Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee, Georgia. Photo by @overwatchproductions
Best for Luxury Vacations: Lake Oconee
Located halfway between Atlanta and Augusta in Greensboro, Lake Oconee, the second largest in the state, is your destination for a luxury lakeside vacation.
With its 30 acres of pristine lakefront property and amenities like golf and tennis, fishing and boat rentals, and an infinity pool with private cabanas, the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee is renowned for its luxurious accommodations. Located just 85 miles east of Atlanta, the newly renovated property was named one of Travel + Leisure’s Top Resorts in the South in 2020, when it also received the AAA Four Diamond Award and the Forbes Four Star Award. It offers generously sized rooms and suites with private balconies and marble-trimmed bathrooms, as well as group-friendly cabins with panoramic views, living room fireplaces, wrap-around porches, and a dedicated concierge.
Lake Oconee’s four full-service marinas can equip you with everything you need to enjoy the lake, from boating, fishing, tubing, wakeboarding, canoeing, and other water sports. For a customized experience, book a four-hour guided fishing trip on the lake with Young Harris Water Sports. Available for up to four guests per boat, the excursion includes a professional guide and fishing for striped bass, crappie, or large-mouth bass, depending on group size and season.
Nestled by the lake among towering oak trees and brilliant magnolias and designed by renowned architects like Jack Nicklaus, the Ritz-Carlton’s five championship golf courses offer 99 holes of challenging play for hotel guests, as well as custom club fittings and private instruction with resort pros. Indoors, the 30,000-square-foot spa at the Ritz — with a sauna, indoor pool, cold plunge pool, and treatments like sports massages and age-defying facials — offers a tranquil retreat from the day’s activities.
Dine on Tomahawk steaks, lobster tail and caviar expertly paired with wines at the Linger Longer Steakhouse. Or, enjoy pizza and other casual fare with a view at Gaby’s by the Lake. Venture into Greensboro for classic Southern cuisine and a slice of the famous buttermilk pie at The Yesterday Cafe, and relax with a craft beer in a renovated historic warehouse at Oconee Brewing Company.
Best for Families: Lake Rabun
From scenic hiking trails to water sports and group-friendly campgrounds, this 835-acre mountain lake nestled in the North Georgia mountains near Clayton is a great getaway for families.
Stay in the tiny home campground or a cabin at Bleu Canoe, a 23-acre property with a full-service Cajun-American restaurant, fire pits, yard games like bocce and corn hole, and convenient access to outdoor activities. Relax near the water at Lake Rabun Hotel, built in 1922, and enjoy complimentary gourmet breakfast, a full bar and restaurant, and an onsite spa. The hotel is located across from Historic Hall’s Boat House Marina, where you can rent pontoon boats to cruise around the lake. Or opt for one of the 80 tent and camper sites at Lake Rabun Beach Recreation Area, which has facilities with hot showers, grills, picnic tables — all steps away from 25 miles of pristine shoreline.
For all your lake supplies, stop by Bear Gap Outfitters, which offers day-long canoe, paddleboard and kayak rentals. Pack your binoculars or a telescope for one of their guided stargazing cruises: the lake’s open sky and wide expanses make it one of the best places in Georgia to view constellations.
Boat launches for Lake Burton are available at Clarkesville's 32-acre Moccasin Creek State Park, a tranquil, low-key recreation area that also has a playground and flat, gentle paths ideal for those cycling and walking with little ones. To learn more about the area’s unique ecosystem, tour the Burton Trout Hatchery or hike the one-mile Wildlife Loop Trail to spot white-tailed deer, mallards, Canadian geese, bald eagles and wildflowers. Other nearby family-friendly hikes include the four-mile round trip to the tumbling, 100-foot Minnehaha Falls as well as the rim trails around the dramatic, nearly 1,000-foot-deep canyon at Tallulah Gorge State Park.
For outdoor thrills for kids of all ages, head 10 miles south of the park to Sunburst Adventures, where you can zipline through the treetops, take a guided ATV tour along the waterways and ridgelines of the Chattahoochee National Forest, or ride horses through pristine mountain countryside.
In the summer, pack a picnic and catch a film at the pet-friendly Tiger Drive-In, which also has a playground, and an onsite grill serving corn dogs, nachos and other kid-approved snacks.
Stop into The Open Door at Alley’s Ol’ Store in Lakemont for sandwiches, soups, salads and sweets - either to enjoy inside the cafe, outside on the patio, or pick up to-go for a day on the lake. In Clarkesville’s charming downtown, The Copper Pot serves wood-fired pizzas.
Best for A Nature Experience: Lake Chatuge
From day hikes along the storied Appalachian Trail to beaches with panoramic North Georgia mountain views, Lake Chatuge in Hiawassee is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Stay lakeside at The Ridges Resort, with an onsite marina and boat rentals, plus a swimming pool, walking paths, tennis court, lawn games, and restaurants. The area also has several campgrounds, including Chatuge Woods right on the lake.
Public lake access is available just two miles from downtown Hiawassee at Towns County Recreational Beach, which also has a large beach with swimming area. Rent or bring your own boat to paddle along the lake's 130-plus miles of shoreline, hidden coves and sweeping mountain vistas.
Higher above ground, don’t miss the steep but short half-mile hike to Brasstown Bald. At 4,784-feet, the mountain is Georgia’s highest peak, with an observation deck that offers 360-degree views of the Southern Appalachian Mountains as well as four states on a clear day.
For a more challenging excursion with equally stellar views, head to Unicoi Gap and hike a 5-mile loop of the Appalachian Trail that ascends 1,000 feet through several switchbacks to the summit of Rocky Mountain. Another standout area hike is High Shoals Falls, a succession of five waterfalls with a combined vertical drop of 300 feet in a moderately challenging, 2.4-mile, out-and-back hike.
