Perfect Summer Road 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 | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Gatlinburg, Tennessee | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

As you already know, Atlanta is a uniquely amazing city. Our capital is home to plenty of annual festivals, exciting sporting events, beautiful art galleries, and some of the best restaurants around. While the 404 is the perfect spot to visit, if you live here, sometimes it’s good to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And as we approach the warmer months and you’re looking for a quick trip out of town, the options are endless. From the enchanting and Spanish moss-covered streets of Savannah’s Riverwalk to the legendary music scene in Nashville, Tennessee, here 18 perfect road trips for you to experience this summer.

NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Hall of Fame

Distance from Atlanta: Three hours, 45 minutes
The Queen City is steadily growing, and has something to do for folks of all ages. If you’re a fine art enthusiast, make sure to visit the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, or the four-story Mint Uptown. If you didn’t know—North Carolina is Earnhardt country; and it's also the site of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The Hall offers guided tours on Mondays and Friday, so be prepared to get an exciting, two-hour dose of history. Charlotte contains many parks to hold picnics this summer, and if you’re feeling adventurous you can rent a boat to take on Lake Wylie, or watch its action-packed fishing competition every Thursday from April to August.
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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 in the warmer months the neighboring islands of Brunswick, Jekyll Island, and Sea Island hold their Fourth of July celebrations, and in Neptune Park, in the Pier Village a summer concert series is held on select Sundays.
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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 white water rafting and horseback riding off the beaten path. One of the city’s most popular attractions in June - August is the Gatlinburg Sky Lift, which sits 1,800 feet above sea level and provides one of the most beautiful views in the country. Before the summer concludes, be sure to check out Gatlinburg’s many summer activities, namely the Tunes & Tales, and the upcoming Songwriters Festival, held on August 19 - 22.
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Lake Oconee, Georgia
Lake Oconee, Georgia | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 20 minutes
As soon as June hits, this weekend getaway is definitely the place to be. There’s a cool lineup of events such as a Garden Tea Party for the ladies and evening jazz concerts, or you can dive into history by visiting the Greene County Courthouse, the Old Gaol, the Greensboro Cemetery, or the city museum. If you stay at the area’s Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, there are some amazing food options to choose from. Café 44 serves delicious coffee along with daily specials, Holcomb’s Bar-B-Que is second to none, and Georgia Butts has some of the best smoked wings this side of the Mississippi. For those memorable summer nights, relax at Fireside Flavors right outside of the hotel.
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Downtown Greenville, South Carolina
Downtown Greenville, South Carolina | Sean Pavone/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 U.S. has become a highly touted travel destination for the summer. 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 warm weather while you explore by renting a bike through Reedy Ride.
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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
Although it’s known for being one of the best nearby places to go white water rafting, Columbus has much more to offer than its aquatic attractions and activities, making it a desirable trip destination this upcoming summer. For those who love visiting museums and historical sites, Columbus boasts attractions like Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Historic Westville, The Ma Rainey House & Blues Museum, and more. Plus, outdoor areas like the Columbus Dragonfly Trail and Heritage Park offer beautiful open-air experiences while also serving as nods to the city’s industrial heritage. In fact, a visit to West Georgia may be exactly what you need right now.
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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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callaway gardens
Callaway Gardens | Ancha Chiangmai/Shutterstock

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 weather warms up during the summer months. 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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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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The Birmingham Zoo
The Birmingham Zoo

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 2022 World Gamesthe Deer Expo, the Euphonious 2 Music Festival at the Birmingham Zoo, and much more. Also, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute has officially reopened as well, so in addition to enjoying all the brews and late-night moves that Birmingham has to offer, you can also sneak in a history lesson as well.
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Distance from Atlanta: One hour, 45 minutes
With museums, river cruises, and a plethora of city tours available, Chattanooga has tons to do, but if you’ve never been, 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.
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Providence Canyon
Providence Canyon | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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.
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Asheville, North Carolina
New Belgium Brewing

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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Distance from Atlanta: Four hours
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 having some of the Lowcountry’s best golf, Savannah has gorgeous beaches— chilly night time 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.
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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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Charleston, South Carolina
Historical downtown area of Charleston, South Carolina | f11photo/Shutterstock

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. Thankfully, most of the city’s best restaurants are still open for business, so go enjoy some of the best food in the country.
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Augusta Riverwalk
Augusta Riverwalk | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

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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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.