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Georgia road trips are the way to see this beautiful state, filled with waterfalls, mountains, lakes, hiking trails, kayaking waters, state parks and community farms and gardens. They’re are good ways to get outdoors. If you start with Atlanta as a base, they are all fun destinations for day trips or weekend road trips. These getaway ideas offer something for families of every type. There are laid-back options for families in need of calm, historical experiences for trips with the grandparents, more adventurous ideas for active families and, of course, places to cool off on a sultry Georgia summer day.
Leaving Atlanta for family fun with abundant outdoor activities could fill many weekends. Heading north, south, east or west on a road trip from Atlanta opens a dozen options, for starters. Leaving the state means a longer road trip from Atlanta, but South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and North Carolina offer distinctive family fun, too.
Here, we suggest some of our favorite Georgia road trips beyond the already well-known — Savannah; Athens, a college town; Callaway Gardens; Macon, and Augusta.
Georgia Road Trips Northwest of Atlanta
Cartersville and Bartow County
Consider a small town in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains for road trips from Atlanta. Just 45 minutes north is Cartersville.
Expect outdoor activities and surprising city-style attractions. That includes high-end shopping and dining. The downtown is accessible, beautifully restored and historic.
Two Smithsonian-affiliated museums,The Booth Museum of Western Art and The Tellus Science Museum hold national and international recognition. Insiders know about easy-to-moderate hiking just two miles off Main Street, and the hiking, biking and kayaking trails on short drives through Bartow County.
Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site showcases an ancient Native American mound builder cultural center. Hike to a hidden battlefield or climb a ridge to a hidden ironworks with an 1860s history.
Bartow County includes the Etowah or Euharlee rivers; outfitters supply rentals and shuttles. For adventurous families, Lakepoint Sporting Community offers cable-guided wakeboarding, a giant-inflatables waterslide and diving challenge and a massive arcade, rock climbing and miniature golf center.
For the less adventurous, the entire small town of Adairsville is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
TravelingMom Tip: Little kids can run and play with light, rainbows, mirrors, magnets and sound at the Tellus Science Museum. Teens and boomers might prefer the Old Car City USA, a quirky junkyard with 4,000 classic cars–six miles of Instagram moments including Elvis Presley’s last ride.
Georgia Road Trips Northeast of Atlanta
Alpine Helen and White County
Part scenic Bavarian village and part heart-pumping outdoor mecca, Alpine meets Appalachia in Helen.
This north Georgia city by the Chattahoochee River balances mountain town and legit cardio adventure. Downtown is fanciful with Bavarian shops. Venturing into the countryside of White County is the cardio part.
Yonah Mountain is one of the top three rock climbing spots in Georgia. Hiking, mountain biking, fishing, tubing, zip lining and horseback riding are part of the outdoor activities.
If Smithgall Woods State Park appears to be a secret fishing and hunting retreat, it’s because it used to be. Now, five miles of trails and 18 miles of roads allow hikers and bicyclists to explore hardwoods, trout streams, wildflowers and wildlife.
Unicoi State Park and Lodge within the Chattahoochee National Forest offers beautiful trails leading to points including Lake Unicoi and Anna Ruby Falls. Dukes Creek, Raven Cliff and Horse Trough are other popular Georgia waterfalls.
A two mile out-and-back along the new ADA accessible Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail reveals a glimpse of Hardman Farm State Historic Site with its iconic gazebo built atop an ancient Indian mound.
Families making road trips from Atlanta with pets will find many dog-friendly options, including pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks and trails.
TravelingMom Tip: Even toddlers can embrace the alpine mood of Helen with the model railroad intricately depicting Germany in miniature at Charlemagne’s Kingdom. Multigen families play mini golf together, tube the rivers and zipline. The Georgia Mountain Coaster and ropes courses, plus air guns and archery might please the teens best.
Georgia Road Trips North of Atlanta
Just 20 minutes north of Atlanta is Roswell on the northern banks of the Chattahoochee River, an area the Cherokee Indians called Enchanted Land.
Today, Roswell features 30 miles of wide-open spaces, bike trails, a scenic Riverwalk and the historic antebellum mansions Barrington Hall, Bulloch Hall and Smith Plantation.
Wayfinding signage guides drivers, riders and walkers from Riverside Park to the Historic District and the Canton Street area.
