Celebrate the season bathed in the glow of millions of twinkling lights. Two of the state’s largest and most legendary displays—Lake Lanier Islands’ Magical Nights of Lights and Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy in Lights in Pine Mountain—feature dazzling light shows and holiday villages offering gift shops, hot chocolate and visits with Santa. Other outstanding displays include Charity Lane, a seven-mile stretch of GA 441 from Mountain City to Rabun Gap, and the Enchanted Garden of Lights at Rock City in Lookout Mountain. Visit the charming mountain town of Blue Ridge for an old-fashioned holiday celebration, Light Up Blue Ridge, and take a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway’s Santa Express.
Seashells aren’t the only things worth scouting on Jekyll Island. Search for beautiful artisan glass orbs during Island Treasures in January and February. Inspired by floats used on fishermen’s nets in the early 1900s, the globes are placed all over the island for treasure hunters to find—and keep. Another treasure trove—the Peaches to the Beaches Yard Sale—stretches from nearby Brunswick to Barnesville along US Highway 341, offering 200 miles of merchandise during the second weekend in March.
Deck the Halls
December is a great time to see some of the state’s most beautiful historic homes decked out in holiday finery. Madison showcases several on the annual Town & Country Tour, and the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville shines during its Antebellum Christmas Candlelight Tours.
High-End Quail Hunting
For generations, Southern statesmen and business leaders have journeyed to southwest Georgia, the quail hunting capital of the world, to experience this gentlemen’s ritual. Experience the grand tradition at one of the area’s many hunting plantations, such as Albany’s Wynfield Plantation, with private cabins and lodge accommodations; Myrtlewood Plantation in Thomasville (also great for fishing); Pine Hill Plantation outside of Donaldsonville, featuring traditional horse-drawn wagons; or Moultrie’s Sundown Farms Plantation, known for its rustic luxury.
Mother Nature may not drop much snow beyond the state’s northern mountains, but with a little high-tech help, many Georgia sites are transformed into winter wonderlands. Fly down Stone Mountain Park’s 400-foot Snow Mountain on family-sized or single tubes. Catch falling snowflakes during Washington’s Snow on the Square at Christmastime. Lace up your skates and take to the rinks at Atlanta’s St. Regis Hotel and Centennial Olympic Park or The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro.
Georgia comes alive with color as winter gives way to spring. Macon’s 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees have earned the city the title of cherry blossom capital of the world, a feat celebrated with a 10-day March festival. Conyers also hosts a Cherry Blossom Festival, and Atlanta’s Dogwood Festival in Piedmont Park marks spring’s arrival to the city each April. Metter hosts Another Bloomin’ Festival downtown. Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain is famous for its abundant azaleas, and more than 3 million daffodils blanket Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground. The sweet aroma of roses fills the air during the Thomasville Rose Show and Festival in April, and rhododendrons rule at Hamilton Gardens in Hiawassee. The Atlanta Botanical Garden and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which offer year-round activities and a wide range of gardens, are particularly beautiful during the spring.
Take a Hike
If hiking the 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine is on your bucket list, Springer Mountain in northeast Georgia’s Fannin County is the place to start. Serious hikers usually begin their journeys in March or April, when a dazzling array of wildflowers, including lady’s slipper, dutchman’s breeches and jack-in-the-pulpit, come into bloom. The Southern Appalachians are also ideal for unforgettable spring day hikes.
Home to the Masters, Georgia is known the world over for great golf. The Georgia Golf Trail, a collaboration of 16 of the state’s top resorts, offers access to outstanding courses from the mountains to the coast. Eight Georgia State Park Golf Courses promise championship-level play at unbeatable prices across the state. A particularly popular destination for golfers, Georgia’s Lake Country boasts nine courses, including The Landing at Reynolds Plantation, the first course built on beautiful Lake Oconee.
On March 17 everyone’s a wee bit Irish, and two Georgia cities host not-to-be-missed St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Dublin honors Ireland’s patron saint with a number of spirited Hibernian-themed events, and Savannah hosts the country’s second-largest parade and a legendary bash along River Street. Stick around for the acclaimed Savannah Music Festival, which features two weeks of jazz, roots, blues and world music performances at venues throughout the historic district each spring.
Grab a hot dog and get in on the Major League Baseball action at an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field in Downtown Atlanta, or see tomorrow’s superstars at a Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville or a Rome Braves game at State Mutual Stadium in Rome. The Augusta GreenJackets, an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, take the field at Augusta’s Lake Olmstead Stadium, and the Savannah Sand Gnats, an affiliate of the New York Mets, play ball at Grayson Stadium in Savannah.
