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If you’re looking to discover the best the state of Georgia has to offer, these destinations will give you a glimpse of its top highlights. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with the family, these exciting cities, picturesque islands and charming historic towns deserve a spot on your must-visit itinerary.
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Providence Canyon State Park is a 1,000-plus-acre park that’s home to Providence Canyon, which is known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” as its massive, up-to-150-feet gullies resemble so closely resemble the real thing. Although the gullies were actually caused by poor farming practices in the 19th century, today, they make for some postcard-perfect photographs. Rare Plumleaf Azalaea grow only in this area, blooming in July and August when most other azaleas have already lost their color. The orange, red, pink and purple hues of the canyon also create a colorful, natural painting that must be seen to be believed. You can view it from the rim trail, hike deep within, or even backpack overnight.
The eclectic college town of Athens is tucked just below the Blue Ridge Mountains and offers an ideal blend of old and new, with one of the liveliest music scenes in the nation, having given birth to bands like the B-52s and R.E.M., as well as offering an outstanding culinary scene, contemporary art and gorgeous Antebellum architecture. It also boasts a number of historical attractions like the double-barreled Civil War-era cannon. Its close proximity to the mountains means that it makes a great base for enjoying lots of outdoor adventures among stunning scenery too. Take a stroll through the vibrant, restored Victorian-era downtown and you’ll discover an abundance of art galleries and trendy shops as well as an array of outstanding eateries.
Canton, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in what was once the heart of Cherokee nation. Its historic downtown district is an ideal place for history buffs to wander, particularly at its Cherokee Arts Center and the Cherokee County Historical Society. Visitors can also explore historical buildings, Cagle’s Dairy, and even a Wild West Town with over 150 miniature animals and a pioneer village that includes a bank, saloon, a jail, and trading post with snacks and souvenirs. If you’re looking for a bit of culture, the Canton Theater and Cherokee County Arts Center feature performances year-round.
The Tallulah Gorge is a nearly two-mile-long and 1,000-foot-deep gorge – the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. Adjacent to the gorge is a beautiful state park with a series of six waterfalls that rush through the gorge and into the Tallulah River. This gorgeous area once rivaled even Niagara Falls in terms of tourism, and it’s also been used as a setting for movies like “Deliverance.” Of course, it’s a must for outdoor lovers, not only for soaking up breathtaking scenery, but there are also lots of opportunities for hiking and biking, as well as swimming, kayaking and whitewater rafting. The park offers a suspension bridge, picnic shelters, a large campground, gift shop and more.
This beautiful historic town with its cobblestone streets, moody Spanish moss and southern charm is one of Georgia’s highest rated cities, and one of its most romantic. You’ll see many homes that date from the 1840s, all perfectly preserved, turning a simple, pleasant walk into something that’s absolutely unforgettable. If you want to get more active than that, paddle a canoe on a Wilderness Southeast tour and glide along the coastal creeks that are framed by grand tupelo and cypress trees while watching for wildlife like alligators, turtles and herons. In the mood for romance? Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the picturesque streets. Savannah is also renowned for its fantastic cuisine, and on nearby Tybee Island, you can enjoy lovely beaches too.
Arabia Mountain is one of only 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States (spots recognized by Congress for their contribution to the nation’s history). But this destination isn’t just for history enthusiasts – dominated by two granite outcrops, it offers plenty of natural wonders and outdoor activities, along with awe-inspiring views. In this incredibly serene place, visitors can enjoy the chance to discover rare plants and interesting geology while hiking, and wandering above the trees at the mountain’s peak, viewing the city of Atlanta in the distance as well as checking out the remnants of the quarrying industry that once prospered here and shipped the stone that built monumental buildings across the country. The paved Arabia Mountain Path trail is popular for biking, with the rolling journey taking cyclists past fishing lakes and grassy fields, shaded woods, rock outcrops and over the South River, as well as providing the chance to spot wildlife like turkey and deer.
St. Marys was first explored in the 16th century, and today, it’s considered one of the earliest areas in the U.S. to be set foot upon by Europeans during their voyages of discovery. History enthusiasts will appreciate the many museums and historic churches as well as the chance to take a history tram tour that highlights the town’s rich past. In between, you’ll find plenty of unique shopping and tasty coastal cuisine. Visitors can also enjoy the outdoors by taking a fishing excursion, kayaking St. Marys River, and hiking or biking at Crooked River State Park. The nearby birding trail, woodlands and Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge provide even more fun opportunities for outdoor adventure.
The Etowah Indian Mounds is a 54-acre area that’s considered to be the most intact Mississippian culture (a mound-building Native American civilization) site in the southeast – and it offers what is likely to be the coolest history lesson you’ll ever take. It includes six earthen mounds, a village site, plaza, defensive ditch and borrow pits. Artifacts in the museum reveal how natives of this political and religious center decorated themselves with paint, complicated hairdos, shell beads, feathers and copper ear ornaments. Hand-carved stone effigies that weigh 125 pounds still bear some original pigment. The site also includes a nature trail that follows the Etowah River, allowing visitors to view a v-shaped fish trap used for catching fish. The trail also shows how early civilizations used native trees for food and medicine.
