Are you ready to see some autumn leaves? Even if summer temperatures are continuing to hang on, many of us are ready to see the telltale signs of autumn. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you may have a yard full of trees that are starting to put on a show of yellows, oranges and reds (or you may consider this unlucky if you’re the one who gets stuck with the rake!). Before long those leaves will be on the ground, ready to be raked and mulched, but for now you can simply enjoy the beautiful colors.
If you have a smaller yard featuring only a few evergreens, or live in town with no trees at all, you may want to head north out of the city to get the best fall views. Whether you want to take it easy and drive down a few mountain roads, or you prefer to be fully immersed in the colors while hiking a wooded trail, we can point you in the right direction for a beautiful autumn display. While it is true that the best views to be had in Georgia are in the higher elevations, autumn colors can be seen in most every greenspace if you’re patient to wait for the end of the autumn season. If you want to see the leaves now, we can tell you where to go.
When Should You Go?
According to the Farmers Almanac, peak leaf color in north Georgia will occur between October 19th and November 4th this year. The farther north you go (and the higher you climb), the earlier the leaves will reach their peak fall color. The most vibrant autumn hues occur after warm, sunny days paired with cool, but not freezing nights. Since we have had precious few cool evenings so far this year, it’s possible that peak colors will happen slightly later than usual.
If you want to know for sure that the leaves have changed in the location you’d most like to visit, keep your eye on the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Leaf Watch website. As the season goes on, the site will be updated with photos of the leaves in the state parks of northern Georgia. The Georgia Forestry Commision offers similar updates via their own Leaf Watch site, which has not yet been updated for the 2021 season, but should have new information any day now.
Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word meaning “tumbling waters,” so it’s clear that when the natives gave it this name they too were impressed by the 729 foot falls. This powerful site is the third highest waterfall on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. The water is surrounded by hardwood trees that put on a gorgeous display this time of year. For a truly unique fall foliage adventure, while visiting Amicalola Falls State Park, you can hike to the Len Foote Hike Inn, which can only be reached on foot. You’ll hike five miles to this rustic inn, with the first mile serving as part of the approach trail to Springer Mountain, the Georgia beginnings of the Appalachian Trail.
Another unique experience to be had at Amicalola Falls State Park is the Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure Tour, a zip line through the tree canopy. Imagine zipping through the reds, oranges and yellows as you whiz through the fall foliage. This is truly a special view of the leaves that you can’t experience in most of the locations described here.
At 4,784 feet above sea level, Brasstown Bald is the highest location in Georgia, where visitors are treated to amazing views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. From the observation deck above the visitors center, you can see parts of four states: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Because of this high elevation, leaf colors peaks earlier here than anywhere else in Georgia. In fact, the height of Brasstown Bald creates a micro-climate that is more similar to Massachusetts than to Georgia. That means that if you want to see a stereotypical New England fall scene without the travel, you can see the next best thing at Brasstown Bald. The area is a popular destination for those who want to explore on foot, but you can also take a shuttle to the top if you’re not feeling up to the climb. The hike to the Observation Tower is a steep 1.4 miles, but the views are well worth the work.
Tucked away in the extreme northwest corner of the state just 30 minutes from Chattanooga, you’ll find Cloudland Canyon State Park, which used to be commonly known as Sitton’s Gulch. The park boasts canyons that reach to 1,000 feet deep, wild caves, and gorgeous waterfalls, in addition to the beautiful fall leaves you’re craving. The park is particularly busy this time of year, so we recommend going on a weekday if possible to avoid the crowds. For sweeping views of the canyon and all of its foliage, hike the West Rim Loop, which is moderately difficult and about five miles round trip. Or if you prefer to spend a few days surrounded in autumn colors, may we suggest a glamping weekend amidst the leaves – you can stay overnight in one of the yurts inside the state park.
Red Top Mountain was once an important mining location in Georgia, and got its name from the high iron content of the soil which makes it as red as the leaves on the mountain’s trees in the fall. The state park that surrounds the mountain is just south of Cartersville, which makes it much closer to downtown Atlanta than most of the locations you may consider travelling to for leaf viewing.
If you prefer to see the leaves on two wheels, bring your bike for the 4-mile ride on the Iron Hill Bike Trail along Lake Allatoona, where you’ll delight in how the leaves look reflected in the water. Another favorite trail is the Homestead Trail, which is a 5.5-mile loop that takes you through many old homesteads that existed prior to the park, as well as along the edge of the lake. Other shorter trails are ADA accessible and can be used by wheelchairs and strollers.
Tallulah Gorge is a site to behold year round, but it is particularly beautiful during the autumn months. The canyon is one of the most amazing in the eastern United States, and stands two miles wide and almost 1,000 feet deep. The rim of the gorge is lined with oak and maple trees that put on a beautiful autumn show. Hikers love the park’s 20 miles of trails, but if you don’t feel like hiking all the way down to the bridge or the gorge floor, the views from the more easily-accessible overlooks still offer abundant leaf viewing opportunities.
If you do feel up to the hike down to the gorge floor, be advised that the park only issues 100 free permits to access the floor each day. To keep things fair, the permits can only be obtained in person on the day of your visit. This process may mean that visiting the park during the week is the best plan if you want to trek down to the bottom, but it also means that you won’t be overwhelmed with crowds as you go. For another adventure traverse the suspension bridge across the gorge to view the leaves.
Autumn Views by Rail
The 26-mile trip along the beautiful Toccoa River and through the Chattahoochee National Forest on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway is a unique experience that everyone should enjoy at least once. The trip begins in Blue Ridge, Georgia as you depart from the historic train depot built in 1905. The first part of your ride will take you to the quaint sister towns of McCaysville, Georgia and Copperhill, Tennessee. In Copperhill, you’ll have a 2-hour layover, where you can shop for unique crafts and antiques, visit a local restaurant, or snap a picture of yourself standing in two states at the same time, before boarding the train for your return trip back to Blue Ridge.
The Fall Foliage rail rides are available throughout the month of October and generally continue into the first week of November. You’ll get the best views if you opt for the open-air car, but be sure to bring a jacket for the wind. Don’t worry if the open-air car is already booked – you’ll get a great view from the premium and closed cars as well.
Beautiful Views Closer to Home
What if you don’t want to make the drive up to the far northern reaches of the state? There are plenty of fall leaves you can see right here inside the city. Every year thousands of people enjoy the view of the changing leaves against the Atlanta skyline right here at home in Piedmont Park. If you live on the north side of town, the Dunwoody Nature Center also offers a fantastic fall view that is especially fun for kids. From giant teepees and hammocks to tree houses and creeks, and even a playground nestled in the middle of lush foliage, the Dunwoody Nature Center is fun for kids of all ages. Finally, Grant Park is another intown location popular for seeing the best autumn views in the city. It’s the oldest city park in Atlanta, which means its trees have had plenty of time to grow into the perfect showcase for fall leaves.