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18 Unforgettable Day Trips from Atlanta, By a Local

Macon, Georgia, US, one of the best day trips from Atlanta

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I might be a Tennessee native, but I’ve lived in the state of Georgia nearly all of my adult life. Unfortunately, for part of that time, I’ve been flat broke. I love to travel but couldn’t afford to go far, so I compromised by coming up with some truly unforgettable day trips to satisfy my wanderlust.

I discovered there were spectacular places nearby that I might have overlooked if I’d only considered the benefits of traveling far away rather than jumping into the car and taking a short drive. Each destination on this list is a place I’ve personally visited and can recommend, and each is reasonably close to the city of Atlanta. 

18 Best Day Trips from Atlanta, Curated by a Local 

Each of the following destinations is a short drive from Atlanta — with one longer drive thrown in for the more adventurous day trippers. You’ll find plenty to do in each location. I’ll tell you my personal favorites as well as the hot tourist spots in the area. Even if you’re a lifelong Georgia peach, you can still play tourist and see the state the way you’ve never seen it before. 

And if you’ve seen it all before? Experience it again with a fresh outlook. Georgia’s on my mind, and here are the places I’d recommend as the best day trips from Atlanta. 

1. Amicalola Falls State Park 

Amicalola Falls State Park
Photo by Crystal Jackson

Amicalola Falls State Park is a destination you don’t want to miss. Just over an hour outside of Atlanta, you’ll find this 729-foot waterfall inside the Chattahoochee National Forest and only 8 miles from the Appalachian Trail. You’ll need to pay a small parking fee to enter, and you’ll have the choice of either climbing the steep 175 stairs to the top or taking the accessible road option for a view of the falls. 

I visited Amicalola Falls on a romantic weekend getaway several years ago. It’s the perfect destination for anyone who loves waterfalls, hiking, or scenic spots. You can dine at the lodge’s Maple Restaurant to enjoy good food and spectacular views or enjoy any of the 10 hiking trails located inside the park. I’d recommend a visit in the Spring or Fall to avoid the more extreme temperatures in the other seasons. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Amicalola Falls State Park: 73.3 miles

Trip duration: 1h 20

2. Athens, Georgia

state botanical gardens athens georgia us
State Botanical Gardens Athens, GA — Photo by Crystal Jackson

Athens, Georgia, is a personal favorite of mine. You’ll find plenty to see and do here. If you’re traveling with children or dogs, you’ll want to stop at Southeast Clarke Park where there’s a large World of Wonder playground and a pretty epic dog park.

Plus, you’ll want to make your way over to Memorial Park to visit Bear Hollow Zoo where you can visit the rescued animals that call the little zoo home. Both of these attractions are free, and you’ll want to add a third free attraction to your list: the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia. It has hiking trails, art exhibits, lush gardens, and a children’s playground. 

Honestly, you could make a whole day out of all three family-friendly stops, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t drive into downtown Athens. See a show or go ice skating during the winter inside the Classic Center. Walk over to the University of Georgia campus to check out the incredible campus and football stadium.

Although parking can sometimes be a pain and usually comes with a toll, you can spend hours wandering the shops and restaurants downtown. It’s a beautiful city, and it’s a perfect day trip for individuals, couples, or families. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Athens: 71.7 miles

Trip duration: 1h 20

3. Blue Ridge, Georgia

blue ridge ga
By Thomson M, CC BY 3.0

I love Blue Ridge best during the fall and winter seasons. While I prefer it as a weekend destination with a cozy cabin, it also makes a wonderful day trip from Atlanta.

You can visit the downtown area and explore the quirky shops and delicious restaurants of the area, and you can get tickets to ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway up to Copperhill, Tennessee. During the fall, you can enjoy the spectacular fall foliage. During the winter season, there’s a seasonal holiday train ride you can take that’s fun for all ages. 

Blue Ridge is a beautiful little town, but there are particular attractions for me in the area. The Swan Drive-In is one of the few remaining drive-ins in the state. It’s definitely worth stopping to see a movie while you’re in the area. You’ll also be close to hikes with waterfalls and beautiful scenic overlooks, but a favorite Blue Ridge destination is to visit one of the many apple farms in the area in the fall.

