activities in this mountain enclave, from rafting and rappelling to a variety of hiking and biking trails.
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Savannah, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours
Be sure to check out Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump was filmed -- because why would you even dare pass up the opportunity? And, in addition to having some of the Lowcountry’s best golf, Savannah has gorgeous beaches— breezy nighttime beach stroll, anyone?—and endless opportunities for fun by the water, like exploring River Street and visiting the Tybee Island Lighthouse. Plus, all that water also means a lot of crazy fresh seafood that needs to be eaten.
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The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Lower Broadway Area in Nashville, Tennessee | The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum

Nashville, Tennessee

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours
As if honky-tonks, Hattie B’s hot chicken, the world-famous Ryman Auditorium, and GooGoo Clusters weren’t enough to merit a spot on this list, pretty much every mile of Music City, USA is part of music history. Seeing a live show is a must when visiting Nashville, and for a deeper dive into the city’s rich musical heritage, you can check out some of its musical attractions, like The Musicians Hall of Fame or the National Museum of African American Music. Nashville also offers up smooth, legit Tennessee whiskey, which isn’t gonna drink itself, and visiting Nashville originals Slim & Husky’s and Biscuit Love are some of the tastiest moves you can make throughout your weekend getaway.
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Charleston, South Carolina
Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina | Explore Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours, 30 minutes
With dive bars and five-star restaurants aplenty, Charleston is well-known for being a food lover’s paradise. The diverse culinary scene is undoubtedly a big part of why it’s been named the “No. 1 city in the U.S.” by a plethora of publications year after year. Thankfully, most of the city’s best restaurants are still open for business, so go enjoy some of the best food in the country.
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Augusta, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 15 minutes
Heading east on I-20 towards South Carolina, you’ll find Augusta, a charming city with a welcoming blend of outdoor activities, rich cultural experiences, shopping spots, and nightlife. With a vast array of incredible events happening nearly every weekend, anytime is the perfect time to get a taste of Georgia city life outside of Metro Atlanta.
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Hiawassee, Georgia
Hightower Creek Vineyards

Hiawassee, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 15 minutes
Right on the border of Georgia and North Carolina, Hiawassee is the quiet respite from city life that any nature lover can appreciate. Visitors have spectacular outdoor spaces to explore, from High Shoals Falls—a 170-acre scenic area that boasts five gorgeous waterfalls—to Bell Mountain Park, a park and historical site with a breathtaking observation deck that gives visitors a 360-degree overlook of the surrounding lake and mountains from nearly 3500 feet up. Add in the beloved local Hiawassee Antique Mall (a must for collectors and souvenir lovers) and the Hightower Creek Vineyards, and you’ve got a packed, yet low-key, weekend ahead of you.
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Ellijay, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
Another must-visit cabin getaway that should be on your radar is Ellijay. Without having to brave a lengthy drive, you can visit one of the area’s many orchards, witness a pig race, and explore the mountains. There are also plenty of wineries and tasting rooms worth giving a shot, so you’ll definitely be able to find some great bottles to bring back to your cabin and (hopefully) back to Atlanta.
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Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor to Thrillist.