In general, most people associate Georgia with Atlanta, Savannah, college football, and a state that was always on the mind of Ray Charles. And those associations aren't incorrect. But what if we told you Georgia is one the most beautiful states in the lower 48? Well it's true: It is. From relaxing weekend road trips to cascading waterfalls only accessible by hike, the Empire State of the South has no shortage of alluring locales and stunning scenery.
Tallulah Falls A 1,000-feet-deep gorge that’s nearly 2 miles long, TG is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi, and is more aptly called Tallulah Gorgeous, especially when you consider the nearly 2,700-acre Georgia state park adjacent to it. With six waterfalls, which cause the river to drop 500 feet over 1 mile, an 80-foot-high suspension bridge, and ample hiking and biking space, it’s literally breathtaking. Pro tip: If you want to hike the gorge floor, get there early for a permit -- and keep in mind they’re not available during water releases.
Savannah This 822-acre historic site near Savannah boasts the ruins of a fortified home constructed by one of Georgia's colonial founders, Noble Jones; a museum; an interpretive center focusing on daily life in the 1700s; and, most importantly, a picturesque oak-lined 1.5-mile avenue that’s as romantic... um, that’s as romantic as any place where slavery was once practiced, anyway.
Lithonia Arabia Mountain is one of only 49 National Heritage Areas in the country, i.e., places recognized by Congress for their peerless contribution to the nation’s history. What you’ll appreciate most, though, is its starkly beautiful granite landscapes, incredible, awe-inducing views, and dozens of brilliantly colored rare plant species. If a more serene place exists, we haven’t found it yet.
Atlanta Despite being smack dab in the middle of the city, Lullwater Park is a total retreat. You can't hear the cars zipping by over the quiet sounds of leaves rustling in the trees, but you can zone out and enjoy exploring the old water mills. When it comes to parks, Lullwater really has it all: shade and sun, hills and open fields, multiple trails, peaceful running water and fishing ponds, and beautiful serenity. It’s basically nature’s answer to a stiff after-work drink.
Pine Mountain A public garden and resort on 14,000 acres of beautiful Appalachian foothills near Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens is teeming with gorgeous views of multiple multi-acre kaleidoscopic flowers gardens, and much more, including some legit golf course action, too.
Clarkesville Despite being landlocked, Atlanta has some really gorgeous bodies of water nearby, including the stunning Panther Creek Falls, a cluster of multi-tiered waterfalls that drop into a pool of clear, beautiful water below. Oh, and if you want to do more than simply bask in the falls’ cool serenity, you can enjoy the nearly 6-mile Panther Creek Trail that runs alongside.
Morningside A true hidden gem tucked away by the CDC, Morningside Nature Preserve is a secret even to many who live in the neighborhood. It’s a great place for hiking, trail running, walking, letting dogs frolic, or simply forgetting that a huge metropolis is hidden behind the lovely trees, trails, brush, creeks, suspension bridge, and sandy beaches. Seriously, you’ll feel like you actually got away without ever really leaving the city.
Cartersville This 54-acre site is the most intact Mississippian culture (a mound-building Native American civilization) site in the Southeast, and it features six earthen mounds, a plaza, village site, borrow pits, and a defensive ditch. Artifacts at this archaeological site include huge, hand-carved stone effigies that still have some original pigments. No doubt: this is one of the coolest history lessons you’ve ever had.
Dahlonega Nestled away in Dahlonega is a Montaluce, a stunning winery (and upscale restaurant!) that offers not only fresh, artisanal wines, but also breathtaking views of both the North Georgia Mountains and the sprawling vineyards responsible for all that sweet vino. It also offers events such as deluxe wine tastings, nature hikes, tours, holiday festivities, and more. Pro tip: Splurge on a meal and at least a case of wine. You won’t regret it.
Florida-Georgia border The largest intact freshwater and black water wilderness swamp in North America, Okefenokee Swamp has to be seen to be believed. It’s full of vegetation and animals you’ve probably never seen before, like alligators and cranes. Check it out via paddleboat/motorboat water trails that are the sweetest way to explore the indigenous creeks called “The Land of Trembling Earth.”
Lumpkin Yes, that’s in Georgia. While much of the state think little, if anything, south of Atlanta is noteworthy, Providence Canyon State Park proves them wrong. The 1,000-plus-acre park contains Providence Canyon, which is known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” because the massive, up-to-150-foot gullies resemble the real thing so closely. They definitely look like nothing else you’ll find in the Peach State.
St. Marys Step off the ferry on Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island and you’ll immediately feel like you’re on your own private beach, where you can swim, take quiet strolls, fish, bird watch, and more... all amidst ancient, twisted trees, lush vegetation, similarly ancient turtles, and beautiful roaming wild horses. The best part, especially for anyone who’s sick of Atlanta traffic? Cumberland Island is a car-free zone.
Atlanta About a mile from Midtown Atlanta, there’s a huge hole in the ground that was mined for centuries. In recent years, thanks to gorgeous blue water and rocks that look straight outta the Rockies, it’s been featured in The Hunger Games and The Walking Dead, but if you want to see it in real life, you’d better hurry: The city is planning to turn it into a reservoir, meaning the whole place will soon be underwater.
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You can find Atlanta-based writer Brook Bolen on Twitter @BrookBolen, but she’s usually too busy hanging at Lullwater Park, or eating… ewwww, vegan food, to tweet much.