Home to the University of Georgia, Athens has no shortage of trendy cafes, art galleries, and shops that draw visitors from all over the state, but there are plenty of great day trips you can take in the surrounding area as well. First and foremost, the city is conveniently located on one end of the Antebellum Trail, which provides easy access to many of the most historically significant sites in Georgia. It's also within driving distance of naturally beautiful attractions like Providence Canyon State Park and the Cherokee Forest, and if you prefer cities, you can easily visit Augusta, Nashville, or Chattanooga. Certain attractions may be temporarily closed or require advance reservations. Some restaurants are currently offering pickup only. Hours/availability may have changed.
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The second most populous city in Georgia, Augusta is perhaps best known to golf fans as the home of the Masters Tournament, but it has plenty of things to do no matter where your interests lie. The Augusta Museum of History has a fascinating exhibit on singer James Brown, while the downtown Broad Street is lined with art galleries and excellent restaurants. If you want to spend some time outside, you can also take a boat tour along the Augusta Canal or head down to the beautiful Riverwalk, where you'll find a miniature Japanese garden and an amphitheater that hosts concerts during the summer.
2.Nashville Trolley Tours by Old Town Trolley Tours
If you're a country music fan, few places in Georgia or Tennessee will capture your heart to the same extent as Nashville. Watching a show at the Grand Ole Opry is on many visitors' bucket lists, but if the timing of your visit doesn't work right, you can always catch some live music at the honky tonks on Lower Broadway instead. The trendy streets of Hillsboro Village are a great place to go for a stroll, and if you want to learn about the history of country music, plenty of information can be found at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
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3.Antebellum Trail, Athens, Georgia
© Antebellum Trail
The Antebellum Trail is a 100-mile driving route that winds through seven of the most historically significant towns in Georgia, and Athens is conveniently the northern gateway. Each of the seven communities has different things to offer, and although it typically takes three days to see everything, you can easily pick and choose what you want to do to make it a day trip. Architecture lovers will enjoy the beautiful Antebellum architecture and the many historic house museums, but you can also browse antique shops, admire the unique Rock Eagle Effigy, and learn about African American history and culture at the Tubman Museum.
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4.Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
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Stretching for 26 miles from Blue Ridge to the charming town of McCaysville, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a historic railroad that was originally built to carry freight through the mountains. It's been operating as a passenger railway since 1998, and it's a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and the Toccoa River, particularly in the fall when the autumn leaves put on a colorful show. The trip takes approximately one hour each way, and passengers are also given a two-hour layover to explore McCaysville and its Tennessee sister town Copperhill. Trains run between March and December.
241 Depot St, Blue Ridge, GA 30513, Phone: 877-413-8724
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5.Callaway Gardens, Athens, Georgia
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Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Callaway Gardens is a 2,500-acre resort with a wide variety of recreational amenities that draw visitors year-round. There are more than ten miles of trails that can be explored on foot or by bicycle, and there are also some trails that are open to golf carts, which can be rented on-site. The resort lake is excellent for fishing, swimming, and water sports, and visitors can also relax in the spa, play a game on one of the resort's two golf courses, or visit the beautiful Butterfly Center.
17800 US Hwy 27, Pine Mountain, GA 31822, Phone: 844-512-3826
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6.Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest
Encompassing almost 867,000 acres of land in northern Georgia, the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is a nature lover's paradise. There are approximately 850 miles of hiking trails to explore, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, and the beautiful Lake Sinclair is excellent for swimming, boating, and fishing. Fishermen can also fish for trout in the forest's many streams, and adrenaline junkies can also go whitewater rafting down the Chattooga River. Another highlight is Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in the state, which has an easily accessible observation deck that provides stunning 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and forests.
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7.Chattanooga, Athens, Georgia
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Sitting on the bank of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga is the perfect combination of outdoor adventure, arts and culture, and laid-back Southern charm. Many of the city's best cafes and art galleries can be found in the Bluff View Arts district, which is conveniently near the Tennessee Aquarium, one of the city's top attractions. The Chattanooga Riverwalk is a beautiful place to go for a stroll, but the best way to get a taste of the city's natural beauty is to take the Incline Railway up to the top of Lookout Mountain, where you'll find the Rock City Gardens and the striking underground Ruby Falls.
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8.Cherokee Forest, Athens, Georgia
Established in 1920, the Cherokee Forest covers more than 650,000 acres along the eastern border of Tennessee, and it offers endless opportunities for nature watching and other types of outdoor recreation. Its rivers boast some of the best whitewater rafting in the entire Southeast, and there are more than 600 miles of hiking trails to choose from, including the popular Margarette Falls Trail and a section of the Appalachian Trail. If you prefer biking over hiking, you can also spend some time at the Chilhowee Recreation Area, which is full of single-track mountain bike trails.
9.Georgia Guidestones, Athens, Georgia
One of the most mysterious monuments in the American Southwest, the Georgia Guidestones are a set of granite pillars that were erected in 1980, but nobody is entirely sure who built them. They're engraved with a set of ten guidelines written in eight modern languages and four ancient ones, and at the front, there's a tablet that reads, “Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason.” The stones are also designed to be an astronomical calendar, and the midday sun shines through a small hole in the monument and lights up the current day's date.
