Come fall, the trees treat certain U.S. states to a visual feast of warm-hued leaves, and lucky for Southerners, Georgia is one of them. You'll see hints of changing colors in Atlanta parks—especially Piedmont—but to really indulge your leaf-peeping whimsy, you should head out of the city. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources typically maintains a webpage entirely dedicated to tracking the changing colors, but you're almost guaranteed to come across some seasonal foliage if you journey out to the mountains in late October. Some autumnal scenery can be seen as early as September and late into November in certain parts of the state.
Amicalola Falls State Park
About an hour and a half north of Atlanta, in Dawsonville, is the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast (729 feet), located at the southernmost tip of the Appalachian Trail. 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, across bridges, and up and down several flights of stairs. The most impressive view of the colors dotting the Blue Ridge Mountains is from the bridge spanning the crest of the waterfall. The flaming red leaves are a result of the mountains' dry soil. If you want to make a night of it, you can stay at the Amicalola Falls Lodge, a self-proclaimed “adventure lodge" that offers rustic camping and plush hotel rooms, dining, and activities like archery, survivalist camps, and zip lining. Admission into the park costs $5.
Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
Kick it old school and hop aboard the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, departing from a historic train depot from 1905 in Blue Ridge. For just one month—from September 24 through November 8, 2020—the railway offers its annual fall foliage ride. Passengers board the train in Blue Ridge 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, and stopping for two hours in Copperhill and McCaysville—towns shared by Georgia and Tennessee, respectively. Tickets for the train can cost up to $92, depending on the type of car you want. You can either opt for the traditional open-air car (think: a convertible, but not) or go for more luxe accommodations in the premier car, which includes reclining seats, air conditioning, and non-alcoholic refreshments.
If conquering the highest waterfall in the Southeast isn’t enough, head just a little further north of Amicalola Falls State Park and you'll get access to the highest point in the state, Brasstown Bald. Located in Towns County, the peak offers sweeping views of the colorful trees dotting the Blue Ridge Mountains from 4,784 feet. It's best to visit in early to mid-November. An eight-mile hike will lead you up to the summit, but you can also drive to the top. The visitor’s center at the summit has an observation deck with a 360-degree view and, on a clear day, you can see as far as Atlanta. Admission costs $5 per adult (children 15 and under get in free) and includes all-day parking.
Blankets Creek Mountain Bike Trails
For those who want to get amongst the scenery rather than simply admire from afar, there's the complex web of mountain bike trails at Blankets Creek near Canton. This system is made up of seven 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 peeping and peddling at Reformation Brewery, just off the main drag of downtown Woodstock. If you happen to work up an appetite, grab a bite at Century House Tavern or Freight Kitchen and Tap.
Dahlonega may have been the site of the first U.S. gold rush, but these days, people flock to the mountain town for its wineries, nearby orchards, and fall festivals (plus the oodles of opportunities to admire the leaves' changing colors). Sip on some Georgia wine at Cavender Creek Vineyards, Frogtown Cellars, or Montaluce Winery, each boasting patios that serve as laidback overlooks with immediate views of the foliage along the distant mountains. 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 while gathering your fritter fixings, too. Orchards near Dahlonega include Hillcrest Orchards and Mercier Orchards. Perhaps the highlight of the fall season in Dahlonega is the Gold Rush Days, an annual festival celebrating the 1828 discovery of gold in the town. Festival attendees are treated to fall foliage lining the downtown streets and can purchase art and food from over 300 vendors. It takes place the third full weekend of October. Arrive early, though, as more than 200,000 people typically attend.
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 and weave in and out of cypress trees whose leaves turn an array of yellow and orange late into the season. Paddlers are offered the unique opportunity to see their reflection 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 Atlanta (a three-hour drive), but it's conveniently located just about an hour from Savannah. During the 2020 season, paddlers will be required to bring their own boats.