Savannah Rapids Park, 147 miles east of Atlanta off I-20, sits on the banks of the Savannah River at the headgate of the Augusta Canal. The 33-acre park is the northern terminus of the Augusta Canal Trail that runs 5.3 miles along the old canal towpaths into Augusta, with offshoot trail systems including one for mountain bikes only. Bike and kayak rentals are available from vendors inside the park or bring your own for a ride along the canal in a surprisingly verdant urban setting brimming with wildlife. Even without a bike or kayak, it’s worth a visit to walk the trails and take in the view from overlooks at the spillway dam that diverts water from the river into the canal as it has for more than a century and a half. Judging from all the love locks fastened to the railings at the headgate, it’s also a romantic spot where couples pledge their love to one another and toss the keys into the swift-flowing water below. (Savannah Rapids Park, Free, 3300 Evans-to-Locks Road, Martinez. 706-868-3373, www.savannahrapids.com)
The Living History Park in North Augusta, South Carolina, recreates the 18th century life of colonial times on its 7.5-acre grounds.
Courtesy of Thoroughbred Country
Credit: Bill Barley
Credit: Bill Barley
North Augusta, South Carolina
Get a taste of what colonial life was like in the 18th century at the Living History Park, 149 miles east of Atlanta. Stroll the 7.5-acre park and admire the structures built around a natural spring using construction methods of the colonial period. Highlights include the rustic blacksmith forge, the Willow Springs meeting house, a log cabin, pottery house, smoke house, green house, apothecary, print shop and a functioning gristmill. The only structure original to the site is the Spring House Tavern. Occasionally costumed interpreters and artisans are on hand giving demonstrations and answering questions. (Living History Park, free, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 299 W. Spring Grove Ave., North Augusta, South Carolina. 803-979-9776, 803-279-7560, colonialtimesus.wordpress.com/)
Devils Fork State Park and Lake Jocassee in Salem, S.C., make a perfect fall getaway. Courtesy of Perry Baker
Salem, South Carolina
Experience the natural beauty of a place National Geographic considers among “50 of the World’s Last Great Places,” located just 137 miles northeast of Atlanta. Jocassee Gorges is a spectacular wilderness area featuring 50,000 acres of protected forest, a 7,500-acre lake and one of the highest concentrations of waterfalls in the eastern United States. The easiest way to experience the natural wonders is by boat from Devils Fork State Park. Jocassee Lake Tours offers a variety of options, including a three-hour excursion visiting hidden coves where the boat pulls its nose right up to waterfalls that feed the lake. The park also offers hiking, fishing, swimming and scuba diving. Overnight accommodations are available in cabins and camp sites for tents and RVs. For the most direct route, take I-85 north to GA 11 north. The ride should be about two hours and 15 minutes. For the scenic route, take I-85 north to U.S. 23 in Suwanee and pass through Tallulah Falls. Just past Clayton, head southeast on U.S. 76 to GA 11. It only adds about 15 minutes to your drive. (Devils Fork State Park, $8, 161 Holcombe Circle, Salem, South Carolina. 864-280-5501, southcarolinaparks.com/devils-fork. Jocassee Lake Tours, $45 and up, jocasseelaketours.com)
The Tennessee Valley Railroad in Chattanooga, Tennessee, offers excursions aboard vintage rail cars into the countryside ranging from one to nine hours.
Courtesy of Chattanooga Tourism Co.
Unlike the famous, stationary Chattanooga Choo Choo, there’s a train in town you can actually ride. The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum offers day excursions into the surrounding countryside from its Grand Junction depot, 116 miles from Atlanta. Rides range from 55 minutes to nine hours and include seasonal fall and holiday runs. The most frequent run is the 55-minute Missionary Ridge Local that chugs along a historic three-mile stretch of track for a six-mile roundtrip journey through a horseshoe-shaped tunnel underneath Missionary Ridge to East Chattanooga. In East Chattanooga, tour the museum’s restoration facility and witness the old locomotive rotating on a turntable for the return trip. The ride in vintage passenger cars is a family-friendly introduction to the Golden Age of railroad. Social distancing protocols are in place at the depot and on the rail cars. The Missionary Ridge Local excursion runs Thursdays through Saturdays. The drive is one hour and 40 minutes north on I-75. (Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum and Grand Junction depot, $19 and up. 4119 Cromwell Road, Chattanooga, Tennessee. 423-894-8028, www.tvrail.com)
Desoto Falls outside of Mentone, Alabama, is one of the more scenic waterfalls within easy driving distance of Atlanta.