Give the kids glimpse into Southern history at the ruins of the Roswell Manufacturing Company Mills on the banks of Vickery Creek. It tells the story of a south where cotton was king. Women and children sewing Confederate uniforms and tents were deported from here—a little known piece of American history.
The mills were burned by Union forces in July of 1864. Have the kids look for the commemorative marker telling about these 400 people. The original machine shop and the waterfall created when the creek was dammed to provide water power is visible from the interpretive trail.
A covered pedestrian bridge over the creek connects the walking trail that begins in Old Mill Park to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area trail system surrounded by rolling forest. This stunning historic trail even has a waterfall rushing from a steep rock bluff.
TravelingMom Tip: Every age traveler could love an afternoon or full day (take a picnic) at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation area. Kayak the river but also follow boardwalks and groomed paths along the banks. Historic home tours tend to attract the elders more than the kids but Roswell packages several within a reasonable walking tour and tells the stories in different, interesting ways. Go at night and get the ghost tales. The hike to a waterfall is short and flat, so suited to most everyone, and includes an iconic covered bridge.
Spectacular hikes laced with waterfalls, rapid river sports and the North Georgia mountains are just a few outdoor activities in Ellijay and Gilmer County, 80 miles north of Atlanta and 65 miles from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This is the place for serious outdoor families. More than 100 miles of nationally recognized single-track trails lead to the nickname “Georgia’s Mountain Biking Capital.” Explore 59 mountain bike trails, 11 mountain hiking trails and trout waters rated tops for southern fishing. Bring your own bikes or rent them when you arrive.
At Fort Mountain State Park, hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will discover a mysterious indigenous Indian rock wall, a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Cool Springs Overlook with a view of the Cohutta Wilderness area.
Tube and fish three main rivers. The 65 miles of undeveloped, pristine shoreline of Carter’s Lake allow kayaking, canoeing, boating. Pretend the family is time traveling on backroads to small towns with nostalgia. Seasonally, pick apples and dig home grown “taters” at area farms.
Ellijay calls itself the Georgia Apple Capital, producing 250,000 bushels annually in over 30 varieties. Several farm stores are stocked year-round with apple pies, pastries, jellies and produce. Don’t go home without buying at least one! Downtown Ellijay offers a traditional general store and a highly popular bike shop, antiques and unique and affordable art.
TravelingMom Tip: Teens will love the big adventures on mountain bikes, on foot, over fast waters in kayaks. Little kids can handle short walks to waterfalls and some calmer waters in a canoe. Carter’s Lake gives multigen families – or any age traveler – easy water access and cabins right there. Apples in season, or fried apple pies any season fit every age too.
Blue Ridge and Fannin County
Just 90 minutes north of Atlanta off Interstate-575, Blue Ridge is at once outdoorsy, earthy, upscale, contemporary and historical.
Centered around the Blue Ridge Depot, downtown’s historic buildings blend with modern industrial and mountain architecture, showcasing the arts, galleries, antiques, unique shopping and dining.
Nearly half the county is located within the Chattahoochee National Forest. Hikes to waterfalls range from easy-to-manage-even-with-little-ones .1 mile to challenge-the-teens 9.5 miles. Two international bucket-list hiking adventures, the Appalachian Trail and the Benton MacKaye Trail begin in southern Fannin County at Springer Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest.
Trek across the 270 foot long Swinging Bridge on the Toccoa River, the longest east of the Mississippi. The Toccoa offers tubing, canoeing, kayaking and rafting, while the Ocoee River is an exhilarating whitewater rafting experience. Both rivers have made Blue Ridge the Trout Fishing Capital of Georgia.
On Lake Blue Ridge, families can pontoon, paddleboard or kayak, lingering on the water for stunning sunsets.
Nightfall in Blue Ridge means movies outdoors The Swan Drive-In Theatre offers parents the chance to show their kids the way movie-going used to be. It is one of just three drive-in movie theaters remaining in Georgia. Expect to find first-run movies on weekends.
TravelingMom Tip: Walks to waterfalls are clearly described by Fannin County Chamber of Commerce maps so little kids and their grandparents, or travelers with mobility concerns, can safely choose the right one. Fishers of trout know these waters can offer serious challenges, so they come too. The downtown depot for train trips to McCaysville and Copperhill is an Instagrammable spot. How many places can families board a train to ride into forests, stop for lunch or plan a seasonal (think Santa) event?