You can pick your own apples, buy homemade apple treats, or just enjoy a little farm fun. And did I mention there’s a Blue Ridge wine trail? You’ll want to add that to your list (please drink responsibly and plan for a designated driver).

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Blue Ridge: 92.4 miles

Trip duration: 1h 31

4. Cartersville, Georgia

Image: By Jonathan Chen — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although I haven’t been to Cartersville in some time, I still highly recommend it. If you do nothing else in the area, go to the Tellus Science Museum, which also houses a planetarium. Then, check out the Booth Western Art Museum. You can visit Red Top Mountain State Park for scenic hikes for only a $5 state park fee and check out the nearby Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site.

You’ll find plenty of history in the area as well as seasonal farm fun. It’s the perfect fun but educational day trip from Atlanta. When I used to live nearby, I spent plenty of time hiking the area and visiting the exhibits at the museums. 

If you want to combine day trips, you can always stop in Marietta on your way back to the city of Atlanta. It just depends on how much you want to try to fit into a single day, as both cities have made the list as day trip sites. If you want an action-packed day, you can combine destinations from both cities easily. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Cartersville: 43 miles

Trip duration: 47m 

5. Covington, Georgia

Covington GA, City Pharmacy
 Photo by Crystal Jackson – Covington, Georgia

Covington, Georgia, is another must-see day trip destination from Atlanta. Not only is the downtown area like something out of a Hallmark film, but there’s also plenty to see and do nearby. Fans of The Vampire Diaries will want to check out the guided tours of the filming location and check out plenty of references to Mystic Falls around town.

It’s known as Hollywood of the South for good reason. In addition to Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Heat of the Night, and Dukes of Hazzard were filmed in Covington. Take a film tour or even a haunted tour downtown. 

If you don’t care about any of those shows or going on a ghost tour, Covington is still a great day trip option. Detour to nearby Mitcham Farms during the spring to enjoy u-pick strawberries and plenty of strawberry slushies, donuts, and desserts. Visit an axe-throwing gym, an escape room, or have brunch downtown.

Check out a cool record shop or simply browse the many stores and galleries on the downtown square. A trip to Covington can easily be combined with a side trip to nearby Monroe or Madison if you’re up for a longer drive. 

It really doesn’t matter what you do. Show up ready to explore, and you’ll find tons of points of interests in Covington. Plus, you’ll find an incredible hairstylist at Beatnik’s, a downtown salon. Just be sure to book Allie in advance — she fills up quick! 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Covington: 38.5 miles

Trip duration: 53m 

6. Dahlonega, Georgia

Daholnega, GA
Dahlonega, GA – Photo by Crystal Jackson

I was fortunate to attend a local author event in downtown Dahlonega, Georgia, recently. First of all, the town is charming. The historic square is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. There’s a witchy tearoom, an upstairs shop filled with all things British, a store that will bring out the hippie in you, and plenty of good old-fashioned southern dining. There’s even an adorable general store that will make you feel like you stepped back in time. 

The other draw to Dahlonega is to learn the history of its famed gold rush. You can mine for gems, take a tour, or visit the Dahlonega Gold Museum. I’ve done that, and it’s fun, but you’re more likely to find me hitting the Dahlonega wine trail, checking out a show at the Holly Theatre, sipping coffee downtown, or getting a spiritual reading at My Vintage Gypsy Teas, which will be rebranded in January as Tea Rabbit in order to be respectful of Romany culture. 

In fact, my absolute favorite thing to do in Dahlonega is to visit the tearoom. They are known for their full-leaf teas and also their hot or iced hot chocolate. You’ll also find chocolate, candles, tarot cards, and books on spirituality throughout the store. The welcoming atmosphere will pull you in, and you’ll want to stay and browse the crystals in the shop while sipping tea. It’s a magical experience you don’t want to miss on your visit. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Dahlonega: 65 miles

Trip duration: 1h 11

7. Helen, Georgia

Helen, Georgia, US
By Chanilim714, CC BY-SA 3.0

Helen, Georgia, is an adorable Bavarian-style town in North Georgia. You can visit in October for Oktoberfest and enjoy the town’s festivities or come back in the winter to see it fully decorated for the holidays. In Spring, you’ll find the town in bloom, and in Summer, you can go tubing down the river, right through the center of town. Honestly, there’s not a bad time to visit Helen, and there’s so much to do while you’re there.

