It happens every year, yet it never gets old. Mother Nature packs away the green wardrobe she’s been wearing the past few months and dresses in hues of orange, yellow, red and brown.
Once the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, we wait for the leaves to change colors — peak season in Georgia is October and November. We plan afternoon drives and weekend escapes just to see the yearly tranformation.
If you’re one of those who enjoys observing the changing season up close, we have some ideas for you.
Take a drive
201 Dowman Drive, Atlanta 30307. 404-727-6123
It’s a myth you have to leave town to see the best leaves. The campus of Emory University is so lovely is regularly ranks among Best College Reviews’ 50 most beautiful campuses in autumn, coming in at No. 21 this year.
“Georgia is warm in many ways. The colors of the fall at Emory truly warm the soul. The 600-acre heavily forested campus is populated with pine, maples, oak, and magnolias (that) bring every autumn color in the rainbow. Peavine Creek, a branch of the Peachtree Creek, runs through the campus carrying fallen leaves peacefully to the sea. Located in the lovely Druid Hills, Emory takes sustainability seriously with every tree removed guaranteeing one to be planted in its place; it is also a Tree Campus USA. Even more natural beauty can be found at the Lullwater Preserve with walking trails, woods and Candler Lake.”
Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway
GA Highways 17/75, 180, 348 and 75 ALT, Blairsville
One of Georgia’s Scenic Byways, Russell-Brasstown begins north of Robertstown at the intersection of GA-17 and GA-75. Then you’ll drive until reach the top of Brasstown Bald, looking down from the highest point in Georgia at a mountain full of fall leaves.
Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway
5845 Highway 2, Dalton 30721
Dalton might be known as the carpet capital, but during autumn it’s what’s above the forest floors that attracts people. The 54 miles of this scenic byway will take you through Chattahoochee National Forest and some movie-set towns draped in autumn colors. If you start on the Prater’s Mill end, you can pull into the parking lot to see more changing leaves and a National Register of Historic Places working water mill powered by Coahulla Creek.
Make it a weekend
Just and hour and a half north of Atlanta is the charming town of Blue Ridge. In addition to art exhibits and musical performances, hop on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway for a trip through the Appalachian foothills.
Starting at the historic depot in downtown Blue Ridge, you’ll take a four-hour, 26-mile roundtrip journey along the Toccoa River through the North Georgia countryside. The first leg will take you on a one hour trip to the sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. A two hour layover will give you time to shop, grab a bite or just stretch your legs before taking the one hour return trip through the scenic forest and back to the depot in Blue Ridge.
Prices range from $59.99 to $94.99, depending on which car you choose. Discounts are available for first responders, military and passengers age 65 and older.
Even though the town has fewer than 500 full-time residents, it’s the third most visited city in Georgia. Many of those visitors come to celebrate Oktoberfest in Helen’s Bavarian charm. The Festhalle’s 50th Oktoberfest blowout begins Sept. 9 and runs weekends until the end of the month. Then the festival kicks into full gear and runs through Nov. 7. Helen is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the Chattahoochee River and offers shopping, bingo and wine tours to visitors.
Lodging includes hotels, cabins, resorts, and bed and breakfast inns.
Credit: Photo courtesy Georgia State Parks
Credit: Photo courtesy Georgia State Parks
Don Carter State Park
5000 N. Browning Bridge Road, Gainesville 30506
Don Carter is Georgia’s newest state park, as well as the first state park at Lake Lanier. In addition to water activities, the park has 1,316 acres to explore by foot, bicycle or horseback. If you don’t see gorgeous fall foliage, you might have your eyes closed.
Although this would be an easy day trip, the park has a variety of options for you to stay a weekend or a week.
On Sept. 22, you can join a park naturalist on a guided First Day of Fall Hike, a 1 mile trek to welcome the autumn season. For more information, call 678-450-7726.
Parking in Georgia’s state parks is just $5, and visitors can buy a $50 annual ParkPass that helps fund renovations, trail work, dock replacements and more. ParkPasses are not valid at state historic sites. Overnight guests pay the daily ParkPass fee only once during their stay, regardless of duration.
Senior citizens can get half off an annual ParkPass by presenting a copy of their drivers license. Seniors also receive $20 off membership in Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, plus 20% off.