Nestled between the Atlantic Coast and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Georgia is known for its rich tapestry of natural beauty. And one of the easy ways to experience the Peach State is by embarking on some of the best day trips from Atlanta.
From the soaring heights of Brasstown Bald to the calmness of Callaway Gardens, there’s something for every traveler in the Empire State of the South. Within a short drive from Atlanta, you can dig into outdoor activities at blissful state parks or enjoy live music in the legendary music venues of Athens.
Whether you’re a sports fan looking for your next adrenaline rush or a quiet introvert hoping to relax in a beautiful garden, plan the perfect Georgia trip by exploring these top-rated Atlanta day trips.
Top-rated Atlanta side trips
Looking for somewhere to unwind in Georgia? Head to Callaway Gardens for a chilled-out day trip. The 2,500-acre resort is located in scenic Pine Mountain, Georgia, an hour’s drive southwest of Atlanta.
With idyllic gardens and calming lakes, Callaway Gardens is the perfect fusion of rustic scenery, world-class sports facilities, and cozy resorts. This Pine Mountain escape has everything you need for a weekend disconnect.
The Discovery Bike Trail is a meandering, 10-mile trail that provides visitors with views of the botanical garden and colorful woodland. Feel free to rent a bike and explore the trails, stopping occasionally to take in the spectacular views and thriving greenery.
Sports enthusiasts will love the abundance of active facilities available at Callaway Gardens. Its golf courses are well-regarded for their immaculate conditions and stunning views.
Tennis-lovers will appreciate the 10 outdoor tennis courts available, and fishing fans will relish a visit to the Callaway Gardens Fly Fishing School.
A splendid harmony of natural beauty, outdoor sport, and luxury accommodation, Callaway Gardens is ideal for those wishing to escape from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta.
The thriving college town of Athens is one of Georgia’s most bustling cities. Located 73 miles west of Atlanta, the city is famed for its music scene and nightlife. Choc-full of clubs, bars, art galleries, and pubs, Athens is the perfect place to paint the town red.
Athens’s indie music scene has produced artists like R.E.M. and the B52s. Live music is a big part of the community here. You’ll find numerous vibrant clubs and theatres scattered among the top things to see & do in Athens, GA.
The 40-Watt Club is an iconic venue that has housed R.E.M, Neutral Milk Hotel, the B52s, and numerous other artists from outside the city limits. Another famous venue is the Georgia Theatre, located in the heart of Athens. A fire in 2009 heavily damaged the original structure, but it’s since been lovingly rebuilt in its original style.
Athens is also known for its tapestry of independent restaurants. No matter what your favorite cuisine is, you’ll be sure to find a delicious meal with ease during your stay in the charismatic music city of Athens.
Looking for a taste of Bavaria in North Georgia? The rustic architecture and picturesque lakes of the town of Helen are reminiscent of a quirky German village. Also referred to as Alpine Helen, this North Georgia mountain town is located 93 miles away from Atlanta. It’s widely regarded as one of the South’s most underrated locations.
If you have a couple of hours to kill, check out Helen’s famous tubing facilities. During the warmer summer months, you can float down the Chattahoochee River on a rubber ring. The city provides free parking, showers, changing rooms, push-off sticks, and a picnic area to ensure you’re fully prepared for your day on the river. You can also hop on and off at your own discretion.
Another huge Helen attraction is its annual Oktoberfest. In keeping with its Bavarian roots, Helen hosts its own version of the German festival complete with lederhosen, Bratwurst, and plenty of beer. Just a few weeks after the conclusion of Oktoberfest, Helen is once again reinvented with a Christmas motif resembling something out of a storybook.
There are plenty of things to see & do in Helen for adrenaline junkies, too, including zip-lines, escape rooms, and challenge courses.
From its whimsical buildings to its range of cultural and spring activities, Helen packs a lot of punch for a small mountain town. If you’ve got time to spare in your Atlanta itinerary, it’s definitely worth a visit.
The childhood home of former President Woodrow Wilson, the town of Augusta is steeped in history and importance. Modern-day sports lovers will recognize Augusta with its annual hosting of the Master’s Tournament. Each April, golfers, and visitors from all over the world flock here in anticipation of the iconic golfing event.
But Georgia’s second-oldest town has a lot more going for it than the Masters. Among the top things to see & do in Augusta, there’s a host of cultural attractions, historical landmarks, and unique shops.
Singer James Brown, one of the most famous artists of all time, was from Augusta. His presence and influence on the town are still apparent today. The Soul Bar is a famous music venue frequented by an eclectic range of artists, including Brown himself on plenty of occasions.
You can also explore the multitude of delicious restaurants on offer. In keeping with Augusta’s cultural roots, cuisines from all over the world are celebrated and represented in a diverse range of eateries.
Augusta also boasts plenty of historical attractions. The Augusta Museum of History covers the town’s long and storied history whilst embracing its bright future.
Augusta is located 115 miles east of Atlanta. On embarking on this pleasurable and scenic drive, you’ll be on the road for just over two hours before arrival.
Looking for a scenic weekend getaway? Lake Lanier has everything you need. Located in Northern Georgia, less than an hour’s drive from Atlanta, this 37,000-acre reservoir is known for its fishing community, beautiful views, and abundance of campgrounds.
You can also explore the large number of parks surrounding Lake Lanier. Many of these parks, including Don Carter State Park, are equipped with walking and biking trails to explore.
