Travel

Head Out of Atlanta For These Scenic Road Trips

You could use a break.

Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

There’s no question that Atlanta holds a special place in all of our hearts, but even the truest Atliens could use an escape every once in a while. Considering the pandemic and protests that have ruled 2020, this year has yielded plenty of those moments already, and with Election Day and a major time change right behind us, the time is ripe for another weekend getaway. As the weather gets chillier, many of the places around Georgia and nearby states have a completely different vibe, so whether you’re looking to relive an amazing trip from earlier this summer or looking to find a unique vacation destination, you’re bound to have a great new experience. Grab your masks and prepare to social distance when heading to any of these remarkable weekend getaways, all a short road trip away from ATL.

callaway gardens
Callaway Gardens | Flickr/JR P

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.

Cane Creek Falls, Dahlonega, Georgia
Cane Creek Falls in Dahlonega, Georgia | Flickr/Ron Mayhew

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.

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’s 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.

Howard Finster's Paradise Garden
Howard Finster's Paradise Garden | Flickr/J. Stephen Conn

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 cold weather adventures.

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.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia
Brasstown Bald, Georgia | Flickr/Anish Patel

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 (and newly reopened) observation deck perched nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, visitors can catch breathtaking 360-degree views that, on clear days, include Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Be prepared to social distance and arrive early -- only 60 cars will be allowed in the parking lot at a time.

Downtown Chattanooga
Downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

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.

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. While many of its festivals would normally be on the Birmingham to-do list, COVID-19 has caused many of them to be postponed or canceled. But check out the Birmingham Arts Drive-In for socially distanced cultural performances from the local symphony and dance companies. Though the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is currently closed, you can pay homage to the sculptures and monuments right outside of it in historic Kelly Ingram Park.

Providence Canyon in Southwest Georgia
Providence Canyon in Southwest Georgia | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.

Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville, North Carolina | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.

Chippewa Square
Chippewa Square in Savannah, Georgia | Darryl Brooks/Shutterstock

Savannah, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours
Be sure to check out Chippewa Square, where Forrest Gump was filmed -- because what else could possibly be a more wholesome pandemic outing? 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.

Lower Broadway Area in Nashville, Tennessee
Lower Broadway Area in Nashville, Tennessee | f11photo/Shutterstock

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. Even amidst a pandemic, the city is still finding ways to honor its musical lifeline -- from historical tours of Ryman Auditorium and drive-in concerts to plain old live music at some seriously amazing restaurants. 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.

Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina
Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina | F11photo/Shutterstock

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. Luckily, several of the city’s restaurants are still open for business, so go enjoy some of the best food in the country.

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 newly formed park and historical sight 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.

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 their annual Great AUG Picnic—a chance to enjoy the diverse eateries across Augusta—quickly approaching this weekend, now is the perfect time to get a taste of Georgia city life outside of Metro Atlanta. 

Carter's Lake in Ellijay, Georgia
Carter's Lake in Ellijay, Georgia | Theron Stripling III/Shutterstock

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. Follow him on Instagram.