Jake Cain is an entrepreneur and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his free time driving around the country in his late 90’s conversion van, affectionately known as the “Monster Van” with his wife and 3 boys.
Atlanta is one of the largest and busiest cities in the southeast, but there’s a lot more to do just outside the city.
Here are our top destinations for day trips from Atlanta
Located a short way outside of Atlanta, Blue Ridge is a quiet and scenic town.
However, the real draw of the area is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which offers a four-hour tour that includes a two-hour stop in the sister towns of McCaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN.
These towns offer fine dining and casual shopping to enjoy at your leisure before the train returns to Blue Ridge.
Enjoying a scenic railway trip is a great way to put the bustle of the modern world behind you and focus on the ever-changing sights of nature.
The railway is child-friendly, so bring the whole family along for a pleasant trip and be back home in time for a hearty meal, a sports game, or however else you want to spend your evening.
As one of the most iconic landmarks in the state, the Georgia Guidestones are set about 90 miles east of Atlanta.
While their actual creators are anonymous, the Guidestones give a set of principles designed to guide humanity into and through an Age of Reason.
Whether you agree or disagree with the suggestions on the Guidestones, they make for a great conversation piece to teach children about what they can do for the world.
There’s not much on the site other than the Guidestones, so this trip makes for a relatively short excursion.
We recommend visiting with children since there are no real romantic or shopping opportunities to make this a suitable day trip for other types of groups.
If you want to stay in urbanized areas, few day trips are better than heading to Charlotte, North Carolina.
As the most populated city in its state, Charlotte offers plenty of family-oriented attractions like a theme park, the Discovery Place family science museum, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Charlotte also offers plenty of museums, art galleries, and shopping boutiques for an upscale date or family excursion.
Dining options are available throughout the city, so you can enjoy Charlotte’s past nightfall and get home late.
In fact, we recommend that! Some of the best shows and movie options take place later in the day, so this is a great destination if you want a long day trip.
Covering more than 650,000 acres in Tennessee, Cherokee National Forest is one of the state’s top destinations for enjoying the wilderness.
Unlike some national forests, however, Cherokee Forest isn’t limited to enjoying it from a distance.
On-site activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, and scenic driving routes offer many ways to enjoy the forest.
If you want to see something particularly exciting, go in spring when they conduct managed burns. You can’t get too close to the fire, but seeing the flames go is quite an experience.
Cherokee Forest is best for outdoor enthusiasts. We particularly recommend the whitewater rafting for visitors of all ages.
As Georgia’s ideal hangout for summer fun, Lake Lanier has plenty of options to suit every taste.
From hiking to water slides to its very own theme park, this gorgeous lake can help you beat the heat and pass summer in style.
Boat tours offer a different way to enjoy the water, while the boutique shopping area offers fine dining and high-quality merchandise.
For a calmer experience, visit some of the art galleries that dot the area around the lake.
Lake Lanier has so much variety that you can take several day trips to the area and not repeat anything, making it an outstanding choice throughout the year.
As an alternative to Charlotte, heading over to the heart of Alabama is a great way to spend a full day of fun.
As the cultural center of the state, Birmingham has plenty of theaters, museums, galleries, and universities.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is a must-see thanks to its status as the largest art gallery in the southeastern US, while annual festivals can change the entire experience.
This is a relatively long drive for a day trip, averaging a little over two hours each way, so leave early and return late to make the most of the trip.
Birmingham has activities for all ages and groups of all sizes, so as long as you plan out your trip, it’s always a good choice.
Located deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Dahlonega is a culturally fascinating town with lovely architecture and more than a few pieces of history.
Take the kids along to practice panning for gold, or visit a few of the many wine-tasting sites during your day trips from Atlanta.
Georgia isn’t as renowned for wine as California is, but Dahlonega is the heart of most local vintages. That makes it worth at least one visit from any local wine-lover.
Mableton is a pleasantly small town just outside of the Atlanta area, which also means it’s incredibly accessible for a day trip.
If you’re interested in the arts, stop by Mable House to see its amphitheater and arts center. Events occur as often as twice a week, so there’s always something new to look forward to.
Other activities in the Mableton area include hiking and enjoying the large, public parks.
Overall, Mableton is a tranquil area that’s perfect for relaxing without having to drive too far from the city.
Set about an hour outside of Atlanta, Callaway Resort and Gardens offers an incredible variety of activities for guests of all ages.
At Callaway, you can go biking, hiking, golfing, or fishing. Alternatively, you can simply relax on the world’s largest man-made white sand beach.
This resort also has evening activities, so check the schedule to decide whether or not you want to stay past nightfall.
