Travel

The Most Beautiful Places to Visit in Georgia

Get some fresh air.

Angel Chun/Shutterstock
Angel Chun/Shutterstock
Angel Chun/Shutterstock

Some swore it would never happen, and others speculated that it was inevitable. Regardless, here we are in 2021 still enduring COVID-19. Life has changed a lot since the start of the pandemic, but one thing remains clear-we’re not quite out of the woods yet. So maybe it’s time to go into them. Exploring Georgia’s gorgeous outdoor spaces is one of the best things we can do in our free time. Sure, you could head over to the BeltLine, Piedmont Park, or Stone Mountain, but there are several other lowkey (and likely less crowded) places to check out. From relaxing weekend road trips to cascading waterfalls only accessible by hike, the Peach State has no shortage of alluring locales and stunning scenery. Here’s your guide to the most beautiful places for you to visit in Georgia.

Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock
Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock
Kevin Ruck/Shutterstock

Driftwood Beach

Jekyll Island
With warmer months slowly creeping in, you’re going to need a few waterside getaways on your list, and Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Beach is one of the most stunning beaches in Georgia. Yes, it’s nearly five hours from Atlanta, but its iconic driftwood and tree-clad shores are definitely worth the drive. Driftwood Beach’s unique, otherworldly scenery will make for some pretty great photos and some truly unforgettable memories.

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Rock City Gardens

Lookout Mountain
Right near the border of northwest Georgia and Tennessee is Lookout Mountain, and one of its prized locations is Rock City Gardens, which rests atop the mountain. There, visitors can marvel at ancient rock formations, lively gardens, and breathtaking panoramic views. In light of COVID-19, timed-entry tickets are available for patrons, making for a safer and more social-distanced experience for those witnessing the wondrous beauty of Rock City Gardens.

Venuz/Shutterstock
Venuz/Shutterstock
Venuz/Shutterstock

Carrollton Greenbelt

Carrollton
If you love the BeltLine but desperately need a switch of scenery from the city, head west to enjoy Carrollton. There, you’ll find the Carrollton Greenbelt, an 18-mile shared-use path designed for pedestrians, bikers, and skaters. It claims the title of Georgia’s largest paved loop trail system, and-like the BeltLine-the Carrollton Greenbelt brings together neighborhoods, commercial areas, city parks, and even University of West Georgia’s campus, making it easy to explore the rest of what Carrollton has to offer as well.

John Wijsman/Shutterstock
John Wijsman/Shutterstock
John Wijsman/Shutterstock

Little Tybee Island

Tybee Island
About four miles south of Tybee Island is a secluded nature preserve called Little Tybee Island. In addition to being so close to one of Georgia’s most beloved barrier islands, this gorgeous getaway is twice Tybee Island’s size with far less tourists. Little Tybee Island is only accessible by boat, but once you make it there, you’ll be wowed by its serenity and natural beauty.

Jazmine Thomas/Shutterstock
Jazmine Thomas/Shutterstock
Jazmine Thomas/Shutterstock

Radium Springs Garden

Albany
You probably weren’t thinking about taking a road trip to Albany prior to this, but the southwest Georgia city boasts one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia: Radium Springs Garden. This magnificent landmark is one of the state’s largest springs, and it’s known for pumping out tens of thousands of gallons of strikingly blue water every minute from an underground cave. There’s also plenty of history surrounding Radium Springs Garden, so a trip there would be both awe-inspiring and educational.

Andy Montgomery/Flickr
Andy Montgomery/Flickr
Andy Montgomery/Flickr

Helen
Since the drive from Atlanta to Helen takes a little under two hours, a day trip to North Georgia could be just what you need. The town’s unique charm will surely draw you in, but the mountains have plenty of outdoor activities awaiting you, from hiking to tubing. At the moment, you can’t fully experience Brasstown Bald-the highest point in Georgia-because the recreation center there is currently for the season. However, you can still bundle up and take a paved one-mile hike at Anna Ruby Falls that will take your breath away.

David Grano-De-Oro/Shutterstock
David Grano-De-Oro/Shutterstock
David Grano-De-Oro/Shutterstock

Cochran Mill Park

Chattahoochee Hills
Waterfalls. That’s it. That’s the tweet. But seriously, Cochran Mill Park is a 800-acre wonderland tucked towards the bottom of Fulton County. In addition to housing waterfalls like the gorgeous Henry Mills Falls, Cochran Mill Park boasts historic mill ruins, plenty of forest and riverside trails, and rare flowers that are native to the park. Thankfully, It opens 30 minutes prior to sunrise and closes 30 minutes after the sun sets, because experiencing a sunrise/sunset by Henry Mills is unmatched.

Rob Hainer/Shutterstock
Rob Hainer/Shutterstock
Rob Hainer/Shutterstock

Allatoona Lake

Northwest Georgia
The serenity and simplistic beauty of a lakefront is a joy to experience, from fishing or kayaking to swimming or sunbathing. Skip that haunted lake off Highway 85 and instead take 75 to Allatoona Lake. The 12,000-acre body of water crosses into multiple counties, and its shorelines have several outdoor recreational activities available. Plus, Allatoona Lake is one of the filming locations for Netflix’s sensational lakeside drug drama Ozark.

