From Atlanta’s crowded thoroughfares, it might seem hard to believe there is a place just a short drive away that is steeped in history, offers endless scenic views and is home to a wine scene that is starting to turn heads.
But the North Georgia Mountains offer the perfect break from the hustle and bustle of Atlanta.
The mountains have attracted visitors for decades. Long before the first Europeans arrived, Native Americans first called the region home, and their impact can still be found across the region.
Later, the mountains played host to a gold rush that started in the 1820s and one that predates the more famous California Gold Rush.
Today, the region is attracting a new generation of visitors. Some come for the history, while others come for the view.
To help plan the perfect North Georgia mountains getaway, here are a few ideas of what to see and do:
Tour wine country
One of the more recent trends in the region is wine tourism. While Georgia has produced wine since its colonial days, in recent years the state’s wine scene has garnered more attention, even if it doesn’t provide the volume the country’s traditional wine-producing states like California and Washington do.
For many years, the wine produced in Georgia was sweet and produced with grapes such as scuppernong or muscadine. Today, there are more than 40 wineries in the state, and the North Georgia mountains stand at the epicenter of the state’s production.
While wineries such as Fainting Goat Vineyards & Winery, located on the southeastern side of Burnt Mountain in Jasper, take pride in their wine production, the libations take a backseat to the views offered from the winery’s veranda.
Other producers like Sharp Mountain Vineyards, also in Jasper, grow a dozen varieties of European “Vinifera” grapes used to produce their wines.
Enjoy the view at a state park
Perhaps the best reason to visit the state’s mountain regions is for the view, and Georgia is some to some incredibly scenic state parks.
Among the most scenic Tallulah Gorge State Park, perhaps best recognized as the filming location for Deliverance. But, the 2,739-acre state park is much more than a movie backdrop; it’s been called one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.”
Another popular destination is Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge, an 829-acre state park. The falls’ name, derived from the Cherokee word for “tumbling waters,” was also called one of the “Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia.”
The falls are the tallest waterfall in Georgia, and an eight-mile trail connects the state park with Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
The mysterious Fort Mountain State Park sits at the southwestern end of the Cohutta Mountains. The park draws its name from an 855-foot-long rock wall an unknown group built between the years of 500 and 1500.
Cherokee lore suggests “Moon-eyed people” built the wall, which is between two- and six-feet tall, but it is not entirely clear why they erected the wall, though some suggest it was a military fortification.
Explore Civil War history
More than 150 years ago, the Civil War scarred the North Georgia landscape. Few North Georgia towns escaped the conflict unscathed.
The sprawling Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is a logical starting point. The national park preserves sites in Georgia and Tennessee where the Battle of Chickamauga and the Chattanooga Campaign took place.
Perhaps the most poignant
Another popular site is the Tunnel Hill Heritage Center, which preserves and interprets an antebellum railroad tunnel. The tunnel through Chetoogeta Mountain opened to railroad traffic in 1850 and remained in service until it was replaced in 1928; it opened to visitors in 2000.
Take in a museum
The Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site, a museum located in the historic 1836 Lumpkin County Courthouse in downtown Dahlonega, Ga., is perhaps the most famous museum in the North Georgia Mountains.
The museum interprets the 1820s Georgia Gold Rush by bringing together a collection that includes exhibits about how gold is mined, tools miners used and actual samples of gold. But, the main artifact on display is the historic building, which features wooden seats dating to 1889 and the judge’s chambers.
Another truly unique museum in North Georgia is the Elberton Granite Museum & Exhibit in Elberton. While the small town has claimed the of “Granite Capital of the World,” its heritage is on display at this charming — and free — museum.
Another museum worth exploring is the Ty Cobb Museum in Royston. The museum is a homage to the city’s most famous native son, and it provides additional context for Cobb’s life and helps correct many of the misconceptions around his life.
Small town talkin’
The North Georgia Mountains are home to several small communities. One of the most popular destinations is Helen, a town with architecture that recreates a Bavarian Alpine village.
Perhaps the most quintessential mountain community is Blue Ridge, a city that offers something for everyone, particularly when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors. Many come to hook a trout in the Toccoa River, while others come to take a boat onto Lake Blue Ridge. Still, others rent a cabin to enjoy the view.
But, arguably the best way to landscape is from the Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad, which offers regular excursions trips from downtown Blue Ridge to the town of McCaysville, Ga., just across the state line from Copperhill, Tenn. After arriving back in Blue Ridge, be sure to spend some time shopping in one of the many charming stores.
Dahlonega often overshadows the small community of Blairsville. If you do nothing else in town, be sure to stop by the Hole in the Wall restaurant. The cash-only restaurant is known for its all-day breakfast offerings, but its menu features one mean hamburger.