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Outdoor Adventures Await in the Atlanta Area

Photo credit: destination360

The name “Atlanta” brings to mind a bustling cosmopolitan city that is home to Coca-Cola, CNN and “Gone with the Wind”. But don’t be fooled by the big city: there are hundreds of exciting outdoor adventures and quaint small town treasures within a few hours’ drive of the metropolitan area.

Outdoor enthusiasts can find white water rafting, zip lining, mountain hiking and biking, snow skiing, kayaking, horseback riding and boating – all less than four hours from Atlanta in northern Georgia, or neighboring Tennessee, Alabama, and North and South Carolina. Others may prefer picking apples and strawberries fresh from the farm, panning for gold, visiting historic villages or shopping at outlet malls.

Some 700,000 international tourists come to Georgia each year, making it the second fastest-growing state for global tourism, according to government statistics. Most visitors come from Europe and the Americas, but a growing number are from Asia. South Korea and Japan now ranks in the top five countries of origination, with China/Hong Kong ranking ninth.  Many of the one million international visitors each quarter come for business and educational opportunities, while others visit Georgia strictly for relaxation and recreation.

Exploring the Great Outdoors

Whether tourists come to Atlanta to attend classes or take a vacation, they find a number of outdoor activities within a couple of hours’ drive from the city. Those opportunities include:

White water rafting:Only two hours north of Atlanta is the Chattooga River, which forms part of the border between Georgia and South Carolina. Three companies offer half-day and overnight rafting excursions on the federally-protected “wild and scenic river” through the Blue Ridge Mountains. Section III of the Chattooga is best for beginners, with mostly Class II and III rapids ending at the Class IV “Bull Sluice”. For greater thrills, Section IV offers faster-paced Class III and IV rapids. Drive another hour north and you can raft through national forests on Tennessee’s Ocoee River (site of the 1996 Olympics paddling competitions) or the Nantahala River in North Carolina.

Kayaking and canoeing: There are thousands of miles of rivers and dozens of lakes where you can explore the water with a guide or on your own. Small outfitters, marinas and resorts such as Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain rent kayaks and canoes. The Altamaha River, one of the last unspoiled, undammed rivers in the country, is a popular padding destination about three hours southwest of Atlanta. The river -- one of the Nature Conservancy’s “75 Last Great Places on Earth” -- flows through secluded woodlands, marshes and preserves. The Ridges Resort Marina in Hiwassee rents boats and jet skis for excursions on Lake Chatuge. Or you can “shoot the ‘Hooch” –local slang floating on an inner tube down the Chattahoochee River in suburban Atlanta or Helen in the northern mountains.

Zip lining:The world’s longest and largest zip line eco-canopy tour course is at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, some 45 minutes west of Atlanta. Banning Mills has more than nine miles of zip lines, towers, sky bridges and other challenges up to 300 feet in the air. The centerpiece is the half-mile Screaming Eagle over Snake Creek Gorge. Nestled in 1,200 acres of preserved woodlands, Banning Mills also boasts the tallest freestanding climbing wall in the world. Prefer a less challenging course? Try North Georgia Canopy Tours in Lula; Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours in Long Creek, South Carolina; or Foxfire Mountain Adventures near Sevierville, Tennessee.

Hiking, biking and skiing:National forests cover much of northern Georgia, eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, providing plenty of opportunities for mountain hiking in the Blue Ridge and other mountain ranges. The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain, Georgia, and climbs more than 2,000 miles to Maine. The trail passes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina, providing breathtaking vistas of snow-capped peaks, deep wilderness forests, roaring creeks and cascading waterfalls. Miles of hiking trails wind through north Georgia at Tallulah Gorge State Park (a two-mile canyon more than 1,000 feet deep); Amicalola Falls and Anna Ruby Falls. Mountain biking trails are also found throughout the area, along with conventional biking paths such as the Discovery Trail at Callaway Gardens and the Riverwalk in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While Georgia does not have its own ski resort, it is less than four hours’ drive from Atlanta to the slopes at Ober Gatlinburg in Tennessee, or Cataloochee, Sugar, Beech, Sapphire Valley and other lodges in North Carolina.

Historic Small Towns and Shopping Destinations

In the rural areas surrounding Atlanta, there are hundreds of small towns with their own unique histories and modern stories. The American Revolution and the Civil War were both fought on Georgia soil, leaving battlefields, museums and other sites paying tribute to those conflicts. You can pan for gold at Dahlonega (the site of the first gold rush in the United States); trace the steps of Native Americans along the 300-mile Chieftains Trail; explore the Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville; or enjoy Oktoberfest at the alpine village of Helen. Tour antebellum homes, such as the Jarrell Plantation Historic Site in Forsyth and the Gordon-Lee Mansion in Chickamauga. Many towns also feature a variety of shopping experiences in a less hectic atmosphere, from Scott’s Bookstore in Newnan to High Country Art & Antiques in Blue Ridge. Most areas also host annual fairs and festivals where local arts, crafts and jewelry are displayed and sold.

Bargain hunters will enjoy the many outlets malls near Atlanta. North Georgia Premium Outlets in Dawsonville, Calhoun Premium Outlets, and the Tanger outlets in Commerce and Locust Grove are only an hour away. The Smoky Mountains is home to on the largest concentrations of outlet malls in the country, hosting two Tanger Outlets, Pigeon Forge Outlet Mall and Belz Outlets. There are many traditional shopping malls as well, headlined by Lenox Square in Atlanta, the first enclosed mall in the southeastern United States.

Wine-tasting is another relaxing weekend endeavor. The Georgia winery industry has grown dramatically over the last decade, with dozens of new wineries opening and winning awards. The North Georgia Wine Trail links eight established wineries in the mountains, including Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris, Three Sisters Vineyards in Dahlonega, Habersham Winery in Helen and Tiger Mountain Vineyards in Tiger. Just 40 miles from Atlanta is Chateau Elan in Braselton, a full-service resort with an inn, spa, cooking classes, golf, tennis, winery tours and wine tastings.

Wineries are only one of the many agricultural products that are grown across Georgia, where agriculture is the top industry (followed by tourism). Gilmer County produces more than 600,000 bushels of apples each year, with eight apple producers featured along “Apple Orchard Alley” near Ellijay. During the growing season at Mercier Orchards, you can take a tractor tour of the farm and pick your own apples, strawberries, and blueberries. Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley has more than 4,000 acres of pecans and peaches. You can see corn and wheat being ground on grindstones at Nora’s Mill in Helen and Logan Turnpike Mill near Blairsville 

If you have a long weekend and want to drive a little further, it’s only five hours to reach the lush gardens of historic Savannah and the sparking beaches of Tybee Island. Golfers will be drawn to Augusta, home of the Master’s PGA Tournament. The beaches of northern Florida are less than six hours from Atlanta, including historic St. Augustine on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico resorts of Panama City, Destin, Seaside and Pensacola.

However – aside from the ocean – you can find mountains, forests, streams and other natural settings within a two-hour drive of Atlanta.  To learn more about what you can see and do in Georgia, visit www.exploregeorgia.org.

Questions or comments? Please email Michael Fenton at mfenton@atlantapacificgroup.com