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