You’ll find a mountain rollercoaster, tubing companies, hiking trails, wineries, ropes courses, ziplining, and so much more. I’ve done the hiking trail to Anna Ruby Falls, and I’ve gone tubing in the summer down the river. Even simply stopping to explore the little town and all its shops and restaurants can make for an entertaining day trip. 

While you’re in Helen, you’ll be close to the city of Cleveland, Georgia. It’s home to BabyLand General, a Cabbage Patch hospital. If you have the time on your day trip to Helen, consider a stop in Cleveland to see this enchanting location. Indulge your actual child or your inner child with this fascinating stop along the way. If you end up taking home a Cabbage Patch doll, that’s no one else’s business. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Helen: 92.3 miles

Trip duration: 1h 34

8. Juliette, Georgia

Juliette, GA
Juliette, GA

Juliette, Georgia, is a tiny dot on the map you might overlook. In fact, there’s not much to see and do there, so I recommend combining it with another stop along the way. However, the reason it makes the list is because of what’s there. You can see the famed Whistle Stop Cafe from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, which was filmed in Juliette. You can stop and enjoy a hearty southern meal in this town. 

What’s funny about my visit is that it was practically a ghost town until lunchtime, and then there were so many cars and people, it was challenging to park and be seated in the restaurant. Yes, it’s that good. Plus, there’s a local honey shop in town that I highly recommend. It might not seem like very much to do, but there’s a plantation and a wildlife refuge nearby. This trip is best combined with a trip to nearby Macon if time permits. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Juliette: 71.2 miles

Trip duration: 1h 9

9. Lake Oconee

Lake Oconee GA
By Jim Mandeville — https://www.nicklaus.com/, CC BY-SA 4.0

I recommend visiting Lake Oconee from late Spring to early Fall. The area is beautiful, and it features spectacular lakeside scenery and is known for its golf courses. If golf isn’t your sport of choice, consider visiting for a water adventure. You can rent boats, jet skis, and paddleboards in the area. 

While many people will recommend Lake Lanier, the difference between the two is that Lake Oconee, unlike Lake Lanier, is not known for its frequent drownings and deaths. While Lake Lanier gets much of the tourism, Lake Oconee also draws many visitors and is equally beautiful.

It’s located near Greensboro and Eatonton, which both have shops, historic sites, and restaurants to visit. You can combine this with a trip to nearby Rutledge or Madison if you’re looking for more things to see and do in the area. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Lake Oconee: 85.4 miles

Trip duration: 1h 35

10. Macon, Georgia

Downtown Macon, GA
Downtown Macon, Photo by Crystal Jackson

One of the best day trips from Atlanta is to the town of Macon. It’s a scenic drive with much to do when you arrive. Macon was home to Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers. You can visit the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds and take a trip to Rose Cemetery to see the resting place of both Duane and Gregg Allman.

Fans of the band can visit The Big House Museum, and history buffs will want to check out the Tubman Museum, the Otis Redding Museum, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, and the historic homes downtown. 

Macon is a beautiful city with plenty to do. The grotto pictured above has become a bit of a local legend, but it’s on private property and can only be reached by renting the owner’s Airbnb, a genius marketing move. If you travel to Macon during baseball season, you can see a Macon Bacon baseball game. 

Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Macon, GA, USA
Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, Macon – Photo by Crystal Jackson

There are river walks, historic statues, and public parks that you can enjoy on your trip. If you want an active day, you’ll find plenty to do. If you just want to relax, you’ll find just as much to occupy your interest without expending too much energy. You can even throw in a trip to a nearby aviation musuem in Warner Robbins if you don’t mind driving a little further or stop in Juliette for their famed fried green tomatoes on your drive back into Atlanta. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Macon: 84.9 miles

Trip duration: 1h 20

11. Madison, Georgia

Madison, GA, USA
Photo by Crystal Jackson – Madison, GA

Madison is the size of a charming postage stamp, but it’s packed with art, culture, and history. Start your morning at Oconee Coffee Roasters before making your way over to either Patisserie on Main for pastries or to Betty Gene’s for breakfast. For lunch, I heartily recommend Mad Taco or Wing Nights at Benny Paul’s for delicious but casual dining.