The best part is that you don’t have to stay at the resort to enjoy everything Callaway offers.
With its easy admissions, Callaway is among the best day trips from Atlanta when you’re looking for fun.
Located about an hour and forty-five minutes northeast of Atlanta, Helen is a small town with tons of souvenir shops, tubing opportunities, and drinks.
This town has heavy German influences, including in its architecture, and the cultural feel permeates throughout the town.
This is never more noticeable than during Oktoberfest when the drinks flow fast, and there’s plenty of great food to enjoy.
Aside from the outdoor events like water tubing, Helen doesn’t have a lot of things geared towards children, so this day trip is best for adults only. This is especially true during Oktoberfest.
Nestled up in the mountains, Summerville is about an hour and a half northeast of Atlanta, putting it surprisingly close to Helen.
In fact, you can probably visit both places on a single tour if you’re willing to spend some extra time in the car.
This quiet town features lovely parks and gardens surrounded by some of the best views in the state, making it an ideal trip for nature lovers.
Despite the town’s laid-back personality, it has a surprisingly high number of festivals and events, so check the calendar on their website before you go.
Oh, and Corpsewood Manor is widely considered to be a cursed location, so think twice before you check out the ruins.
At 186 feet tall, Toccoa Falls is the highest single-drop waterfall on the east side of the Mississippi. In fact, it’s about 26 feet higher than the more-famous Niagara Falls.
Toccoa Falls requires a bit of walking to visit, so this trip is best as a mid-length excursion into the wilderness.
Feel free to pack a lunch and bring it along with you to eat near the falls.
Despite the name, this isn’t actually a town.
Brasstown Bald is part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests area in Georgia, and it’s the single highest point in the state.
If you’re the type who wants to climb mountains simply because they’re there, this is the perfect all-day trip.
At the summit, you can look down into Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina without moving from one spot.
Shuttle services and facilities are available but usually shut down in winter. The entire site may close during severe weather.
Accordingly, this day trip is best in spring or summer, so plan accordingly.
Georgia is like a combination of some of the best features of the country, except in miniature.
Providence Canyon State Park is also known as “the little Grand Canyon,” thanks to its tall, water-worn structures.
It’s an incredible sight, and it’s absolutely worth the long drive from Atlanta. The trip usually takes more than two hours each way, so spend a full day in the park to get the most from it.
This park’s geographic formations are newer than most people realize. In fact, large parts of the park were created by poor farming practices.
The result is a surprising amount of beauty from self-admitted mistakes.
Dogs are permitted on all trails, so bring your canine companions if you have them.
With its college town feel and rustic Southern charm, Athens is one of the best places to find indie music, classic American food, and delicious local brews.
The culture and atmosphere are the real draws of this area, especially later in the evening when students are hitting the town and livening things up.
Be sure to stop at Five & Ten for a bite if you get the chance. This is the flagship restaurant of Hugh Acheson, and it’s widely regarded as one of the best eateries in the entire southeast.
Located about an hour and forty-five minutes northwest of Athens, Chattanooga is a gorgeous river city.
The Riverwalk is particularly nice, offering almost 13 miles of strolling along an energetic greenbelt.
Chattanooga offers fun for the whole family, thanks to its river cruises, museums, and boutique shopping opportunities.
If you’re looking for a little bit of everything, this is one of the best day trips from Atlanta, period.
At three and a half hours away from Atlanta, Asheville is edging dangerously close to an overnight trip instead of a day trip.
However, the travel time is still worth it for a place Frommers considers a top global destination for travel.
The rafting opportunities are particularly exciting, so consider visiting in summer when most opportunities are available.
You’ll also find museums, live music, fine dining, and quality shopping opportunities.
We can’t recommend the outstanding nightlife unless you have a driver willing to let you sleep in the car when you’re done, but the city’s fun enough that you should consider doing this anyway.
Leave any small kids behind for a road trip this long, especially if you plan to start leaving in the early evening.
This is the furthest you can reasonably go for a day trip from Atlanta, and it’s going to be a long day with an early start if you want to make the most of it.
This sprawling town features wide beaches, golfing galore, and easy access to aquatic activities like parasailing and jet skiing.
Savannah also has some of the best seafood in the area, and if you’d like a drink to go with it, the city’s generous open container laws let you stroll around with a brew in hand.
Atlanta is a great city to work and play in, but its proximity to other fantastic locations means it’s a great hub to explore the southeast from.
Whether you’re looking for beautiful scenery and natural gardens or high culture and delicious food, day trips from Atlanta offer everything.
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