1031 Guide Stones Road, Elberton, GA 30635, Phone: 706-283-2551
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10.Lake Lanier, Athens, Georgia
Named in honor of the American poet Sidney Lanier, Lake Lanier is known for its aqua blue water and its many recreational opportunities. The lake is used for boating and canoeing year-round, and during the summer, it's especially popular with houseboaters and jetskiers. A handful of islands with swimming beaches are dotted throughout the lake, and there are also 23 swimming beaches on the shoreline, many of which have picnic tables, children's playgrounds, and other amenities. If you visit Lake Lanier Islands Resort, you can also enjoy activities like golf, horseback riding, and zipline canopy tours.
11.Macon, Athens, Georgia
Located at the southernmost end of the Antebellum Trail, Macon boasts a beautiful historic district and more buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places than any other city in the state. There are several beautiful Greek Revival mansions you can tour, and other major attractions include the Tubman Museum, the Rose Hill Cemetery, and the Ocmulgee National Monument. The city is also known for having a strong soul music heritage, and on Fridays and Saturdays, you can take a guided tour of the places in the city that have inspired its many musical legends.
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12.Northeast Georgia Mountains
The Northeast Georgia Mountains are less than an hour away from Athens, but with their sparkling waterfalls and pristine forests, they feel a world away. The weather is beautiful year-round, and there are plenty of things for visitors to do, including hiking, biking, and gold panning. Many of the park's most beautiful waterfalls can be reached via short walking trails, and some are even visible from the road, including the spectacular DeSoto Falls. Wine lovers can do tastings at some of the excellent wineries along the Georgia Wine Trail, and the welcoming mountain towns offer some wonderful shopping and dining options.
13.Oconee County, Athens, GA
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Tucked in between Athens and Madison, Oconee County is a truly beautiful piece of rural Georgia. Many visitors find it pleasant to simply drive around on the backcountry roads admiring the scenery, but there's a wide range of other things to see and do as well, including historical sites to tour, quaint shops to browse, and even an antique trail. There are also plenty of delicious eateries, particularly in the town of Watkinsville, and you can always stop at one of the county's many U-Pick farms if you want to pick up some fresh produce to bring home.
1680 Epps Bridge Pkwy, Athens, GA 30606, Phone: 706-353-8464
14.Providence Canyon State Park
The Providence Canyon State Park is home to a colorful sandstone ravine fondly known as 'Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon', and it's a wonderful destination for hikers. There are more than ten miles of hiking trails in the park, but one of the most popular is the 5-mile Canyon Loop Trail, which starts at the Visitor's Center and leads through the forest and down to the canyon floor. Hikers planning to descend to the canyon should be prepared to find a thin layer of water on the ground. If you're short on time, there are also some beautiful viewpoints right next to the main parking lot.
8930 Canyon Rd, Lumpkin, GA 31815
15.Summerville, Athens, Georgia
Tucked away in the heart of the Lowcountry, Summerville is a small town with a healthy dose of Southern charm. The historic downtown core features more than 700 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and on a more modern note, the town boasts more than 100 wonderful restaurants despite its small size. Another major attraction is the central Azalea Park, which hosts the Flowertown Festival every spring. The town is also proudly known as the Birthplace of Sweet Tea, and every September, there's a special festival featuring vendors, live music, and plenty of tea-themed goodies.
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16.Toccoa Falls, Athens, Georgia
Situated on the 1000-acre campus of Toccoa Falls College in northeast Georgia, Toccoa Falls is a spectacular waterfall that plunges 186 feet over a cliff, making it taller than even Niagara Falls. A short handicap-accessible path leads to the base of the waterfall, and if you want to go for a longer walk, you can stroll around the rest of the campus. The falls can only be accessed through the gift shop, which is open between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays and between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. during the rest of the week, and a small admission fee is charged.
107 Kincaid Dr, Toccoa Falls, GA 30598, Phone: 706-886-6831
16 Best Day Trips from Athens, Georgia
- Augusta, Photo: Kevin Ruck/stock.adobe.com
- Nashville Trolley Tours by Old Town Trolley Tours, Photo: f11photo/stock.adobe.com
- Antebellum Trail, Athens, Georgia, Photo: Antebellum Trail
- Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Photo: Blue Ridge Scenic Railway
- Callaway Gardens, Athens, Georgia, Photo: Darrell Gulin Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Chattanooga, Athens, Georgia, Photo: Kevin Ruck/stock.adobe.com
- Cherokee Forest, Athens, Georgia, Photo: Louis/stock.adobe.com
- Georgia Guidestones, Athens, Georgia, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Lanier, Athens, Georgia, Photo: rodphotography/stock.adobe.com
- Macon, Athens, Georgia, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- Northeast Georgia Mountains, Photo: Bruce/stock.adobe.com
- Oconee County, Athens, GA, Photo: Angela M. Otwell/stock.adobe.com
- Providence Canyon State Park, Photo: Matt/stock.adobe.com
- Summerville, Athens, Georgia, Photo: lumachina_99/stock.adobe.com
- Toccoa Falls, Athens, Georgia, Photo: Hollie/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: kellyvandellen/stock.adobe.com
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