If barbecue is on your mind, Crowe’s is the place to get it. For soul food, check out R+B Cafe or Adrian’s Place. For a more upscale experience, visit Ricardo’s or Town 220; for dinner, check out Hart and Crown Tavern. 

Once you’re fueled up, you can opt for a self-guided walking tour through the historic downtown area, or you can wander the many shops and galleries downtown. You’ll find the work of local authors and artists at the Madison Artists Guild and Gallery. Signed copies of my books are shelved there. You can also visit the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center for art and history or drive to the nearby Steffen Thomas Museum to check out the current exhibit.

You might even want to consider booking a horseback riding adventure with Southern Cross Guest Ranch. There’s not much night life to speak of, but Amici Madison often has live music on weekends, and The Sinclair is a great place to grab a cocktail. 

Insider tip: In January 2024, the Georgia Safari Conservation Park will open in Madison. You’ll want to make time to come check out the giraffes, rhinos, and other exotic animals that were rescued and now call the park home.

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Madison: 60.6 miles

Trip duration: 1h 15

12. Marietta, Georgia

Marietta, GA, US
By Judson McCranie, CC BY-SA 3.0

When I lived on the northwest side of Atlanta, Marietta Square was one of my favorite weekend destinations, and it’s a perfect day trip from Atlanta. You’ll find a beautiful park in the center of town surrounded by local shops, theaters, and restaurants.

There’s a Gone with the Wind Museum, a popular farmer’s market hosted on the square, and plenty of hiking and nature at the nearby Kennesaw National Battlefield Park. You’ll be a close drive from Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park, and you can always opt to see a show at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. 

I nearly broke my brain trying to think of the place where I had a cookie so good it was akin to a religious experience. Then, I found it. Go to Gabriel’s Desserts for lunch or a fresh-baked dessert. I’m not joking when I say that the first bite of their snickerdoodle transported me to my kindergarten class where our snack for the day was a soft snickerdoodle, slightly warm, and ice-cold milk.

I’ve yet to find a place to make as perfect a cookie as Gabriel’s. If they made tea cakes, I’m pretty sure my soul would rise up and leave my body. Yes, they’re that good. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Marietta: 20.1 miles

Trip duration: 27m

13. Monroe, Georgia

Downtown Monroe, GA
Monroe, GA – Photo by Crystal Jackson

I love the town of Monroe. You might have noticed that I have a thing for charming towns that look like settings to a Hallmark movie. There’s no shame in my small-town game, and you’ll want to take the time to daytrip to Monroe if for no other reason than to stop by the most magical bookstore I’ve ever visited.

The Story Shop carries children’s books and classic literature, but it has a hobbit hole in the wall for children to play in and a wardrobe that opens up into a Narnia-inspired room for storytime. Plus, there’s a gorgeous party room that has me tempted to book a magical literary-themed party for my own birthday. It’s that enchanting! 

Once you’re done visiting the bookshop, you’ll want to check out home decor in the Mercantile, browse plants and candles in Rekindle Candle Co., and stop by a local axe-throwing gym to test your aim. But the real draw to Monroe is that it’s known as the Antiques Capital of Georgia. You can spend the whole day browsing the 250,000 square feet of antique shops in the area. Just don’t forget to take a break to stop for lunch and/or dinner downtown. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Monroe: 55.2 miles

Trip duration: 1h 7

14. Pine Mountain, Georgia

Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens
Pine Mountain – Callaway Gardens

Pine Mountain has two main attractions that make it a fun day trip from Atlanta. First, there’s Callaway Gardens, which is a beautiful place to hike and enjoy the scenery. There’s a lake and an incredible variety of activities to do inside the Gardens. I’ve been to the hot air balloon festival there, and it was spectacular.

The other local attraction is one I haven’t yet enjoyed. It’s the Wild Animal Safari where you’ll find 65 exotic animals, bus tours, and walking paths. Between the Gardens and the Safari, you’ll have a full day before heading back to the city.