Richard Elzey/Flickr
Richard Elzey/Flickr
Richard Elzey/Flickr

Meeks Park

Blairsville
On the west outskirts of Blairsville sits Meeks Park, a huge outdoor recreation complex that’s intersected by Butternut Creek and Nottely River. The park boasts a dog park and several recreational amenities, such as batting cages, a skateboard park, a community pool, and a basketball court to name a few. However,  the most scenic (and socially distant!) are the creekside hiking trails, canoe and kayak areas, and the Grist Mill Water Wheel.

Nagel Photography/Shutterstock
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

Andersonville National Historic Site

Andersonville
While Andersonville National Historic Site requires a two-hour southbound trek form Atlanta, the site serves as a history lesson about the Civil War-era South and an open-air respite from the city. In addition to housing the National Prisoner of War Museum, which is extremely insightful and unfortunately closed due to COVID-19. The Andersonville National Historic Site features a national military cemetery and an abundance of gorgeous green space.

JayL/Shutterstock
JayL/Shutterstock
JayL/Shutterstock

Tallulah Gorge

Tallulah Falls
A 1,000-feet-deep gorge that’s nearly two miles long, TG is the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. More aptly called Tallulah Gorgeous, the site sits right next to a nearly 2,700-acre Georgia state park. With six waterfalls, which cause the river to drop 500 feet over one mile, an 80-foot-high suspension bridge, and ample hiking and biking space, it’s literally breathtaking. Tallulah Gorge is one of Georgia’s state parks that are experiencing large crowds, but social distancing is still being strictly enforced. As a result, prepare for wait times and entry limits.

Isaenko/shutterstock
Isaenko/shutterstock
Isaenko/shutterstock

Arabia Mountain

Lithonia
Arabia Mountain is one of only 49 National Heritage Areas in the country, i.e., places recognized by Congress for their peerless contribution to the nation’s history. What you’ll appreciate most, though, is its starkly beautiful granite landscapes, incredible, awe-inducing views, and dozens of brilliantly colored rare plant species. If a more serene place exists, we haven’t found it yet.

Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P
Flickr/JR P

Callaway Gardens

Pine Mountain
A public garden and resort on 14,000 acres of beautiful Appalachian foothills near Pine Mountain, Callaway Gardens is teeming with gorgeous views of multiple multi-acre kaleidoscopic flowers gardens, and much more, including some legit golf course action, too. Practically all of its indoor and recreational activities have reopened as well, so don’t forget your mask while enjoying all of the experiences that Callaway Gardens has to offer.

Morningside Nature Preserve

Morningside
A true hidden gem tucked away by the CDC, Morningside Nature Preserve is a secret even to many who live in the neighborhood. It’s a great place for hiking, trail running, walking, letting dogs frolic, or simply forgetting that a huge metropolis is hidden behind the lovely trees, trails, brush, creeks, suspension bridge, and sandy beaches. Seriously, you’ll feel like you actually got away without ever really leaving the city.

Flickr/Kevin Trotman
Flickr/Kevin Trotman
Flickr/Kevin Trotman

Etowah Indian Mounds

Cartersville
This 54-acre site is the most intact Mississippian culture (a mound-building Native American civilization) site in the Southeast, and it features six earthen mounds, a plaza, village site, borrow pits, and a defensive ditch. Artifacts at this archaeological site include huge, hand-carved stone effigies that still have some original pigments. No doubt: This is one of the coolest history lessons you’ve ever had.

Montaluce Winery and Restaurant
Montaluce Winery and Restaurant
Montaluce Winery and Restaurant

Montaluce Winery

Dahlonega
Nestled away in Dahlonega is a Montaluce, a stunning winery (and upscale restaurant!) that offers not only artisanal wines, but also breathtaking views of both the North Georgia Mountains and the sprawling vineyards responsible for all that sweet vino. It also offers events such as deluxe wine tastings, nature hikes, tours, holiday festivities, and more. Splurge on a meal and at least a case of wine. You won’t regret it.

Flickr/Neal Wellons
Flickr/Neal Wellons
Flickr/Neal Wellons

Okefenokee Swamp

Waycross
The largest intact freshwater and black water wilderness swamp in North America, Okefenokee Swamp has to be seen to be believed. It’s full of vegetation and animals you’ve probably never seen before, like alligators and cranes. Check it out via paddle boat/motorboat on water trails that are the sweetest way to explore the indigenous creeks called “The Land of Trembling Earth.”

Flickr/Richard
Flickr/Richard
Flickr/Richard

Providence Canyon State Park

Lumpkin
Yes, that’s in Georgia. While much of the state thinks little, if anything, south of Atlanta is noteworthy, Providence Canyon State Park proves them wrong. The 1,000-plus-acre park contains Providence Canyon, which is known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” because the massive, up-to-150-foot gullies resemble the real thing so closely. They definitely look like nothing else you’ll find in the Peach State.

Paula Stephens/shutterstock
Paula Stephens/shutterstock
Paula Stephens/shutterstock

Cumberland Island

St. Marys
Step off the ferry on Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island and you’ll immediately feel like you’re on your own private beach, where you can swim, take quiet strolls, fish, and bird watch. Do this all amidst ancient, twisted trees, lush vegetation, similarly ancient turtles, and beautiful roaming wild horses. The best part, especially for anyone who’s sick of Atlanta traffic? Cumberland Island is a car-free zone. As the pandemic has continued, Cumberland Island has made plenty of important changes, so some tourist attractions have reopened while others remained suspended.

Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based entertainment critic and lifestyle writer for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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