Georgia is one of the finer states in the South for a good hike. A wide swathe of the Appalachians forms a rocky band across the north of the state. Atlanta is one of the largest urban conurbations in the country, yet this forested wilderness lays within easy day-tripping distance. If you want to get closer to the outdoor action, you can base yourself in Dahlonega, which sits within the North Georgia mountains and the growing Georgia wine industry. Breweries and distilleries, antique shops and good restaurants abound make a nice respite from a walk in the woods.
Grassy Mountain Tower Trail
The majority of the 37,000 acre Cohutta Wilderness sits within the remit of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. When taken together with portions of the wilderness that extend into Tennessee, this is the largest wilderness area in the country east of the Mississippi River. There are roughly 90 miles of trails in the Georgia section of the wilderness, and the hardwood forest biome is home to wild boar, black bears, coyotes, foxes, and herds of deer.
This 5.5 mile loop trail extends from the mirror waters of Lake Conasauga – the highest lake in the state – to a fire observation tower on Grassy Mountain. Begin at the Lake Conasauga picnic area, which is accessible via gravel roads, about 100 miles north of Atlanta. Follow the Tower Trail signs, which will take you past patches of marshy bogland and through typically Appalachaian flora like mountain laurel and strands of galax. The fire observation tower marks a rough halfway point; on your way back to the day use area, you’ll skirt around the lake. This is a great walk for wildflower lovers come spring.
Amicalola Falls State Park
The tallest waterfall in Georgia (729 ft), Amicalola is one of the most popular outdoors destinations in the state. A nice way of appreciating both the falls and the surrounding Chattahoochee Forest is via a 10-mile round trip hike that extends from the waterfall to the Hike Inn. This sustainable backcountry lodge primarily serves hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and – who’d have guessed? – is only accessible to visitors via trekking on foot.
This trail begins near the top of the falls and crosses some beautiful forest scenery that encompasses one of the southernmost spurs of the Appalachian Trail. Experienced hikers will find this more or less a breeze, while beginners can rate this one as ‘moderate’; you will have to ascend some switchbacks and deal with modest elevation gain. Work in extra time to appreciate the falls themselves. One of the nicest things about this trail? You don’t need to make your return trek on the same day. A night at the Hike Inn is a relaxing way of meeting folks and sharing tales of the outdoors you’ve been immersed in.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
Six waterfalls cut through the rocky cliffs that hem in this roughly 2700-acre state park, located about 100 miles northeast of Atlanta. A relatively easy series of trails forms a 2.5 mile loop that takes in the north and south rims of the eponymous gorge. With that said, there are plenty of easy-to-hard hikes in this park, all of which can be accessed from the state park interpretive center. Even on the easiest trails, you should be able to cop some fantastic views deep into the canyons carved out by the whitewater erosion of the Tallulah Falls.
Movie buffs take note: scenes from Avengers: Infinity War were filmed here.
Raven Cliff Falls Trail
The Raven Cliff Falls sit near Helen, located about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta. This isn’t a particularly big waterfall, but it is one of the most unique slices of natural beauty in the state. The 40 foot tall falls bisect an enormous cliff, making for a particularly dramatic vista, especially when surrounded by a spring backdrop of rhododendron and moss.
A moderate difficult, roughly five mile loop sets out from a trailhead near Helen and takes in several angles on these impressive falls. Along the way, you’ll walk in the shade of enormous rock outcroppings and pass by a bracingly cold swimming hole that is a favorite with locals. Be careful of extremely slippery rocks; even moss covered stones outside of the water can send you for a good tumble.
We couldn’t finish this roundup without including this dramatically named mountain, which at 4459 ft is the highest peak in the Georgian Appalachians. The blue-blazed Byron Reece trail, located about 90 miles north of Atlanta, is a tough 4.5 mile loop to the top that takes in a hard driving ascent up the mountain, rewarding hikers with excellent views of the southern Appalachians. This is a fairly straightforward ascent that intersects the Appalachian Trail and passes through several gorgeous iterations of local flora, including mountain laurel and rhododendron. Especially popular in spring and fall, when the temperatures are milder and you are rewarded with gorgeous views of either flowering plants or crimson and orange foliage.