Before we know it, the temperature will dip below 80 degrees and the air will go from humid to crisp and – dare we say – cool. This means it’s time for one of Atlanta’s favorite fall pastimes. No, not football – leaf watching!
Each year in October, the trees treat us to a visual feast of red, yellow and orange hued leaves. Symbolically, it’s the beginning of pumpkin season and a prime time to get outdoors before it’s too cold.
You can see hints of foliage at parks around town like Piedmont Park, but to really indulge your leaf viewing whimsy, you should get in your car and head out of the city (for a list of year-round day trips, click here). Not only does the Georgia Department of Natural Resources have you covered with a webpage dedicated to tracking the changing colors, but we’ve rounded up the best spots to see fall foliage in Georgia. So grab yourself a pumpkin spice latte, hit the road and consider stopping at one of these North Georgia wineries on the way.
Georgia Fall Foliage: Amicalola Falls
Located in Dawsonville, GA about an hour and a half north of the city, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast at 729 feet, the southernmost tip of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the state's best hiking trails. To see one of the most splendid fall foliage views, adventure seekers can hike the Amicalola Falls Loop, a challenging two miles through the woods, over rocks and even up and down several flights of stairs. Prepare to lose your breath when you cross over the bridge spanning the crest of the waterfall, giving way to an expansive view of foliage dotting the Blue Ridge Mountains. Enjoy those flaming red leaves thanks to the drier soil of the mountains. If you want to make the trip an overnighter, plan on staying at the Amicalola Falls Lodge, a self-proclaimed “adventure lodge.” There are accommodations ranging from rustic camping to plush hotel rooms, dining and activities like archery, survivalist camp and zip lining.
Georgia Fall Foliage: Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Kick it old school and hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, departing from Blue Ridge, GA’s historic train depot built in 1905. For one month only, the railway offers its annual fall foliage ride. Starting in Blue Ridge, riders board the train and settle in for a four-hour, round-trip experience as it chugs along the Toccoa River giving riders a good dose of fall foliage. The train stops for two hours in Copperhill and McCaysville – towns shared by Georgia and Tennessee, respectively. If you’ve ever wanted to stand in two states at once, this is your chance. Tickets for the train range from $52 to $85 depending on the type of car you want. You can go the historic route and choose the open air car (think: convertible meets train), or go for more lux accommodations in the premier car which includes reclining seats, air conditioning and non-alcoholic refreshments.
Georgia Fall Foliage: Brasstown Bald
If conquering the highest waterfall in the Southeast isn’t enough, head about two hours north of the city and take in the fall landscape from the highest peak in the state, Brasstown Bald. Located in Towns County, the mountain offers sweeping views of colorful trees dotting the mountainous landscape from 4,784 feet. On a clear day you can even see all the way to Atlanta! It’s an eight-mile hike up to the summit, or you can drive to the top (we won’t tell). The visitor’s center at the summit has an observation deck with a 360-degree view treating you to possibly more foliage than you can handle.
Georgia Fall Foliage: Blankets Creek Mountain Bike Trails
For the people who want to be in the colorful leaves and not just admiring them from afar, there’s Blankets Creek Mountain Bike Trails. Cycling enthusiasts can head up to Canton, GA and hear the leaves crunching under their bike tires as they peddle along. The Blankets Creek system is made up of six different trails with varying degrees of ease, including the Mosquito Flats (beginner), Dwelling Loop (Intermediate), South Loop (advanced) and Quehl Holler (downhill expert) trails. Cool off with a beer after leaf watching and bike peddling at Reformation Brewery, just off the main drag of downtown Woodstock and conveniently situated on the way back to the city. Or, if you’re hungry, grab a bite at one of Woodstock’s eateries like Century House Tavern, Freight Kitchen and Tap, or Firestone Wood Fired Pizza & Grill.
Georgia Fall Foliage: Dahlonega, GA
Dahlonega may have been the site of the first United States gold rush, but these days people flock to the mountain town for its wineries, nearby orchards and fall festivals – and oodles of opportunities to peek at the leaves changing colors. Sip on some Georgia wine at Cavender Creek Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars or Montaluce Winery. Each of these wineries boasts patios that serve as overlooks with immediate views of vineyards and foliage on mountains in the distance. Apple picking season starts in September, but if you wait until late October or early November you can get your foliage fix at the orchards. Orchards near Dahlonega include Hillcrest Orchards and Mercier Orchards. Not only will you go home with a bounty of fall fruit, you’ll also walk among the orange and yellow leaves (perhaps while noshing on a freshly made apple fritter). Don’t forget about Dahlonega’s Gold Rush Days, either. This annual fall festival takes place the third full weekend of October every year and celebrates the 1828 discovery of gold in Dahlonega. Festival attendees are treated to fall foliage lining the downtown streets and can purchase art and food from over 300 vendors. Arrive early, as over 200,000 people attend this popular fall event.
Georgia Fall Foliage: George L. Smith Park
An unexpected spot to see fall foliage diverts leaf seekers from the usual North Georgia haunts down to Southeast Georgia in George L. Smith Park. Here, paddlers in canoes and kayaks can hit the 412 acre pond found inside the park, and weave in and out of cypress trees. In late autumn the cypress trees’ leaves turn an array of yellow and orange and paddlers are offered the unique opportunity to see the reflection of the leaves in the dark water. The pond has other natural gems, too, like beavers’ nests, blue herons and white ibis. The park is a trek from the city at three hours, but pack an overnight bag and drive just one more hour for a quick getaway to Savannah.