On the Water
Georgia’s waterways promise both heart-pounding adventure and slower-paced discovery. Northeast Georgia’s Chattooga, a National Wild and Scenic River, offers one of the longest free-flowing stretches in the Southeast, ideal for whitewater paddling. Shoot the Chattahoochee River in Sandy Springs in rafts, canoes, kayaks, tubes or stand-up paddleboards; farther downstream, hit the rapids at Columbus Whitewater, the longest urban whitewater course in the world. Kayaks are the way to see the blackwater trails of Watson Mill Pond near Twin City, canoes are the preferred mode of exploration on the Altamaha River, and Petersburg boats offer tours along the historic Augusta Canal.
Thrill Rides and Waterslides
No matter your age, everyone’s a kid when it comes to roller coasters and wave pools. Indulge your need for speed at Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, and brave the waves and slides at Six Flags White Water in Marietta. Wild Adventures in Valdosta combines thrill rides and a water park with exotic animal attractions. Cool down at Statesboro’s Splash in the Boro and get two parks in one at Lake Winnepesaukah Amusement Park and Soak Ya Waterpark in Rossville.
Nothing tastes more like summer than a sweet, juicy peach, a slice of watermelon or a handful of blueberries. Tour Lane Southern Orchard’s welcoming peach-picking and packing operation in Fort Valley or visit Dickey Farms in Musella for some peach ice cream and a bushel to go. Cordele, the watermelon capital of the world, celebrates the summer staple each June during the monthlong Watermelon Days Festival. Mark’s Melon Patch, a roadside fruit stand just outside Sasser, is a charming one-stop shop for all Georgia’s summer fruit and veggie crops. Also in June, the Georgia Blueberry Festival kicks off the season in Alma, Georgia’s blueberry capital. Visit Byne Blueberry Farms in Waynesboro to fill your own basket with their signature organic rabbiteyes.
Summer isn’t summer without a trip to the beach, and Georgia’s coastal communities offer a range of options. Minutes from Savannah, Tybee Island is a funky beach town with a laid-back vibe and flip-flop-friendly restaurants. Farther down the coast lies Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s legendary Golden Isles. Jekyll was developed as a winter retreat for America’s Gilded Age elite, and modern families will enjoy touring the historic clubhouse and cottages, as well as playing golf and taking in the island’s natural beauty on horseback or by bike. Cumberland Island National Seashore can be reached only by ferry, and day trippers, campers or guests of the historic Greyfield Inn are likely to spy wild horses, hogs and turkeys in the pristine forests and along the undeveloped beaches.
Experience the freedom of flight. At Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding in Rising Fawn, you can learn the skills necessary to solo, or leave the flying to an instructor in a tandem flight and enjoy the view. Fly through the trees on a zip line at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg and North Georgia Canopy Tours in Lula.
When the green leaves of summer give way to the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of autumn, the mountains of North Georgia dazzle. The state is blessed with several outstanding byways, such as the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Highway, which winds past popular Unicoi and Vogel state parks, and the Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway, which passes Fort Mountain State Park on its way to a beautiful mountaintop overlook. Lookout Mountain Parkway, which dips across the northwest corner of the state, offers breathtaking views along the length of the two-lane highway. Plan a stop at nearby Cloudland Canyon State Park for hayrides, marshmallow roasting and fall foliage hikes.
Apple Houses and Corn Mazes
North Georgia is apple country, and heading east out of Ellijay—site of October’s Georgia Apple Festival—on Highway 52 puts you on Apple Orchard Alley, home to eight apple houses offering a range of varieties and products from fried pies to cider. Another standout, Mercier Orchards lies northeast of Ellijay in the charming mountain town of Blue Ridge. Experience another seasonal rite, navigating a corn maze, at Steed’s Dairy in Grovetown or The Rock Ranch in The Rock.
Thrill of the Hunt
Fall is hunting season for much of Georgia’s legendary game, and outstanding lodges across the state cater to a hunter’s every need. Gopher Plantation in Millwood specializes in deer, McCranie Plantation in Eastman in quail and Wiley Creek Duck Preserve in Waleska in mallards.
Fairs and Festivals
Fall signals the beginning of festival season statewide. Nearly half a million people head to the Georgia National Fair in Perry each October for 11 days of livestock competitions, big-time amusement rides and concerts by country music stars. Moultrie’s Sunbelt Ag Expo celebrates the American farm, from high-acreage production outfits to the backyard vegetable patch. Alpine Helen hosts a legendary Oktoberfest, complete with traditional German fare, European beers and plenty of polkas and waltzes at the city’s Festhalle.
Screams and Swamps
Netherworld Haunted House in Norcross tops several national “best of” lists for good reason: Special effects, over-the-top makeup and costumes, and skilled actors keep the screams coming as visitors move through three different houses and the ghoul-filled parking lot. For a more natural kind of thrill, visit the otherworldly Okefenokee Swamp. Cooler temperatures and fewer bugs make fall an ideal time to explore the prehistoric wetland.