Are you looking for a North Georgia Mountains fall trip itinerary that includes charming towns, waterfalls and lots of fall color? Growing up in Georgia, I loved family trips to the North Georgia Mountains in the fall. But it’s been years since I enjoyed this scenic travel experience.
Thankfully, James Richardson is an enthusiastic fan of the area and visits often. He shares his best things to do on a fall road trip to the North Georgia mountains.
Mountains are not the first image that pops into one’s mind when the state of Georgia is mentioned. Maybe peaches or Atlanta Braves.
I would not have associated Georgia with outdoor activities like mountains and waterfalls, scenic vistas, deep gorges, or rushing rivers. But my bride of nearly fifty-six years and I found that this extremely Southern state indeed did have mountains within its borders.
The Blue Ridge Mountains extend down into North Georgia , providing visitors to the region an unexpected surprise. Several scenic areas and towns offer unique experiences and await those visiting the mountains of North Georgia.
Autumn is one of the favorite times for traveling. And a North Georgia Mountains fall trip is one of my favorite ways to experience the season.
Think about a place in the mountains sprinkled with small towns…towns with names like Blue Ridge, Helen, Tallulah Falls, and Dahlonega. Among those mountains are the Chattahoochee National Forest (official website), several state parks, many rivers, and, of course, waterfalls.
All that makes the North Georgia Mountains a great place to visit, especially in the fall. A couple years ago, we traveled into these mountains to visit some of these beautiful spots. What do you think of our itinerary?
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Helen: the perfect headquarters for a North Georgia Mountains fall trip
There are no interstate highways crossing through the North Georgia mountains. So we had to travel almost all the way across Tennessee, find our way into Georgia using many two-lane highways, finally arriving at our destination, Helen.
The scenic drive provided ample time to admire the countryside and the colorful trees as the curvy and twisty roads wound their way through the mountains connecting the unique towns. Fall in the South is certainly beautiful.
We stayed in Helen (list of lodging here) as a base for our travels. The town began in 1913 as a logging town and was named for the daughter of a railroad surveyor. But the town declined as the timber industry did.
After all the timber was cut, the people left Helen. However, in 1968 local businessmen met to discuss what could be done to resurrect their town.
An artist from Germany was enlisted for ideas and he made sketches of buildings giving an Alpine look to the entire town. The local business owners liked his ideas and they began turning them into reality.
The town was reborn, taking on the appearance of a Bavarian village. Now, it is a very popular and thriving destination.
Helen has shops and restaurants lining its streets, all reminiscent of the alpine village idea. Along with many accommodation options, numerous campgrounds are available in the state parks of the national forest.
In the evenings, we enjoyed strolling the streets and browsing the many shops. We did buy a few things also.
Boomer Travel Tip
Gear up with our resources for a fall leaf peeping trip.
North Georgia Mountains fall itinerary destinations
There are several state parks, waterfalls and scenic highways to include on a North Georgia Mountains fall itinerary. Luckily, they are all close to Helen.
The state parks, Vogel, Unicoi, Tallulah Gorge, and Amicalola, all have campgrounds and other features that make them worthwhile to visit on a trip to the North Georgia Mountains.
Unicoi State Park
Unicoi State Park (website) is situated just north of Helen. It has 1050 acres with a 53-acre Smith Lake, sometimes called Unicoi Lake.
The lake is the centerpiece of the park and allows fishing, swimming, and picnicking. Unicoi State Park and Lodge provides a convenient place to stay. Visitors enjoy a bunch of outdoor activities like archery and target shooting, fly fishing, paddle boarding, boat rentals, zip lining, and mountain biking.
As with all Georgia state parks, there is an entrance fee of $5. But passing through Unicoi State Park to gain access to the Anna Ruby Falls Scenic Area is free.
Anna Ruby Falls
Anna Ruby Falls is operated by the Cradle of Forestry within the Chattahoochee National Forest and has a nominal entrance fee. A perk for holders of the National Parks senior pass is free admission.
Anna Ruby Falls is actually twin waterfalls created by two separate streams that join at their base to form Smith Creek, which flows into Unicoi Lake. The waterfall is named for a daughter of a Captain J. H. Nichols, who owned the land containing the waterfall. He discovered it while horseback riding.
We hiked the paved half mile hike leading to the observation area for the waterfall. The trail is uphill but is worth the effort.
Vogel State Park
Vogel State Park (official website), established in 1931, is also located in the Chattahoochee National Forest at the base of Blood Mountain. It is the second oldest state park in Georgia.
In elevation Vogel is one of the highest state parks in Georgia at 2500 feet above sea level. The main features of the park are Trahlyta Lake, a waterfall of the same name, and seventeen miles of hiking trails.
