A view of Cloudland Canyon, Georgia in the fall

Georgia’s Best Fall Foliage Adventures

From scenic drives and short hikes to technical climbs, the Southern Appalachians offer exciting options to see the hardwood canopy change.

Fall foliage is one of the greatest natural shows on earth, and North Georgia is ground zero for the display. The tail end of the Southern Appalachians reaches all the way down to the edge of Atlanta, which means there’s plenty of fall leaf-peeping to be had without putting too many miles on your car. Every year, the hardwood canopy covering the hills and mountains comes to life, with oaks, sweetgum, sourwoods and other deciduous hardwoods delivering a spectrum of colors from deep crimson to gold. The foliage starts to turn at the end of September and really gets ripping in October and early November. To help you make the most of the season, here are three different levels of adventure detailed in three different locations throughout North Georgia. 

Drive The Dragon Eyes 

North Georgia has no shortage of scenic roads, but The Dragon Eyes might top them all. This collection of small highways maximizes the scenery as they wind through the Southern Appalachians, forming twin loops (like two eyes) near Helen, Ga. Driving both eyes is a 77-mile-long affair, perhaps too time-consuming for a single day. Focusing on the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway, which forms the northern loop of The Dragon Eyes, will give you a more tangible goal. This 40-mile loop connects several scenic mountain gaps, while giving you the opportunity to stretch your legs on a number of side-hikes, including a quick romp to Anna Ruby Falls, which has twin waterfalls that plunge 150 feet, and a section of the Appalachian Trail. You’ll also have an optional side-trip to the top of 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald, the tallest mountain in Georgia, delivering 360-degree views from an observation tower.

More info: scenicbyways.info

Hike Cloudland Canyon State Park  

Situated in Northeast Georgia on the edge of the broad Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is a collection of sandstone cliffs and dense hardwood forest covering the walls of a 1,000-foot-deep gorge. Trails along the rim of the canyon give you a bird’s-eye view of the foliage blooming below. Hikers can also dive deep into the belly of the chasm on longer, more technical trails. If you’re looking for an easy stroll, the Overlook Trail follows the edge of Cloudland Canyon for a half-mile, leading to a wooden platform that stares down into the heart of the canyon. It’s a mile-long, out-and-back stroll. For more of a challenge, hike the 5-mile-long West Rim Loop Trail, which forms a lollipop loop that starts on the east rim of the canyon, passing several overlooks before descending into the gorge and climbing out the other side. Along the way, you’ll hug the edge of rock walls, cross creeks, boulder-hop and see the canyon’s technicolor foliage from a variety of angles.

More info: gastateparks.org

Anna Ruby Falls, Georgia, USA in autumn.

Climb Mount Yonah 

The Southern Appalachians might be best known for their dense hardwood canopy, but the mountain range also has a series of granite domes that rise out of the valley, offering some of the most iconic rock climbing in the country. Mount Yonah is one of those granite domes. The 3,166-foot mountain sits inside the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest between Helen and Cleveland and has been a climbing destination since the ’60s, when Army Rangers began using the mountain as a training ground to help perfect mountaineering skills. It’s also an ideal leaf-peeping perch because the granite rises directly from the mountainous canopy, giving you an expansive and memorable view of the colorful show.

Known for its signature “brows” and friction climbing with routes up to 200 feet long, you’ll find a little bit of everything on Yonah, from sport-climbing routes established by Army Rangers to more difficult trad routes. While you can find some long, multi-pitch opportunities, most routes are single-pitch. Beginners will find a number of top-rope options at the Balance Climb area. There are even single-pitch trad routes with grades as low as 5.4. If you’re looking for a big adventure, check out the 800-foot-long Yonah Traverse, which crosses the entire Main Wall of Yonah, following grades from 5.4 to 5.7. Regardless of what you’re climbing, be prepared for an hour-long, tough approach hike before you put on your climbing shoes, and enjoy the chance to explore the canopy from the ground floor before climbing above it.
More info: mountainproject.com  

Additional Resources

Keep an eye on Georgia State Parks’ annual Leaf Watch, which provides real-time updates on the fall foliage throughout North Georgia’s parks: gastateparks.com

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.