Perfect Winter Road Trips for When You Need to Escape Atlanta

From the chilly peaks of the Smoky Mountains to cozy cabins in Blue Ridge, the 404’s surrounding areas are great places to travel for a winter time getaway.

Just because it’s a bit chillier than usual, doesn’t mean you have to stay in the house this winter. Atlanta is a great place to explore of course, but there are so many places outside of the 404 that make for an amazing vacation spot during the colder months. The Blue Ridge Mountains have some beautiful cabins to house your next family trip, or you can appease your adventurous side while skiing and snowboarding at Ober Gatlinburg in Tennessee. The temperature in locations like St. Simons never drops too low, so visitors can enjoy outdoor activities no matter what time of year. Whatever you decide to do, just know that you don’t have to travel far for a memorable vacation.

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
Easily one of the best winter getaways in Georgia, Helen is an adorable Germantown nestled in the mountains of North Georgia. With plenty of activities to keep you busy throughout your whole trip—from burning some firewood in the cabins and exploring Anna Ruby Falls Unicoi State Park to participate in events like the Hogpen Hill Climb or visiting Helen’s kitschy souvenir shops—Helen is ideal for a cozy wintertime getaway.
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Dahlonega, Georgia
Dahlonega, Georgia | G. DAWSON/Flickr

Distance from Atlanta: One hour
Dahlonega is literally the perfect destination for a winter getaway. Located in the North Georgia Mountains, this cozy town houses several quaint places to stop by, and it all feels beautifully nostalgic, no matter where you’re at. It’s not uncommon to see some snowfall up this way, especially if you’re taking a hike up nearby trails like Amicalola State Falls Park, or you can take a boat ride with friends at Lake Lanier. The Price Memorial Hall is great to check out if you’re a history buff, and the city's many mines are a testament to why Dahlonega is considered a gem of the South.
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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
Thanks to their beautiful areas of solace, mountain towns make for some of the best winter getaways, and if you're looking for one that's not too far from the city, you can't go wrong with Blue Ridge. The cozy little town started off as a railroad stop in the 1800s, and now, Blue Ridge has a modest amount of vineyards and breweries, astounding hiking trails, and fun outdoor activities because even during the winter months the temperature here remains pretty moderate. In February, Blue Ridge hosts its annual Fire & Ice Chili Cook-Off, and visitors can also climb aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, an antique train that takes riders on a four-hour trip along the Georgia-Tennessee border.
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Gatlinburg SkyLift Park
Gatlinburg SkyLift Park

Distance from Atlanta: Three hours, 45 minutes
Home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this Tennessee town has almost one thousand miles of hiking trails, and you can also go horseback riding off the beaten path. If you’re visiting in the winter, Ober Gatlinburg is the ultimate destination for an exciting adventure, and gives attendees the options of skiing and snowboarding in the Smokies. At times, the chilly weather makes day trips to local theme parks like Dollywood and Gatlinburg SkyLift Park even more enjoyable.
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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
Another must-visit cabin getaway that should be on your radar this winter is Ellijay. Without having to brave a lengthy drive, you can visit the area’s marketplace, explore the mountains, or go to one of the city’s popular establishments, such as the Tabor House & Civil War Museum downtown. 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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St. Simons Island, Georgia
St. Simons Island, Georgia

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours, 30 minutes
As the largest barrier island on the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island has beautiful beaches and marshes, as well as areas for fishing. With an average temperature of about 65 degrees in January, you can still enjoy the outdoors in the winter. One of the most therapeutic things you can do here is golf, and coastal Georgia has plenty of challenging courses. The Golden Isles Speedway is a great spot for family fun, and even in the colder months, the neighboring islands and cities hold popular annual events, like Dolphin Day Races, or you can sail on the Tall Ship Lynx if you’re a lover of aquatics.
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Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 30 minutes
About a Marvel films-length away from the ATL, one of the fastest-growing cities in the US has become a highly touted travel destination for the fall winter. Warmly referred to as “The Greenville everyone is talking about,” this South Carolina town offers a whole bunch of contemporary art galleries, locally owned boutiques, and unique restaurants. Main Street is one of the area's must-see attractions, boasting some coffee shops, swanky hotels, ice skating, and so much more. Take a break from the cold weather while you explore the area’s many shopping options.
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Hilton Head Island, South Carolina
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina | Will Kunkel/Shutterstock

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. Since the trip to Hilton Head takes a bit longer, it makes for a great weekend trip, meaning even more time to attend an oyster roast or taste its delicious Lowcountry cuisine.
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Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute | Heather Cowper/Flickr

Distance from Atlanta: Two hours, 15 minutes
Alabama’s second-largest city has a rich civil rights history, and it has also undergone an impressive cultural revival in recent years. Over the next few months, there will be plenty of intriguing events, such as the Mercedes-Benz Marathon, and much more. Also, in addition to enjoying all the brews and late-night moves that Birmingham has to offer, you can also sneak in a fun history lesson at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute as well.
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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 34 minutes
Just as its name—which borrows from the 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. So be sure to bring along your hiking shoes because there are lots of wooded spots to relax and eat while taking in the majestic outdoors.
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River Street in Savannah, Georgia
River Street in Savannah, Georgia | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Distance from Atlanta: Four hours
Although it is undoubtedly one of the best fall getaways in Georgia, Savannah surprisingly makes for a low-key respite during the colder months as well. Love River Street? Well, book a stay at a nearby hotel—like the elevated boutique hotel, The Alida—and enjoy breezy strolls along the gorgeous strip without the spring and summer crowd. While you’re there, 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 boasting some of the Lowcountry’s best golf, Savannah has gorgeous beaches—chilly nighttime beach stroll, anyone?—and endless opportunities for fun by the water, like 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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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 winter activities in this mountain enclave, from ziplining and salt caves to the historic Biltmore.
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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 winter 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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Broadway Historic District
Broadway Historic District | jpellgen/Flickr

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 that’s not going to drink itself, and visiting the original Slim & Husky’s and Biscuit Love locations are two of the tastiest moves you can make throughout your visit.
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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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Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor for Thrillist.

Okla Jones is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about food, fine arts, and entertainment. His work also appears in ESSENCE, Creative Loafing Atlanta, and Consequence of Sound. Follow him on Instagram at @coolhandoak.