Hikers can choose from a four mile loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and a longer thirteen mile backcountry trail, which takes hikers up Blood Mountain and the Appalachian Trail near Neal’s Gap.
We chose the trail to Trahlyta Falls, the shorter and easier one.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
The 1000-foot deep Tallulah Gorge contains six waterfalls along its length. We hiked the trail along its rim and stopped at several overlooks to view the waterfalls.
We opted not to get the available permit to hike to the gorge floor. One reason, there is a limit to the number of hikers allowed. Of course, we wanted to give the opportunity to others who might want that chance. Sure.
Just above the gorge floor, a 200-foot long suspension bridge provides great closeup views of the Tallulah River and its waterfalls.
Overlooking the gorge is the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center. It sits atop the gorge and honors the conservationist and environmentalist who had an interest in Georgia state parks.
The gorge has been used by two tightrope walkers in its history, one of which was Karl Wallenda.
Amicalola Falls State Park
Georgia’s highest waterfall is the main attraction of the 829-acre Amicalola Falls State Park, located fifteen miles west of Dahlonega on Georgia Highway 52. A view of the 729-foot Amicalola Falls is the reward after a moderate one-half mile hike.
Amicalola is the third-highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. The name “Amicalola” comes from the Cherokee language meaning “tumbling water.” The park is only eight miles from the Appalachian Trail and is also within the Chattahoochee National Forest.
There is the Amicalola Falls Lodge and restaurant within the park offering nice accommodations and meals. For a special treat that combines luxury and the great outdoors, try glamping in one of several completely furnished safari tents.
Dahlonega: Georgia’s gold rush town
Southwest of Helen is another historic town, Dahlonega, which is an odd name for a town, but like many others, it has its origin from the native Americans.
In 1829, the first documented discovery of gold was made in Georgia. As a result, thousands of gold-seekers poured into the area around Dahlonega.
We visited the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site, which is housed in the 1836 Lumpkin County Courthouse. There we saw displays of the gold mining methods and samples of gold coins minted in the mid-1800s.
Boomer Travel Tip
Use our road trip planner to make the most of your next road trip adventure.
The town of Blue Ridge, northwest of Helen, is located along US 76, part of the Southern Highroads Trail (official website), a 364-mile loop across the Appalachian Mountains that winds through four national forests and four states (Georgia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina.)
The 1905 historic depot is in the town’s center. From there the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway operates. The seasonal train runs on Fridays through Mondays and generally follows the Toccoa River through the countryside to the sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee.
The 26-mile round trip takes about four hours. There are special trips during the autumn leaf season, during the Thanksgiving holidays, a Santa Express, and a New Year’s Eve Excursion.
We drove around a good bit during our visit. Just a short distance from Helen is the town of Sautee Nacoochee, which offers visitors a few interesting attractions.
The center of the unincorporated community is the Old Sautee Store, an old-fashioned country store that was established 1872. The rocking-chaired front porch welcomes visitors.
The first room of Old Sautee Store is preserved with antiques and beyond is a shop with fashions, cheeses, and canned goods. Naturally, we stopped there and browsed through the neat store.
Stovall Mill Covered Bridge
Another stop for visitors that enjoy covered bridges is 2.7 miles north of the Old Sautee Store. The current Stovall Mill Covered Bridge was built in 1895, after the original one was washed away a few years earlier.
According to the historical marker at the bridge, it was featured in a 1951 movie I’d Climb the Highest Mountain, which starred Susan Hayward.
Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway
The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway (official website) is another of the several scenic byways in the North Georgia Mountains. It forms a circle route through the Chattahoochee National Forest.
At its northernmost point, stands Georgia’s highest peak, the Brasstown Bald at 4,784 feet above sea level. A road to the top of the mountain is by way of SR 180, a spur which is steep and winding.
The entrance at the base of Brasstown Bald has a parking area where visitors can either ride a free shuttle to the visitor center at the top or hike the 0.4 mile trail. We gladly boarded the shuttle and used our National Parks pass, which is honored at the entrance to the parking area.
At the top, the visitor center has exhibits on local culture, geology, and wildlife. There is also an observation deck that provides a 360 degree panoramic view.
Another section of the 40.6- mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway includes all of SR 348, also known as the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. There are several scenic overlooks and is one of the not-to-be-missed routes in the North Georgia Mountains. There are also campgrounds, trailheads to waterfalls, and other natural attractions along the byway.
We enjoyed our visit to the North Georgia in the fall and our stay in Helen. The autumn scenery made the trip special. It may not be convenient to get to, but it was certainly worth finding this special place.