Other area highlights include scenic overlooks at Bell Mountain, wine tours and tastings at Crane Creek Vineyards, and events including the Georgia Mountain Fall Festival, concerts, fairs and more at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds.
The Sawmill Place in Blairsville is a favorite place to start the day, with a menu featuring locally sourced ingredients, including farm-fresh eggs and made-from-scratch biscuits for breakfast, and Southern-style meat-and-three lunches. Or, visit Brasstown Valley Resort to have a casual bite to eat at Brassie’s Grill, or reserve a table for dinner in the dining room.
Best for Groups: Lake Lanier
At 38,000 acres and with nearly 700 miles of shoreline, Lake Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia. Located near Gainesville, it borders five counties in North Georgia and is an ideal destination for family vacations, reunions, bachelorette parties and other group outings.
For a splurge, opt for the Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge, a 220-room lake resort with two onsite restaurants, a fitness center, spa, and heated outdoor saltwater pool. Or, stay at Camp Margaritaville RV Resort & Cabins, which offers upscale rental cabins and an RV park, all with access to amenities like boat and kayak rentals, hiking and walking trails, and lakeside dining.
Experience a lakeside tent glamping getaway at Timberline Glamping, which has a dedicated beach and swimming access, plus a boat launch for paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing, and other water activities.
Spend the day playing on the water slides, relaxing in the wave pool, zip-lining over the cove and lounging on the beach at Margaritaville Water Park.
Or, book a guided sailing excursion with Windsong Sailing Academy, which offers themed, group-friendly outings throughout the year, ranging from excursions to secluded swimming beaches and murder mystery parties to leaf-peeping and educational cruises. For more water-based fun, rent a ski boat, pontoon boat or luxury houseboat at the Port of Indecision at Margaritaville.
Happy to let someone else play captain? Grab seats on a margarita or brunch cruise to sip drinks and enjoy snacks with a view from the enclosed climate-controlled cabin or outdoor upper deck. Or, spot local wildlife like white-tailed deer, osprey, pelicans and bald eagles on the three-hour Eco Tour with Lake Lanier Adventures, which also has an "Ozark" tour, where guests can view the Byrde family home and other filming locations from the hit Netflix show.
At night, stay and enjoy the area’s lively nightlife and restaurant scene, or head to historic downtown Gainesville, which is dotted with restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Be sure to stop in for lunch at 2 Dog Restaurant, and pick up some sweet treats at Southern Baked Pie Company.
Best for Local Cuisine: Lake Blue Ridge
One of the state’s most picturesque mountain lakes, Blue Ridge offers plenty of outdoor fun as well as some of North Georgia’s best food and drink.
Although small, the 3,290-acre lake has a full-service marina, public swimming and picnic areas, and several boat ramps — all surrounded by the beautiful dense woodlands of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Rent paddleboards or kayaks from Lake Blue Ridge Outfitters and pontoon boats from Lake Blue Ridge Marina. And, hike the area’s many trails, including the two-mile round trip from Three Forks to the 50-foot Long Creek Falls.
After an invigorating swim or hike, refuel with freshly baked goods, cider and some famed apples from the family-owned Mercier Orchards, which also sells boxed lunches — ideal for a scenic picnic at the lake.
On Saturdays, book a VIP tour of Bear Claw Vineyards. The 90-minute tour includes seven tastings of wines like the sweet and tropical Vidal Blanc, plus a souvenir glass and snacks. Or, relax with a glass of wine and mountain views on spring and summer weekends, when the vineyard hosts live music on the lawn.
Fuel up for a day of adventure with Cuban coffee, sandwiches and sweets at the Rum Cake Lady, or weekend brunch at Black Sheep Restaurant Bar & Patio, featuring menu items like chicken and red velvet waffles and creme brulee French toast. Cruise over to the Boat Dock Bar & Grill at Lake Blue Ridge Marina (open seasonally) for a bite and a cold drink overlooking the water.
At night, grab drinks and tapas Hook & Eye, the newly opened Hampton Inn’s rooftop bar with sweeping views of downtown and the countryside, or enjoy dinner at the elegant Harvest on Main, which sources from many local producers, including Brasstown Beef.
The area is also home to several breweries and wineries, including Grumpy Old Men Brewing.
Best for History Lovers: Lake Blackshear
Located in the south Georgia town of Cordele, the 8,700-acre Lake Blackshear has 97 miles of coastline, ideal for swimming, boating, and access to several historical points of interest.
Stay at the Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club, with accommodations ranging from cabins and villas to the main lodge. During your stay, enjoy amenities such as a championship golf course, miles of hiking and cycling trails, an outdoor pool with hot tub, and a full-service marina for fishing, kayaking, and other water activities.
History buffs will want to check out Georgia Veterans State Park, a memorial dedicated to U.S. veterans with an onsite museum featuring armored vehicles, uniforms, aircraft, medals, and other artifacts. The park also has four miles of nature trails, an archery and air gun range, and an 18-hole championship golf course. Rent pontoon boats or kayaks, and spend a day cruising the lake.
To learn more about the area’s history, hop aboard the Historic SAM Shortline Railroad. Guests ride in air-conditioned, 1940s-era vintage train cars from the park across Lake Blackshear to downtown Plains, birthplace of President Jimmy Carter. The tour includes stops at Carter’s boyhood farm, the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site Museum, and the Georgia Rural Telephone Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of antique telephones and telephone memorabilia.
Savor a dinner of fresh seafood, steak and classic American cuisine at Daphne Lodge, a local landmark and family favorite since the 1950s. And, be sure to stop into Stripling’s General Store for its famous sausage, jerky and other Southern specialties.