Minnehaha Falls in Lakemont, Georgia. Photo by Ben Galland

Minnehaha Falls in Lakemont, Georgia. Photo by Ben Galland

Best Things to Do in the Northeast Georgia Mountains

Outdoor adventures, small-town charm, and incredible scenery top the never-ending list of reasons to visit this region.

When you need a breath of fresh air or to feel the cool spray of a waterfall on your skin, head to the Northeast Georgia Mountains. Every bend in the road reveals a new leafy trail to explore or a charming small town to discover, perhaps with a glass of Georgia-grown wine on the side.

Roaring waterfalls, peaceful lakes, and untouched wilderness beckon in this gateway to the mighty Appalachians. There is also a thriving community of makers — artists, farmers, vintners, craftsmen — who delight in sharing the distinct culture of the region. Whether you're unzipping a tent or uncorking a bottle of wine, you're sure to love it, too.

Explore the great outdoors

Kayaking on Lake Harwell
Kayaking on Lake Harwell

Mountain lakes

Fall may be high tourism season in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, when blue peaks change to blood orange, crimson, and gold, but summer is a close second. The region is home to two of the state's most popular lakes, Lanier and Hartwell. Lesser-known Lake Nottely is a cache of trophy striped bass, while mountain-fringed lakes Chatuge, Rabun, and Burton are perfect for a peaceful paddleboard — though you're still liable to hear the joyful shriek of a tubing child.

Find more in 5 Secret Ways to Enjoy Georgia Lakes

Tubing in Helen, Georgia
Tubing in Helen, Georgia

Tubing

Speaking of tubes, there’s no better way to spend a hot day than floating downriver on one — perhaps on Helen’s Chattahoochee or Dahlonega's Chestatee. Those waterways (along with Tugaloo and Broad) also make for great kayaking excursions.

Find more places to go tubing in Tubing in Georgia: A Must-have Summer Adventure

Whitewater rafting with Wildwater Chattooga Adventure Center in Clayton, Georgia
Whitewater rafting with Wildwater Chattooga Adventure Center in Clayton, Georgia

Whitewater adventures

If you're after serious whitewater, head to the wild Chattooga, or brave Tallulah Gorge State Park during scheduled dam releases in April and November.

Amicalola Falls. Photo by @visuals_by_pari
Amicalola Falls. Photo by @visuals_by_pari

Waterfalls

Any time of year, waterfall hunting is a beloved pastime around these parts. The big three are Toccoa Falls, Tallulah Falls, and Amicalola Falls, which drops 729 feet and is the highest waterfall in the Southeast.

Find more in 10 Georgia Waterfalls Worthy of a Walk in the Woods

Bell Mountain in Hiawassee, Georgia. Photo by @teja.mein.hu
Bell Mountain in Hiawassee, Georgia. Photo by @teja.mein.hu

Mountain overlooks

In the 1960s, miners blasted a chunk off the top of Hiawassee's Bell Mountain in what proved to be a failed business venture. A preservation-minded local swooped in to purchase the mountaintop, ultimately bequeathing it to Towns County. A paved road now invites cars to the summit (though the narrow drive isn't for the faint for heart), and the Hal Herrin Scenic Overlook provides an unforgettable 360-degree view of surrounding peaks and Lake Chatuge.

Things to see & do

Georgia Guidestones in Elberton, Georgia. Photo by @wsmithphotog
Georgia Guidestones in Elberton, Georgia. Photo by @wsmithphotog

Georgia Guidestones

The financier behind this Stonehenge-like monument remains a mystery. Cross an Elberton cow pasture to read the inscription on the Georgia Guidestones — instructions for a new world order — and capture the imposing oddity on camera.

Watson Mill Covered Bridge in Comer, Georgia. Photo by @murfsurfandturf
Watson Mill Covered Bridge in Comer, Georgia. Photo by @murfsurfandturf

Watson Mill Covered Bridge

Snap the shadowy interior of Georgia's longest covered bridge (not while driving, please), or pose on a rock in the South Fork River with the structure in the background at Watson Mill Bridge State Park.

Tallulah Gorge Suspension Bridge. Photo by @steventhomasphotography
Tallulah Gorge Suspension Bridge. Photo by @steventhomasphotography

Tallulah Gorge Suspension Bridge

Descend 600 stairs to a footbridge that sways 80 feet above the river at Tallulah Gorge State Park, then smile big to distract from wobbly legs. It could be worse; daredevil Karl Wallenda crossed the 1,000-foot gorge via tightrope in 1970 — a lot higher up.

Georgia Mountain Coaster in Helen, Georgia
Georgia Mountain Coaster in Helen, Georgia

Georgia Mountain Coaster

Grab a buddy or fly solo on Georgia's first alpine coaster, Georgia Mountain Coaster, recently opened in downtown Helen. The German-made thrill ride, which looks something like a metal bobsled track, sends riders careening down a mountainside around hairpin turns (watch out for the corkscrew). Apply the brakes to your liking — or let it fly.

Margaritaville at Lanier Islands
Margaritaville at Lanier Islands

Lake Lanier Islands

Georgia's most popular lakeside resort offers a range of accommodations — from a grand lodge to campgrounds — along with golf, horseback riding, a spa, and one Parrothead paradise. The on-site Margaritaville is all about fun in the sun, luring boaters to its white-sand beach, water park, and LandShark Bar & Grill.

Sunrise Grocery in Blairsville, Georgia. Photo by Jason Clemmons
Sunrise Grocery in Blairsville, Georgia. Photo by Jason Clemmons

Sunrise Grocery

It's hard to imagine a more picturesque country store than Sunrise Grocery, which has occupied its spot on Blairsville's Highway 19 since 1920. Along with basics like gas and fresh produce, the family-run shop stocks locally made jams and jellies, honey, grits, soaps, and its "world-famous" boiled peanuts.

Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega, Georgia. Photo by @katie_barber
Wolf Mountain Vineyards in Dahlonega, Georgia. Photo by @katie_barber

Wolf Mountain Vineyards

Georgia is home to some 50 wineries, including more than 30 in the northern part of the state. Dahlonega's Wolf Mountain Vineyards is a favorite, for both its award-winning wines and its majestic mountain views. Go for a tour and tasting or visit for brunch on Sunday (reservations are required).

Find more things to do in the Northeast Georgia Mountains

Tips from locals

Josh and Alex Brown, @wandernorthga, founded Wander North Georgia, a website and shop, along with pals Jake and Courtney Scott.

Sunrise at Brasstown Bald. Photo by @nickthedobby
Sunrise at Brasstown Bald. Photo by @nickthedobby

What's one thing all visitors to your region should do?

Get outside. It sounds so simple, but you could spend every day outside for the next 365 days and still not experience all the Northeast Georgia Mountains have to offer.

Nacoochee Village Tavern & Pizzeria in Helen, Georgia
Nacoochee Village Tavern & Pizzeria in Helen, Georgia

What's your favorite restaurant?

We love the Nacoochee Village Tavern — some of the best pizza we've had in the South.

Helton Creek Falls
Helton Creek Falls

Where would you recommend someone go with kids?

Both Lake Burton and Lake Rabun have public access beach areas, which are great options in summer. If you want a kid-friendly hike, try Hemlock Falls or Helton Creek Falls.

What's something surprising about your region?

"Deliverance" gave North Georgia a bad reputation and painted everyone as backward hillbillies who play banjos alongside the river. While a little banjo by the river never hurt anyone, it doesn't fully describe how amazing the people are.

What do you love most about living here?

At the end of a stressful day, you can be in the woods in five minutes.

Published: February 2020