Georgia Road Trips South of Atlanta
An hour and a half south of Atlanta, Columbus is an urban outdoor escape. Family fun runs the gamut from laid-back birdwatching to urban whitewater rafting.There’s even an inter-state zipline uptown.
Pedal the 11-mile rails-to-trails Fall Line Trace, a multi-use bike and pedestrian path. State-of-the-art wave making technology controls Columbus, GA Whitewater, a mild to wild adventure from Class I rapids and a Lazy River to a famous Class V rapid. This is the place to be a sultry Georgia summer day!
The 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River in the heart of Uptown Columbus is the world’s longest urban whitewater course, named one of the Top 12 Man-Made Adventures in the World by USA Today. How’s that for a short road trip from Atlanta?
Rent a bike, take a run, skateboard or Segway to experience more than 15+ miles of RiverWalk. Watch the action from RiverWalk Island where paddlers and rafters take on Heaven’s Gate, one of the largest rapids on the river.
The Audubon Society’s Bird Garden at Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center is designed to attract birds and bird-watchers. Take flight on the Blue Heron Adventure across the Chattahoochee River to Alabama on the only 1,200-foot dual-zip line that connects two states, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
TravelingMom Tip: Teens for sure want to ride the fast urban whitewaters, and then zip across them from Georgia to Alabama. Urban in-town outdoor adventure is rare. Ask them to research the wave making technology before you go. Watching might be preferable for little kids. The rotunda at the Tubman Art Museum tells racial experience and justice stories in textile art–a new way to learn American history for every age.
Providence Canyon State Park
Little Grand Canyon is the nickname for this Georgia State Park with 10 miles of trails. It’s just south of Columbus.
Geology is the reason for its wonders, so this is also a family science project. Erosion in the region known as a coastal plain was triggered by eons of time–and lousy agricultural practices.
Massive gullies as deep as 150 feet were caused by poor farming practices during the 1800s. Today they become beautiful photographs. Pink, orange, red and purple colors fill the soil and the chasms. Bring the teens for an Instagram moment.
The rare Plumleaf Azalea grows only in this region and blooms during July and August when most azaleas have lost their color.
Views from the rim trail on this road trip from Atlanta are spectacular. Sixteen canyons comprise the 1,103 acres.
TravelingMom Tips: Keep an eye on the little ones so they stay behind fences and off the fragile canyon edge. Super outdoorsy families can hike the deepest canyons, and join the Canyon Climbers Club. Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail which highlights portions of the canyon and winds through mixed forest. For all ages, camping, cottages and efficiency units are available nearby at Florence Marina State Park on 45,000 acre Lake Walter F. George.
Georgia Road Trips West of Atlanta
Douglas County and The Film Trail
Ten butterfly trails intersect with film tours and cozy yurts for a luxury resort lifestyle 30 minutes west of Atlanta.
Douglas County claims the world’s largest cuckoo clock and the title “Hydrangea Capital of the South.”
More than 700 movies and TV shows have been filmed in and around Georgia’s Douglas County, including Stranger Things, The Hunger Games, Driving Miss Daisy, Smokey and the Bandit and The Walking Dead. Take the self-guided Douglas County Film Trail to get a peek at the outside views of on-screen attractions. Official film locations are marked with ‘DC Film Trail’ signs. The website gives details on each production and location.
Douglas County includes 8,000 acres of outdoor recreation venues, more than any other county in Metro Atlanta. The Butterfly Trail is self-guided with 10 public butterfly gardens. Ten yurts, five tent campsites and 2,549 acres of serene wilderness distinguish Sweetwater Creek State Park as a spot of quiet respite.
Outdoor activities include 15 miles of hiking trails, fishing docks and a 215-acre lake. A wooded trail follows a stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War.
TravelingMom Tip: Movie mavens in your family? This is a good road trip with the bonus of outdoor access.
This recommendation for a road trip from Atlanta is close, just 30 minutes south.
Unusual opportunity to fly in a Vietnam-era helicopter here. That’s teaching living history to the kids, and reliving it for the grandparents. The Army Aviation Heritage Foundation honors the military’s “Sky Soldiers” by restoring and maintaining Vietnam War vintage aircraft. Take a private ride with a veteran pilot in a UH-1H Huey chopper, or have an intense rush inside an AH-1F Cobra attack helicopter.