Courtesy of Blake Guthrie
Credit: Blake Guthrie
Credit: Blake Guthrie
Desoto Falls is not the highest waterfall in the mountains of Alabama or Georgia, but it may be the most picturesque. Instead of cascading down the side of a mountain like most waterfalls in the region, Desoto Falls makes a dramatic, 104-foot plunge into a circular canyon on the Lookout Mountain Plateau. The wide pool below is surrounded by soaring stone cliffs. The best time to view the falls is at full-flow during the wet season between late autumn and spring. There are picnic grounds and a swimming area in a small lake behind the dam above the falls. Bring a kayak or paddleboard for paddling on the smooth-as-glass surface of the lake, which stands in stark contrast to the roaring waters nearby. The falls are part of Desoto State Park but located in a remote area 5.5 miles away from the park’s main unit. Desoto State Park is 110 miles north of Atlanta up I-75. The drive takes about two hours. To reach Desoto Falls from the park, take County Road 89 north to Tutwiler Gap, turn right on County Road 613 and turn right on Desoto Falls Road. From the parking lot, walk a few hundred yards along a paved path and descend about 50 steps to the overlook. (Desoto State Park, $4 parking, 7104 Desoto Parkway N.E., Fort Payne, Alabama. 256-845-5380, www.alapark.com/parks/desoto-state-park)
Blue Heron Adventure Park, 107-miles south of Atlanta, is a new aerial adventure park that’s a part of the Whitewater Express outpost in Columbus. It claims to be the only place in the U.S. with a dual zip line running between two states. The 1,200-foot-long, side-by-side zip lines allow two people to soar together high above the Chattahoochee River from Georgia into Alabama. Make it a race to see who can reach Phenix City first from a 12-story tower in Columbus. After landing on the opposite bank, you’ll navigate the aerial canopy course of ropes and bridges through the treetops before taking two more zip lines back across the river. The park is located along the Chattahoochee Riverwalk, ideal for strolling in nature after your aerial adventure. It’s a good spot to relax and watch the paddlers shoot the raging whitewater rapids, too. The drive is about an hour and a half south. (Blue Heron Adventure Park, $44.95 and up, 1000 Bay Ave., Columbus. 706-321-4720, chattahoochee.whitewaterexpress.com/zipline-adventure-park)
The Museum at Capricorn, part of the Mercer Music at Capricorn project, explores Macon's rich music history and currently only allows 10 people in at a time.
Courtesy of Mercer University
Credit: Christopher Ian Smith
Credit: Christopher Ian Smith
The city’s rich music history is on display at the Museum at Capricorn, 85 miles south of Atlanta. Now part of Mercer University’s Mercer Music at Capricorn, the museum resides inside the building that was once home to Capricorn Records and Capricorn Sound Studios. Capricorn’s influence in the music world runs deep and includes associations with soul legends Otis Redding and Percy Sledge, as well as Southern rock icons the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. The 1,200-square-foot museum features memorabilia, interpretive exhibits, artwork and interactive displays including a digital record bin where visitors can listen to music from all the artists from the label’s roster. Currently, no more than 10 people at a time are allowed in the museum at one time. After touring the museum, pick up a brochure of the Macon Music Trail to take a self-guided walking tour of other significant sites in the city’s illustrious music history. (Museum at Capricorn, $7 museum; $5 studio tour, 540 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. 478-257-5327, capricorn.mercer.edu/museum)
COVID-19 travel tips
- When gassing up the car, pay at the pump. Use disposable gloves or wipe down handles and buttons with disinfecting cloths.
- After fueling, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- The safest option for dining is to bring your own food. If you have to stop, use drive-through, delivery, take-out or curbside pick-up options.