Travel

Head Out Of Atlanta For These Scenic Road Trips

From the mountains to the Main Streets.

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

Atlanta is a city unlike any in the world, but there are times when we could all use an escape from the A. This year, in almost every way imaginable (knocks on wood), has been one of those times. With a pandemic having imposed a major threat on Atlanta for most of 2020, many of us haven’t even left our county as we’ve all worked to help flatten the curve and stop the spread of COVID-19. Yet, summer is here now, and -- if you’re anything like us -- you’re getting the travel itch. With that in mind, we rounded up over a dozen remarkable destinations to visit over the weekend that are just outside of ATL, in or around the Peach State. Most of these cities and locations are strictly enforcing masks in public, so please be responsible when visiting any of these places by sporting your handy dandy mask and keeping six feet between you and others.

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. We’re talking socially distanced hiking, water sports, ziplining, and other exhilarating outdoor activities. Coupled with its newly reopened spa and beautiful garden areas, Callaway Gardens is the perfect weekend trip for families of all ages and sizes.

Dahlonega, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
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 also a great summer getaway. There’s plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy throughout your whole trip, from tubing down the Chattahoochee 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.

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

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.

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.

However, Birmingham’s history and open attractions are still very worth the trip.

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

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.

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 and endless opportunities for fun in and on the water, like parasailing, kayaking, jet skiing, and more. All that water also means a lot of crazy fresh seafood that needs to be eaten.

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.

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.

Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor to Thrillist. Follow him on Instagram.