Magic in the Mountains: Plan the Ultimate North Georgia Road Trip

The Georgia Mountain Parkway puts on a spectacular autumn show.

As the Appalachian Mountains cascade down the East Coast, punctuating the landscape with peaks and valleys, they find at their southern reach a stretch of small towns so charming that they seem as if they've appeared from the pages of a storybook. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia, they invite visitors to wander picturesque downtown districts and explore the rolling countryside where autumn weekends can be spent harvesting apples, riding aboard a scenic railway, and strolling through the changing leaves.

Road off Georgia Mountain Parkway in Fall

Robbie Caponetto

The best way to reach these spots is a leisurely drive along the Georgia Mountain Parkway. This local-favorite road, also known as State 515, begins just south of Jasper and meanders for 76 miles past Ellijay, Blue Ridge, Blairsville, Young Harris, and Hiawassee as it nears the Georgia-North Carolina border. Embark on the rambling route, and you'll see it's easy to embrace every diversion, from canoeing, fishing, and hiking to shopping and enjoying local restaurants.

Julep Farms in Dillard, GA
Billed as a “slice of heaven,” Julep Farms in Dillard has cottages, fresh mint juleps, and unparalleled views on its 22 verdant acres. Robbie Caponetto

Pick Apples in Ellijay

Driving north along the parkway, you'll soon find yourself in Ellijay, the "Apple Capital of Georgia," where the area's farms offer all the fruit picking, hayrides, slices of pie, and cups of spiced cider you could dream of. Orchards such as B.J. Reece and Hillcrest are the places to be in fall, when visitors arrive to fill their baskets at the you-pick farms. If you're not interested in gathering your own, they also have preplucked bushels and pecks for sale. Come back on the weekends for big apple-themed festivities with food and live music. For more of Ellijay's and East Ellijay's favorite fruits, visit nearby Panorama Orchards & Farm Market, Aaron Family Orchards, Red Apple Barn, Hudson Apple House, R&A Orchards, Penland's Apple House, and Sellers Orchard. Before you visit, be sure to check websites for dates, details, and crop conditions. (Read this to start planning a trip to Ellijay.)

Ride the Rails in Blue Ridge

Farther along the parkway in Blue Ridge, you can find Mercier Orchards, a 300-acre property that dates to 1943 and is also a popular spot for apple picking. The downtown area is home to several craft breweries, local shops, eateries such as Black Sheep Restaurant and Harvest on Main, and a handful of places to stay. The Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is headquartered here. Visitors can hop aboard its train cars to see the changing leaves on an unhurried, 26-mile route along the Toccoa River. The train hub is located on Depot Street around the corner from the Blue Ridge Inn Bed & Breakfast, an 11-room Victorian featuring a front porch lined with rocking chairs. (For more reasons to visit Blue Ridge, read this.)

Blairsville, GA Historic Union County Courthouse
See the Historic Union County Courthouse in downtown Blairsville. Robbie Caponetto

See the Sights in Blairsville

Traveling along the parkway soon brings you to Blairsville, another town that's filled with opportunities for outdoor adventure. At 4,784 feet high, nearby Brasstown Bald is Georgia's tallest peak. Located about 17 miles from Blairsville, the mountain rewards hikers with its panoramic views of the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forests, which light up in stunning hues of red, orange, and yellow during autumn. The area's woodlands surround scenic lakes and rivers, including Lake Chatuge at the northern end of the parkway and Lake Trahlyta, which is situated along Wolf Creek near Brasstown Bald and provides lots of great fishing as well as a waterfall and hiking trails.

Fly Fisherman on Lake Trahlyta in Vogel State Park near Blairsville, GA
A fly fisherman on Lake Trahlyta, which is located in Vogel State Park near Blairsville. Robbie Caponetto

North Georgia is also home to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, which begins at Springer Mountain and, like clockwork, sees adventurous hikers setting out on journeys north. Some are bound for a few days of camping and scrambling, while others trek more than 2,190 miles to Maine's Mount Katahdin at the northernmost end of the trail. Myriad paths wind through the Georgia forests, dipping into valleys and rocketing up slopes, leading to spots like Amicalola Falls State Park, Long Creek Falls, and Fall Branch Falls.

Julep Farms in Dillard, GA
Robbie Caponetto

Pack a Sweater, and Book A Stay

Continuing past the eastern end of the parkway to Julep Farms in Dillard, visitors will find a "modern farm resort," a pleasant place to rest, relax, and explore. Its beautifully appointed cottages are nestled on 22 idyllic acres and are accompanied by a market, restaurant, and bar, making it a lovely spot to spend a weekend or launch a road trip.

Julep Farms Bar in Dillard, GA
Pause for a meal or a drink at the bar at Julep Farms in Dillard. Robbie Caponetto

The blend of small-town warmth, plenty of outdoor adventure, and magnificent fall scenery makes this stretch of Georgia countryside the perfect getaway. The mountains beckon year-round, but their foliage, festivals, and lively communities make the area a destination to look forward to each year when the air cools and the leaves begin to turn.

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