East of Atlanta along I-20 in Henry County explore two granite outcrops.
History and cultural changes involve early settlers and immigrant rock cutters, freed slaves and Trappist monks. Visit Panola Mountain State Park, the crown jewel of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, one of only three national heritage areas in Georgia. Panola Mountain is a 100-acre granite outcrop similar to Stone Mountain, but smaller and more pristine.
Give the kids a throw-back experience here. Instead of a zip line, let them choose a tree to climb, using a rope and a harness to swing to branches 30-plus feet off the ground, and then walk on those branches.
Paved PATH Foundation trails connect to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit to meet Trappist monks. Breathe deeply in a handsome chapel and learn more about the art of bonsai. PATH trails also lead to Vaughters’ farm, a tribute to the county’s rural past.
At Southern Belle Farm, seasonal strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and peaches are fresh-picked and top homemade pound cake, cobblers or fried pies and complement swirls of ice cream.
TravelingMom Tip: The Vietnam era helicopter flight is startling flashback for the elders who lived through that war, and a powerful teaching moment for them with the children and grandchildren. Teens should appreciate the seat at the wide-open door. Mountain hikes (with views of the Atlanta skyline) and hands-on experiences at a three-generation family farm are suited to most ages.
Three hours south of Atlanta, off I-75 and I-10 in southwest Georgia find Albany adventure sites. Chehaw Animal and Adventure Park, Thronateeska Heritage Center with Wetherbee Planetarium and Museum of History, Flint RiverQuarium and Radium Springs Gardens among them,
The Art Museum of Albany, Theatre Albany, Historic Bridge House/Albany Welcome Center and the Albany Civil Rights Institute—home of the Freedom Singers–offer abundant outdoor activities.
A day trip from Albany might be to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site.
Albany is the birthplace of Ray Charles and there’s a music scene with his life-sized statue at the piano!
Albany outdoor adventure includes water. One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, Radium Springs Gardens pumps 70,000 gallons per minute of clear, 68-degree water from an underground cave. Walk through a garden terrace and courtyard where the former Radium Springs Casino once stood.
The Kinchafoonee and Muckalee Creeks flow into the Flint River at Lake Chehaw, a 1,400–acre lake for boating, fishing and paddling. Kayaking the Flint River happens via the Georgia Power Dam, Riverfront Park Launch, Ray Charles Plaza Launch or the Marine Landing input areas.
Floats can range from one to seven hours. The six-acre Riverfront Park along the Flint River features a lawn for picnics, a music-and light-animated play fountain, pavilion areas, the Horace King Overlook and a three-mile Riverwalk Greenway Trail for bike rides.
The Albany Welcome Center in the Historic Bridge House offers rental bicycles, including a helmet, a lock and basket.
TravelingMom Tip: Teens find energy at the BMX track next to the zoo, the 1/8 scale off-road track Chehaw RC Raceway inside the zoo, mountain bike trails and an 18-hole disc golf course. Little kids as well as the other generations can appreciate the Fint RiverQuarium with massive tanks lining a slightly sloped walkway.
Americus and Sumter County
In west-central Georgia, convenient to I-75, three hours south of Atlanta and two hours north of Florida I-10, Americus has a vibrant downtown area full of distinctive local shops and historic homes, and a county with ties to the White House.
The oldest home in Americus dates to 1833, just one year after the founding of the city. Enjoy a historic driving tour of 47 Victorian to Antebellum beauties.
Sumter County is one of three USA counties with two national historic sites. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains honors the 39th president. Andersonville National Historic Site is home to the Andersonville National Cemetery and the nation’s only POW Museum.
Tour Koinonia Farm, birthplace of the Partnership Housing Movement that launched Habitat for Humanity.
Then, cool off at Lake Blackshear with fishing, boating, tubing, and skiing. Georgia Veterans State Park has a swimming beach, canoe and kayak rentals, a golf course and even a military museum.
TravelingMom Tip: Riding the Sam Shortline railroad with six community stops means nostalgia for the grandparents and possibly first-time experience for the kids. These are 1949 vintage cars from Cordele to Americus to Plains and Jimmy Carter’s boyhood home.