Summer vacations are a go, but there’s no need to go far

Between the mountains and the Tennessee River, find plenty of outdoor adventures in Chattanooga — just about 90 minutes away from metro Atlanta. Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.
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Between the mountains and the Tennessee River, find plenty of outdoor adventures in Chattanooga — just about 90 minutes away from metro Atlanta. Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Here are 7 great escapes within a 1½-hour drive from metro Atlanta.

This summer’s travel season already seems to hold a more promising outlook with a new survey estimating a complete inverse of last year’s numbers, in which more than 70 percent of Americans plan on taking a vacation in 2021.

Metro Atlanta resident Cheri Thome is happy to be among that number. Recently returned from a quick excursion in her family’s camper, Thome is eager to arrange a few more short summer escapes before her three sons — ages 15, 12 and 7 — return to school in August.

Cheri Thome and her family pose at a mountaintop during her family vacation. 
Courtesy of Cheri Thome
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Cheri Thome and her family pose at a mountaintop during her family vacation. Courtesy of Cheri Thome

Credit: Cheri Thome

Credit: Cheri Thome

“We really wanted to do something with the boys,” says Thome, who works at an elementary in Gainesville. “The past year was not only hard on me and my husband Daniel, but it was also hard on the boys. So it’s nice to get away from the feeling of being smothered by the pandemic — socially and physically.”

And if you share Thome’s sentiment, there’s new hope for your summer. Those looking to safely break away for the season may be encouraged by recently-updated travel guidance from the CDC, which clears more international destinations as “low-risk” for vaccinated travelers. But while the world is almost your oyster again, don’t forget about all the great vacation opportunities closer to home. Best of all, shorter travel distances may allow you to fit in more than one outing before the summer comes to an end.

From old-school camping and intimate glamping to luxury hotel getaways and beach days, here are seven great escapes, all reachable within an 1½-hour drive from the metro.

Close-to-home beach vibes

The distance to the nearest ocean coast is a frequently repeated woe among Atlantans. But you actually don’t have to travel too far for the opportunity to dig your toes in the sand. Drive just 80 miles south of the metro where Callaway Resort and Gardens touts the longest human-made white sand beach in the Southeast. In addition to the mile-long beach and their 65-acre Robin Lake, the treasured destination also offers hiking and biking trails, golf, zip line courses, and a range of accommodations, including cottage rentals.

Callaway Resort & Gardens, 17800 US 27, Pine Mountain. 855-421-3035, callawaygardens.com.

Metro Atlanta resident Taylor Long enjoys the state’s natural wonders on her camping vacation.
Courtesy of Taylor Long
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Metro Atlanta resident Taylor Long enjoys the state’s natural wonders on her camping vacation. Courtesy of Taylor Long

Credit: Taylor Long

Credit: Taylor Long

Forest finds in Suches

During the pandemic, the spontaneous camping trip was the choice escape for Taylor Long, a pet supply sales rep from Powder Springs.

“When you’re camping, you feel comfortable because you can socially distance from people, and it’s a great way to relax,” says Long, who often packs up for camp with her boyfriend, dog, tent and a few camp-friendly provisions. “It’s very cleansing to be around nature, to get away from the everyday stress of life, and clear your mind of anxiety. Chilling by the river and listening to the bugs at night, it’s given me time to recharge.”

Long recommends any campsite inside the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest but spotlights the Cooper Creek Recreation Area in Suches as her personal favorite for its hiking and trout fishing prospects.

The Getaway House cabins offers a quiet escape for metro residents. 
Courtesy of Getaway House
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The Getaway House cabins offers a quiet escape for metro residents. Courtesy of Getaway House

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

But if the idea of a whole camp experience sounds a little too adventurous, Suches is also home to the Getaway House outposts, which offer fully furnished tiny homes that sleep one to four guests. Each home includes serene views of the secluded area, a private fire pit, kitchenette, shower and toilet so guests can have a taste of the great outdoors without going all out (pun intended).

Cooper Creek Recreation Area, 6050 Appalachian Highway, Suches.

Getaway House, Suches. getaway.house.

A glass walkway connects downtown to the Hunter Museum of American Art and the charming Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga. Contributed by Blake Guthrie
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A glass walkway connects downtown to the Hunter Museum of American Art and the charming Bluff View Art District in Chattanooga. Contributed by Blake Guthrie

Scenic escapes just out of state

Take a brief drive north to the Tennessee-Georgia border, where you’ll find a city bursting with thrills. Surrounded by scenic mountains and bisected by the Tennessee River, Chattanooga tourists can get into a bit of everything — from whitewater rafting and hiking to mountain trains and Riverwalk dining.

Families should certainly consider a visit to the city’s most popular attractions like the Tennessee Aquarium, Ruby Falls and Rock City. Yet, families should book time-slot reservations in advance as the capacity for each location is still limited during the pandemic. Rock City is a particular must-see for a closeup view of Lookout Mountain’s waterfall and an opportunity to see seven states in one panoramic viewpoint — all while enjoying a pleasant winding trek through the massive natural rock formation.

Chattanooga, Tennessee. visitchattanooga.com.

June 3, 2019 Atlanta: Kara O'Brien with her llamas and alpacas beneath the alpaca treehouse where guests stay overlooking a bamboo forest on her Airbnb properties in 2019. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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June 3, 2019 Atlanta: Kara O'Brien with her llamas and alpacas beneath the alpaca treehouse where guests stay overlooking a bamboo forest on her Airbnb properties in 2019. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Local gems and llamas

You don’t have to venture out of the state (nor the city, for that matter) to enjoy a summer escape. There are plenty of vacation rental properties right in the heart of Atlanta that offer you brand-new feels.

