Day Tripping: 5 North Georgia Destinations to Enjoy Fall Foliage

Autumn landscape view of the Blue Ridge mountain range

The best part of fall (aside from pumpkin spice everything!) is the change that starts to creep over the mountains and forests as the leaves begin to turn colors. If you live in Georgia or you’re planning on relocating to Georgia, you’re in for some of the most spectacular fall scenery in the country. This is your chance to explore some of the most beautiful autumn landscapes right in the mountainous areas of North Georgia.

Every year, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources keeps leaf lovers informed about the changing seasons and the best time to view the fall foliage on their web page, “Leaf Watch”. Usually, the leaves start to turn from mid-October through to mid-November, which gives day trippers plenty of opportunities to explore the region and soak up the color.

So, whether you live near or far, get your pumpkin spice lattes to go and head on out on a day trip to explore some of North Georgia’s most breathtaking destinations to enjoy the fall foliage.

#1 Helen, White County

The little mountain town of Helen, Georgia, would look right at home in the Swiss Alps, but its quaint German architecture and fun-filled Oktoberfest celebrations aren’t the only reason tourists flock to this place. It also happens to be one of the best places in the state to watch the leaves change.

There are so many ways you can explore the fall foliage around Helen, it is hard to choose a favorite. For fly-fishing enthusiasts, spend the day taking in the fall beauty while wading in the tranquil Dukes Creek in Smithgall Woods State Park.

If you prefer a more active day trip, why not venture off on one of the trails? There are five miles of track to choose from, as well as 18 miles of paved roads for biking. The woods are full of amazing hardwoods, waterways, and wildlife. In fact, you may want to extend your day trip just to stay at one of six gorgeous cottages on the banks of the stream.

Unicoi State Park also offers an incredible way to experience the amazing fall foliage. Parts of the park are equipped with zip lines and suspension bridges so you can fly through the tree canopy and catch a view of the foliage from above. The distance from Atlanta to Helen clocks in just under a two-hour drive, making this scenic spot a great destination for a weekend getaway out of the city.

#2 Amicalola Falls State Park, Dahlonega

Beautiful Amicalola Falls State Park is home to the state’s highest waterfall. Falling over 730 feet, Amicalola Falls is a misty cascade accessible from a trail that provides amazing views from the top of the falls, then descends along a series of bridges and wooden walkways.

Not far from Amicalola Falls is the small town of Ellijay known as the “Apple Capital of the South.” Head out on a day trip during the second or third weekend of October, and you will be just in time for the Annual Georgia Apple Festival, which not only celebrates the seasonal harvest but also the area’s abundant natural fall beauty.

Dahlonega and the surrounding areas also offer some spectacular mountain biking trails, but contact the local mountain biking club for maps and guidance, as the trails can be tricky to navigate.

Horseback riding is another popular and relaxing way to explore the fall scenery. Although horses aren’t allowed inside the state park, there are a number of trails through the nearby Chattahoochee National Forest.

Amicalola Falls during autumn

#3 Blue Ridge Mountains, Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge Mountains along Georgia’s northern border are home to some of America’s favorite driving tours. Take a self-guided tour of the area and enjoying the burnished mountain scenery, and stop off at some of the local attractions along the way.

Visit Serenberry vineyard for a wine tasting, or make a longer stopover and stretch your legs with a short hike at Fall Branch Falls. The Benton MacKaye Trail is a brisk half-mile trail through mossy forests to the spectacular waterfall.

If you start to feel a little hungry on your trip, stop off at Mercier Orchards. Their “Apple U-Pick” events run on select weekends throughout fall, where you can pick bushels of produce while listening to some local live entertainment. Then take a tour of the orchards on a tractor, and finish your tour with a visit to the brewery to try their handcrafted hard cider.

For a unique way to experience North Georgia’s fall foliage, you can’t go past the Blue Ridge Railway. You can choose from breezy open-air cars, or climate-controlled cars, then sit back and enjoy the leisurely journey along the Toccoa River from Blue Ridge to McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee.

#4 Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls

At two miles long and 1,000 feet deep, Tallulah Gorge is one of the most impressive canyons in the southeast. You can hike the rim or trek the popular Hurricane Falls trail and cross the canyon via a dizzying suspension bridge for unparalleled views of the fall foliage.

However, only 100 people per day are permitted to hike the canyon floor, to protect the natural resources. If you are one of the lucky few, the Sliding Rock trail along the gorge floor is by far the most scenic ways to experience the park’s natural fall beauty.

On the first three weekends in November, the park releases water from the falls that flows at a roaring rate of 500 to 700 cubic meters per second. If you are a keen kayaker, you can enjoy the fall scenery while paddling through the gorge and battling some Class IV and V whitewater rapids.

Tallulah Gorge in Georgia

#5 Black Rock Mountain State Park, Clayton

Black Rock Mountain State Park is the location of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak, whose summit boasts stunning views of the surrounding mountains in all their autumnal glory.

Day-trippers can enjoy hiking any of the 11 miles of trails that run through the park. For an extra challenge, climb the steep elevations along the James E. Edmonds Backcountry trail to reach the summit at Lookoff Mountain. There you will be rewarded with expansive views of the multicolored foliage that blankets the breathtaking landscape.

For a more leisurely activity, amble along one of the easier trails, such as Black Rock Lake trail, which takes you on a gentle loop around the park’s waterways. The lake is the perfect place for a fall picnic with ample seating available along Taylor Creek.

Remember …

If you are going to be hiking or enjoying outdoor activities this fall, don’t forget to pack the fall essentials, including safety gear and navigation equipment. Fall weather conditions can cause some of the trails to become dangerous, and the last thing you need is to spend your day trip at the hospital.

North Georgia is the place to be when the leaves change. Visit some of these remarkable places around the area for the best views and most unique ways to enjoy the fall foliage with the whole family. Don’t forget to pack the camera.