Perfect Fall Trips for When You Need to Escape Atlanta

From the winding lakes of the Queen City to Gatlinburg’s Sky Lift, the 404’s surrounding areas are great places to travel when you need to reset.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Gatlinburg, Tennessee | ND700/Shutterstock
Gatlinburg, Tennessee | ND700/Shutterstock

Thanks to the gorgeous autumn-colored trees and much-needed breeze, fall is hands-down one of the best times of the year to experience everything that Atlanta has to offer, but on the off-chance that you have found yourself needing a major change in scenery, we’re not here to judge. Instead, we’re here to let you know that not only is that more than okay, but you actually have plenty of options as well, from mountain and cabin towns to waterfront getaways that have cleared up significantly during the off-season. Whether you want to find a nearby respite or go on a full-fledged road trip, we have rounded up some amazing destinations—all throughout Georgia and in a few bordering states—for you to visit this fall. Pack your bags and get ready to escape Atlanta.

Helen, Georgia
Helen, Georgia | Kristi Blokhin/Shutterstock

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
Easily one of the best fall and winter getaways in Georgia, Helen is an adorable Germantown nestled in the mountains of North Georgia. With plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy throughout your whole trip—from burning some firewood in the cabins and exploring Anna Ruby Falls to participating in events like Oktoberfest and visiting Helen’s kitschy souvenir shops—Helen is ideal for a cozy falltime getaway.
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Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Mountains | Serge Skiba/Shutterstock

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
Thanks to their breezy altitudes, mountain towns make for some of the best fall 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 like horseback riding, trout fishing, and ziplining. During the fall, Blue Ridge hosts its weekly ROE. Blue Ridge live music series, 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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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 30 minutes
Another must-visit cabin getaway that should be on your radar this fall is Ellijay. Without having to brave a lengthy drive, you can visit one of the area’s many orchards, go boating on a gorgeous lake, or 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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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. Visiting in the fall not only makes for a cooler experience but also a less crowded one, making day trips to local theme parks like Dollywood and Gatlinburg SkyLift Park even more enjoyable.
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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. One of the most therapeutic things you can do in the summer 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 cooler months, the neighboring islands and cities hold popular annual events, from the Shrimp & Grits festival on Jekyll Island to the Brunswick PorchFest.
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Downtown Greenville, South Carolina
Downtown Greenville, South Carolina | Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

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. 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, rooftop dining options, swanky hotels, and so much more. Enjoy the cool weather while you explore by renting a bike through Reedy Ride.
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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 explore its beaches and delicious Lowcountry cuisine.
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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 fall season starts to roll in. We’re talking hiking, golfing, tree-top zip lining, wildlife areas, and other exhilarating outdoor activities. Coupled with its full-service spa and beautiful garden areas, Callaway Gardens is the perfect weekend trip for families of all ages and sizes.
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Toccoa Falls, Georgia
Toccoa Falls, Georgia | M Vilaret/Shutterstock

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. 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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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 17th Moss Rock Festival, the 20th annual Día de los Muertos celebration, 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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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 summertime getaways in Georgia, Savannah surprisingly makes for a low-key respite during the cooler 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 activities in this mountain enclave, from ziplining and salt caves to biking trails and birdwatching tours.
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The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum
Lower Broadway Area in Nashville, Tennessee | The Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum

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 weekend getaway.
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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 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
Hiawassee, Georgia | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.