The Best Things To Do In Clayton, Georgia

There's no shortage of mountain activities and historic downtown charm in this North Georgia town.

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Downtown Clayton, Georgia

Explore Georgia / Ben Galland

When Dave Ranney left behind the advertising grind and hectic Atlanta life, he headed to Clayton in North Georgia. Ranney grew up visiting Clayton, surrounded by mountains and woodland, but around 2021 found himself thinking, “Well, hold on a second. I could just live here,” he recalls. Clayton’s beauty, as well as the beauty of the surrounding Rabun county, is what first attracted him, but it was the community that convinced him to stay. “I found so many amazing, creative, interesting people,” says Ranney, who opened his store, Ghost Apothecary in 2022. 

Clayton, founded in 1821, was originally named Claytonsville after congressman Augustin S. Clayton, according to the Rabun County Historical Society. The town wasn’t much to speak of until the Tallulah Falls Railroad arrived in 1904. 

Today, the mountain town is a far cry from its “ramshackle” beginnings. “The beauty of Rabun County is obviously one of the main reasons why people come up here,” says Ranney. “The easy hikes to beautiful waterfalls and seeing mountains drifting past your window.” Clayton sits in a spot conveniently located within just a couple of hours from cites like Atlanta, Asheville, Greenville, Sylva, North Carolina, and Athens, Georgia. The densely-packed historic downtown hums with exciting energy and offers travelers plenty to explore through its restaurants, shops, and outdoor activities. 

Where To Stay

One of Clayton’s charms is that it's uncommercial. You won’t find box hotels here, and while accommodations in town are slim, what is available is extremely personal. 

For now, there’s only one hotel in the downtown area, and that’s the White Birch Inn. The bed and breakfast resides in a 1920s brick building which gives it warmth and historic charm. With only six bedrooms, each one uniquely designed, the inn is an intimately cozy accommodation. The largest of the rooms, the Mountain Laurel Suite, contains a hammered copper soaking tub big enough for two people, in case you’re looking for a romantic getaway. 

Nearby, the Beechwood Inn also brings a 100-year-old building to life with its stylish accommodations. The bed and breakfast offers seven rooms, which feel decidedly modern with soothing white, grey, and blue accents throughout. There are also two cabins available. The property’s exterior makes for a Wonderland-like environment with views of the mountains, gardens, and a fire pit to enjoy on cooler nights. In addition to breakfast, the innkeepers, Eli Marie Rodriguez and Marlon Castiblanco, host a daily wine called “Wine-Thirty.”

Another hotel is on the horizon for the small town. The forthcoming Bridge Creek Inn plans to open by Labor Day 2023. The revitalized historic property will have 45 rooms as well as a coffee shop, bar, and restaurant. 

If rentals are more your speed, check out the Wright Cabin with cozy wood accents, a fireplace in the living room, and a fire pit outside for making s’mores. It’s only a 10-minute drive from town. 

Clayton, Georgia

Explore Georgia

Where To Eat

The downtown area is small, yet Clayton’s Main Street packs in great dining options. On the fancier-yet-approachable side, Fortify Kitchen and Bar offers New American cuisine made with locally-sourced ingredients. They work with farms including Carolina Mountain Trout, Hillside Orchard Farms for various fruits, and Ladybug Farm for herbs, among others. Dishes might include cornmeal and almond-crusted trout alongside Charleston Gold rice and quail with oyster dressing. 

Fortify Pi, their sister restaurant, is a pizza-lover’s dream with pies topped in myriad ways. The Newton, for example, features fig jam, prosciutto, goat cheese, mozzarella, and balsamic glaze, while tomato sauce, spinach, mushrooms, vegan burger crumbles, squash, and butternut squash top the Veggie pie. Wings, sandwiches, and salads round out the menu.

Located next-door to White Birch Inn is its coffee shop, White Birch Provisions. The bright, cozy shop invites you to hangout a bit with a cup of coffee and one of their house-made baked goods. Deeper into the storefront is a market with local products like pickles, snacks, and jams, as well as wines and nonalcoholic beverages. 

Satisfy your sweet tooth at the Farm House, a doughnut purveyor. They come in a variety of toppings like sprinkles and Fruity Pebbles. Conveniently, the shop also sells furniture designed by the owners, in case you’re in the market for tables and chairs.

Other notable stops include Sunday Diner (located about a one mile drive from downtown Clayton), for fluffy pancakes country cooking, and cakes; the Clayton Market for coffee, snacks, and home goods; and Manrique’s Mexican Restaurant (also about a mile drive from downtown) for tacos and other classics. 

What To Do

Rabun county is an outdoorsy person’s ideal destination. Make Clayton a home base before hitting the road to explore nearby trails. Popular hiking spots include Becky Branch Falls to Martin Creek, the James Edmond Trail in Black Rock Mountain State Park, and, further away, Rabun Bald offers a challenge as Georgia’s second highest peak at 4,695 feet. 

In town, it’s all about shopping local. Start with Ghost Apothecary which, as owner Dave Ranney says, specializes in “restorative care.” Here you might find anything from jewelry, unique art supplies (think glitter markers and gel crayons), home accessories, and a well-curated collection of nonalcoholic and adaptogenic beverages. Soon, the upstairs portion of the shop will transform into a tea room with books and magazines.

Ranney also suggests visiting Wander North Georgia across the street. “It is an outdoor store, but it's also really an outdoor-themed gift shop with all kinds of fun gifts,” says Ranney. "It's the perfect thing to bring back for folks.” Wander North Georgia began as a blog in 2015 and evolved into an outdoor brand with two shops (the other is in Tallulah Falls). The Clayton shop is about 10,000-square-feet of clothing, gear, and accessories. Even if you’re not an outside person, per say, you may find yourself drawn to the charming merchandise. 

Down the street, Lulu and Tully Mercantile sells country-chic home decor as well as vintage finds and art. Thoughtfully selected toys at Blue Ridge Toys makes the trip a little more fun for little ones (or, a great souvenir for the little one at home)—don’t miss the cool dress-up costume selection. 

Wine enthusiasts will find plenty of wineries within close driving range, including Tiger Mountain Vineyards, 12 Spies Vineyards & Farms, and Terra Ingognita Vineyard. 

When To Visit

There’s really no bad time to visit Clayton as each season offers something beautiful. Winter is the quietest time as people aren’t out hiking. This is a great time to visit because the town is a little bit sleepier and that makes for a more personal experience. Fall and spring in the mountains are hard to beat—look out for those beautiful wildflowers in April. Summertime hops with excitement as families hit the road. Those long days make it easy to get in a hike before some downtown exploration too.

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