Jekyll Island is home to some beautiful beaches as well as an interesting 240-acre historic district. By taking one of the carriage, walking or tram tours you can experience what life was like here when Victorian-era millionaires wintered on this Georgia barrier island. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel was originally a hunting retreat built in 1888 for families like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan and the Astors. The waterfront views in front of the hotel stretch across the river and marsh all the way to the mainland. You can also visit Georgia’s only rescue and rehabilitation facility to learn about the endangered sea turtles that visit the coast. And, during the nesting months of June and July, the center leads nightly turtle walks. If you’re into biking, rent a bike and pedal the over 20 miles of trails – the paths that run along the western side offer some of the best vistas around.
The Okefenokee Swamp is a peat wetland that straddles the Georgia and Florida border. It’s the largest intact freshwater and black water wilderness swamp on the continent, and filled with vegetation and animals like alligators and cranes. One of the best ways to explore it is to paddle the water trails through indigenous creeks called “The Land of Trembling Earth.” There are also guided canoe tours where you can travel along the historic Suwannee Canal through a tangled forest of bay, cypress, pine and shrubs, and then out into the open expanse of Chesser Prairie while guides share their expert knowledge of the swamp’s cultural and natural history, along with interesting swamp stories, identifying plants and wildlife along the way.
Nestled in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains, Gibbs Gardens is a premier destination for horticulture enthusiasts in the south. Located just outside Atlanta in Cherokee County, it’s considered to be one of the largest residential gardens in the world. The 220-acre garden contains some 19 ponds, 24 lakes and 32 bridges. Enjoy a tranquil walk along the streams and waterfalls, and around the water gardens, taking in the fragrance of plants, flowers, and millions of bulbs that provide a wide array of color, shape and texture. The grounds include magnificent Japanese Gardens too. The gardens also feature a gift shop with garden-related items, including bulbs.
The state’s southernmost, and largest barrier island offers the chance to feel as if you have your own private beach, with peaceful stretches of sand that are ideal for strolling, bird watching and fishing. This car-free island is a relaxing haven where you’ll even discover roaming wild horses and ancient turtles. The Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated Wilderness area, undeveloped beaches, historic sites, cultural ruins, critical habitat and nesting areas, as well as a wealth of plant and animal communities. You can rent a bike to explore all that it has to offer camp overnight at one of five campgrounds.
Nature lovers won’t want to miss heading to Blairsville, tucked within the Chattahoochee National Forest and North Georgia Blue Ridge mountains. You’ll enjoy striking natural beauty, old world charms and a thriving cultural scene. Hike the practically endless trails, taking in awe-inspiring views atop Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald, viewing roaring waterfalls and warm weather water sports on pristine Lake Winfield Scott and Lake Nottely. Horseback riding and golfing are popular activities here too. No matter what the weather, the antiquing is always great, and at Track Rock Archaeological Area, you can get a glimpse of the area’s extensive past by viewing preserved petroglyphs of ancient native origin that were carved or pecked into soapstone boulders.
Fayetteville takes visitors back to the peak of the Civil War days, with its downtown area undergoing transformation to revitalize it to its glory years, encapsulating a historic feel, particularly within its architecture. It truly has a picture-perfect feel, with many impeccably-manicured gardens along with charming buildings and the ability to boast of being used in “Gone With The Wind” after Margaret Mitchell’s made frequent visits. Take a self-guided walking tour through the historic downtown district to learn just how it served as the inspiration for the places and characters in the legendary film. You can also view rare artifacts from the Old South at the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum and enjoy a concert at the Southern Ground Amphitheater.
Dahlonega is just an hour from Atlanta, but it offers a fabulous mountain getaway as well as being a popular spot for wine enthusiasts as part of the “heart of the North Georgia wine country.” But its biggest claim to fame is that it was the site of the first major gold rush in the U.S., which begun back in 1829. The town was built on the success of its early pioneering days, and there are still several gold-related attractions that draw visitors, including Gold Rush Days in early October when more than 300 art and craft exhibitors and food vendors gather around the Public Square and Historic District. Dahlonega’s original architecture offers prime examples of 19th-century buildings in America, giving visitors an authentic glimpse into its affluent past.
Duluth is known for hosting a wide variety of fun festivals as well as concerts throughout the year that bring together the community and visitors together in celebration of the town’s many talents. It’s home to a thriving, restored downtown area where you can experience its small town feel without sacrificing city amenities, including highlights like the New Dawn Theater as well as the Red Clay Music Foundry. Duluth also hosts the Southeastern Railway Museum and the Hudgens Center for the Arts.
This alpine town in the Blue Ridge mountains is a re-creation of a Bavarian village. Visit here and you might just think you’re in Germany, with the town’s colorfully painted wooden houses and chateaus, cobblestone streets and old world towers. Classic Bavarian-style can be seen on every building in Helen, even in the chain stores due to mandated zoning that was introduced a half-century ago. The town features over 200 import and specialty shops featuring handcrafted gifts, and at Habersham Winery you can enjoy sampling some great local wines. Nearby, you’ll have access to all sorts of mountain activities that offer the chance to soak up the impressive mountain, forest and waterfall-filled scenery.