There are also plenty of cultural attractions at Lake Lanier. Restaurants, shops, and waterside resorts can be found in abundance. Visitors can also enjoy a range of water-based activities. Swimming, paddle boarding, and diving are common hallmarks of a Lake Lanier vacation. It’s a beautiful spot for a picnic, too.
Lake Lanier also hosts several food festivals throughout the year. If you’re interested to try some of the fresh, local produce, head down to the market and indulge in some Lake Lanier delicacies. Free from the bad farming practices of urban centers, Lake Lanier’s delicious food is grown and cooked with small-town love.
RELATED: What to See & Do in Atlanta
The beautiful Lake Lanier is a perfect stop if you’re on a road trip in Georgia. With accommodations to suit every budget, beautiful views, it’s an ideal spot for the solitude-seeking traveler.
Brasstown Bald is the highest point in the state of Georgia. With an elevation of over 47,00 ft, it’s a beautiful spot to reflect, think, and observe the world below.
Each fall, you’ll find climbers making their way up to the summit of Brasstown Bald. On clear days, you can see four different states and have a panoramic view of the landscape and beautiful fall foliage below.
And, if hiking isn’t your thing, you’ll be relieved to know that a shuttle service is available. There’s even a theatre on the top of Brasstown Bald, though this is currently closed due to COVID-19.
After your climb, embark on a picturesque drive to the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway. From here, you can visit the stunning Vogel State Park, a mountain park boasting hiking, fishing, and freshwater swimming activities.
If you’re eager to reconnect with Georgia’s stunning natural landscape, meander through the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest and observe the plethora of wildlife there.
RELATED: Best Areas to Stay in Atlanta
Whether you’re traveling solo or with your family, you’ll love the serene, beautiful Brasstown Bald. You’ll certainly be immersed in the abundance of natural beauty on display here.
Brasstown Bald is located a two hours’ drive northeast of Atlanta.
Amicalola Falls State Park
Amicalola Falls State Park lies 70 miles from Atlanta and 8 miles from the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. Nestled within the beautiful mountain towns of Georgia, this state park is named after its crown jewel: the cascading Amicalola Falls waterfall.
Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in the state of Georgia. As you can probably imagine, it’s a popular photo spot; you’ll spot a perpetual queue of people of all ages posing beside it. Its flowing water and immense height make it an iconic natural attraction and one of rural Georgia’s most famous landmarks.
On-site activities at Amicalola Falls State Park include a ziplining course, trout fishing, and numerous guided tours. There are also plenty of cabins and lodges available for your rustic, romantic getaway.
Springer Mountain is another of the area’s famous landmarks. Located on the sprawling Appalachian Trail, it’s recognized as the trail’s official starting point.
If you really fancy getting down with nature, aim to complete the eight-mile-long Approach Trail from Springer Mountain to Amicalola Falls State Park. Enjoy visiting the abandoned gold mines and help yourself to fresh-picked apples on the way!
Anna Ruby Falls
The stunning twinned waterfalls of Anna Ruby Falls can be found in the heart of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, 92 miles north of Atlanta. One of the most famous forests in the United States, its abundance of natural beauty is known throughout the country.
Anna Ruby Falls Park consists of Curtis Creek and York Creek waterfalls, forming Smith Creek in the process. For those who are visually impaired, Anna Ruby Falls State Park offers interpretive trails that bring the area’s stone mountains and idyllic nature to life.
If you’re driving through Unicoi Park to enter Ana Ruby Falls, you can visit at no additional cost. If, however, you wish to visit the recreation area and participate in a guided tour, you’ll have to pay twice.
The Anna Ruby Falls Recreation Area also a has visitor center on-site along with a gift shop. It’s open daily and opens at 9 AM every day. You can also relax in a picnic area and enjoy the stunning views.
The magnificent Toccoa Falls stands at 186 feet. A 90-minute drive from Atlanta, its cascading waters fall beside a formidable stone mountain. The waterfall lies on the grounds of Toccoa Falls College.
Taller than Niagara Falls—and one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Tennessee River—this stunning waterfall is one of the finest natural attractions in Georgia. A meandering stream flows on the edge of the waterfall, flowing peacefully around the grounds of the college.
Though it may be tempting to go swimming, fishing, and whitewater rafting in Toccoa Falls, please note that such activities are prohibited as the falls lie on private property.
There’s a gift shop on-site where visitors can buy unique pieces of art, grab refreshments, and use the restroom.
Sadly, Toccoa Falls was once the site of a tragedy. When a nearby dam burst, the flood claimed the lives of 39 people, making it one of Georgia’s deadliest natural disasters. A complicated mix of beauty and tragic history, Toccoa Falls is one of the highlights of rural Georgia.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Roll back the years and hop onto the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. A splendid reminder of years gone by, this charming railway will transport you from the Toccoa River to the Blue Ridge Mountains and on to the beautiful town of McCaysville, Georgia.
Located 93 miles from Atlanta, the Blue Scenic Ridgeway can be found in the northern section of the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Tours operate from March to December, meaning you’ll have the option of riding on a warm summer’s day or observing the blazing fall foliage at the end of the year. The journey is over two hours in total. It’ll take you past the beautiful mountain towns and natural wonders of Georgia.
If you’re keen to do some exploring, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a two-hour layover on the trip. One of these stops gives you the chance to stand in two states at the same time as you cross the state line of Tennessee.
A perfect day out for the family, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway offers a unique throwback to the railway’s golden age. If you’re entertaining elderly guests or young children, a ride on this old-school railway will be much-loved and appreciated.