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Pine Mountain: 79.1 miles

Trip duration: 1h 15

15. Rome, Georgia

Rome, GA
Rome, GA

One of the best day trips from Atlanta is without any doubt, the town of Rome, Georgia. You’ll find 50 miles of hiking, biking, and river trails in the city. You can visit the largest Victorian Era district in the Peach State, and see the Locks of Love left on the Robert Redden Bridge.

Berry College is worth a visit purely for the scenery and architecture, and you can climb the 107 steps to the top of Rome’s Historic Clocktower downtown.

From gardens to trails to river views, you can enjoy a relaxing day trip just by exploring the Rome area. It’s also extremely pet-friendly, so you can bring your dog(s) with you on your visit and find plenty of shops and restaurants that will allow you to bring in your leashed and well-behaved pooch.

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Rome: 77.8 miles

Trip duration: 1h 19

Interesting read: Why Is Rome, Georgia Named After Rome, Italy?

16. Rutledge, Georgia

Hard Labor Creek State Park — Photo by Crystal Jackson

Don’t overlook the “Small but Special” town of Rutledge, Georgia. While there’s not much in the way of shopping and dining, what you will find here is worth the trip. Have breakfast or lunch at the Caboose and then head on over to Hard Labor Creek State Park for fishing, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking, or hanging out at the lakeside beach.

This expansive park has plenty to do, and you can even rent fishing supplies or paddleboards at Over Yonder, a shop in downtown Rutledge. Plus, during the summer, you can enjoy Rutledge’s Summer Concert Series with live music in the gazebo. It’s a tiny town, but you can always pair your visit with a trip to Madison, Covington, or Monroe on the way. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Dahlonega: 50.9 miles

Trip duration: 1h 4

17. Savannah, Georgia

Image: User: (WT-shared) Jtesla16 at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For the more adventurous day trippers, consider taking the nearly 4-hour drive to Savannah. If you leave early and come back late, you can make a day of it. Savannah is one of my favorite cities in Georgia. It’s filled with beautiful parks and gardens, picturesque fountains, and stunning historic homes.

You could spend an entire day walking Forsyth Park and the surrounding downtown area. There’s a multitude of shops downtown, and I’d recommend strolling the cobblestoned River Street to try out a praline pecan at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. From river views to live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, you’ll have the perfect backdrop for all your day trip selfies. 

If you don’t mind adding a few minutes to your journey, you can visit Tybee Island nearby and see the beach before returning to Atlanta. While it would make a long day with a lot of driving, it could be a fun trip with friends, family, or a significant other. The drive to Savannah might not be that interesting, but the city itself is more than worth the effort you make to visit her. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Dahlonega: 249.3 miles

Trip duration: 3h 43m

18. Stone Mountain Park

Stone Mountain Park, GA
Image: By anonymouse1, CC BY-SA 3.0

Stone Mountain Park has hiking, lake activities, and an amusement park with plenty of fun for the whole family. It’s known for its Confederate Monument, which I will go to the grave insisting would be a better location for the Golden Girls than a tribute to soldiers who lost the war.

But that’s a hill I could die on in the South. In the winter, it transforms into Snow Mountain with plenty of fake snow for tubing and other winter fun.

In the summer, there’s a water park. Year-round, you can ride the train around Stone Mountain and visit the village, provided you pay for entry into the park.

Although I’m still holding a grudge that my season pass in 2020 was never refunded despite the global pandemic, I can admit that Stone Mountain Park is a great place to spend a day away from Atlanta. There’s even an enormous indoor play area if you have kids who need to run off some energy. 

Distance between Downtown Atlanta and Dahlonega: 21.4 miles

Trip duration: 29m

In Conclusion 

There are so many wonderful places to visit from the Atlanta area. While I believe that these are some of the best locations to day trip in Georgia, I can admit that I still have to see a lot of hidden gems. I love to explore the state I’m in, and I’m sure I’ll keep finding interesting places to see and fun things to do. 

The trick is to be a traveler, not a tourist. Ask locals for their favorite spots. It just might introduce you to a location you wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Be willing to get lost and just roll with it. Explore with curious, kind eyes and look for points of interest off the beaten path rather than only visiting known tourist spots. If you can do that, any trip you take can be a marvelous, unforgettable adventure. 

Recommended read: 25 Unique Things to do in Gainesville, Georgia

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