For example, Kara O’Brien hosts one of Atlanta’s most sought-after Airbnb properties. Her Atlanta Alpaca Treehouse sits 15-feet high inside an 80-year-old bamboo forest, where rescue llamas and alpacas happily graze below.

“With our rescue farm and treehouse, nothing was curated and everything unfurled organically,” O’Brien says. “We happened to have rescued some long-necked fuzzy camelids and, a few years later, crafted a treehouse embedded in a bamboo forest. The resulting colorful flavor is the love of animals, gardening, trees, reclaimed materials [and] recycling.”

O’Brien says guests can sign up to do llama yoga, feed the herd or just enjoy an otherworldly retreat in the luxury treehouse.

Atlanta Alpaca Treehouse in the Bamboo Forest. 678-595-0038, alpacatreehouse.com.

Kids can enjoy a unique staycation at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta with pool access and personalized treats.
Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta
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Kids can enjoy a unique staycation at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta with pool access and personalized treats. Courtesy of Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Staycations and local explorations

With so many beloved hotels and new properties, why not consider a night (or two) in the heart of Atlanta?

Venues like the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta in Midtown offer special staycation packages, boasting bonuses such as overnight parking, in-room movie, late check-out, and in-room breakfast. For parents looking for a quick moment to make a splash in a dry summer schedule, the Four Seasons offers kid-friendly perks like personalized treats, a heated pool, cookie decorating and even an in-room tent set-up upon request.

Similarly, the newly opened Bellyard hotel in the Interlock offers its “Bellyard Debut Grand Opening Package,” which invites guests to stay and explore the property along with the rest of the Interlock (one of the city’s newest bustling mixed-use developments). The package, which is available until Aug. 31, includes a private mixology class at the Bellyard and offerings from other new and soon-to-open Interlock establishments like Saint Germain French Bakery, Pour Taproom and Velvet Taco. Also, in the Interlock is the Puttshack — a techy indoor mini-golf course.

Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, 5 14th St. NE, Atlanta. 404-881-9898, fourseasons.com/atlanta

Bellyard, 1 Interlock Ave. NW, Atlanta. 404-806-8333, bellyardhotel.com

From golf and horseback riding lessons to archery classes and sport shooting, find plenty of activities to fill up your days at Barnsley Resort. 
Courtesy of Barnsley Resort
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From golf and horseback riding lessons to archery classes and sport shooting, find plenty of activities to fill up your days at Barnsley Resort. Courtesy of Barnsley Resort

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

All-in-one outdoorsy fun

Just a little over an hour away from the city is another epic vacation option for outdoor enthusiasts. Perfect for a couple’s getaway or a mini-reunion with the extended family, Barnsley Resort gives guests a choice of lodging options — from their private multi-bedroom cottages to their English-inspired Inn.

There’s a spa and pool if you’re not a fan of the adrenaline rush. But the action-packed site allows guests to opt-in for a round of golf, horseback riding lessons, archery classes, canoeing and sport shooting at their Beretta Shooting Grounds. And according to Barnsley Resort President David Friedrich, new additions such as ax throwing and open-fire kettle cooking classes are equally popular among resort guests.

This summer, Barnsley Gardens offers new experiences like their open-fire kettle cooking lessons.
Courtesy of Hannah Lozano Photography
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This summer, Barnsley Gardens offers new experiences like their open-fire kettle cooking lessons. Courtesy of Hannah Lozano Photography

Credit: Hannah Lozano Photography

Credit: Hannah Lozano Photography

“That’s also what makes returning to the resort time and time again so special,” he says about the property’s new offerings. “Barnsley Resort has been a cherished home-away-from-home to Atlantans for years.”

Barnsley Resort, 597 Barnsley Gardens Road, Adairsville. 770-773-7480, barnsleyresort.com

Chateau Elan has completed a $25 million renovation, including a new chandelier installation in the atrium and updated furnishings.
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Chateau Elan has completed a $25 million renovation, including a new chandelier installation in the atrium and updated furnishings.

Credit: Michael Miller

Credit: Michael Miller

Nearer than Napa

Though California’s mid-June reopening puts the state’s wine country back in play for your vacation bingo card, you don’t have to travel that far for a vineyard experience. Georgia offers a surprisingly robust (cheers for wine pun) amount of wineries.

Some Georgia wineries like Braselton’s Chateau Elan offer on-site lodging, allowing guests to sip, sample and stay put. Guests of Chateau Elan can find plenty of ways to indulge in a summer break with their full-service spa and wellness classes. Their newly renovated pool and poolside bar also make for a memorable scene. As a new feature this summer, the winery debuts their Al Fresco Soirées — a private dining experience set up on the vineyard grounds, which includes butler wine service, a three-course meal and customized tablescapes.

Chateau Elan, 100 Rue Charlemagne, Braselton. 678-425-0900, chateauelan.com.

“Just do it”

After canceling a few planned vacations in 2020 due to COVID, Cheri Thome is already making up for the lost time. The Thome family has taken their camper for a few local outings around Lake Lanier as well as outside the state. And she plans to seek out a few more adventures for her crew of the five. Thome, a big advocate for the family vacation, encourages everyone to find a moment to break away — particularly after these stressful times.

“If you have the opportunity to get away, no matter if you stay near or go far, just do it,” she offers. “It’s worth it.”