Orchards and overlooks
Region Northwest Georgia
There’s no better time of year to explore the apple orchards, winding roads, quaint towns, and mountainous state parks of northwest Georgia. From now through Thanksgiving, the area is blanketed in an ever-changing mosaic of red, orange, and yellow leaves. Soak up autumn’s colors and flavors on this family-friendly two-day trek. —Jennifer Rainey Marquez
Before you go
Apple-picking and leaf-peeping season is also prime tourist season in this corner of Georgia. Book your accommodations well in advance, and note that some cabins may have a two-night minimum. Expect traffic, especially on Apple Orchard Alley—just think of it as more opportunities to enjoy the views.
9 a.m. Metro suburbia slowly yields to leafy scenery once you pass Cumming and turn onto GA-9. Go west on the ultra-gorgeous GA-52 and it’s just four miles to the entrance of Amicalola Falls State Park.
10:30 a.m. Grab a map at the visitors center before heading to the West Ridge Falls access trail. It’s an easy quarter-mile stroll to the overlook. Look up to spot the rusted blue remains of an old pickup wedged in the trees; so the story goes, it’s a Prohibition-era moonshine truck that tumbled down the incline during a high-speed chase. You’ll hear the falls—the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast—before you see them. If you have time, check out the new aerial adventure park of zip lines and suspension bridges.
11:30 a.m. The stretch of GA-52 leading to Ellijay is known as Apple Orchard Alley. At Hillcrest Orchards, families can easily spend an entire October weekend afternoon ($10) milking cows, cuddling baby farm animals, whooshing down giant slides, and munching freshly picked fruit ($11, peck). Then stop by the nearly 70-year-old R&A Orchards four miles up the road for fried pies.
1 p.m. Drive 10 miles west to the kitschy Poole’s BBQ in East Ellijay, known for its “Pig-Moby-Il,” a pork-ified 1977 Plymouth Volare complete with ears and curly tail. Skip the fatty brisket in favor of toothsome ribs and homemade coleslaw.
2:30 p.m. Hit Route 52 again and drive 18 miles to Fort Mountain State Park, passing pulse-quickening drop-offs and breathtaking mountain views. Inside the park, take the boulder-strewn West Overlook Trail to a stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935 and restored in 2015. Climb to the top and you can see 30 to 40 miles across the park. Return via the Stone Tower Trail (the entire loop is less than a mile), and you’ll pass a meandering 855-foot prehistoric stone wall, thought to have been built by a mysterious tribe of Native Americans known in Cherokee legend as the “moon-eyed people.”
4 p.m. Check-in time. Quality hotels are sparse, so your best bet is to rent a cabin near Blue Ridge—33 miles from Fort Mountain State Park—through VRBO, Airbnb, or one of the area’s rental agencies. If you have an extra night (there’s a two-night minimum), reserve one of Fort Mountain State Park’s cottages (ask for one recently renovated).
6 p.m. For dinner, drive into downtown Blue Ridge. The lodge-like Harvest on Main serves local fare like Springer Mountain chicken and Logan Turnpike grits. Afterward, kick back at Blue Ridge Brewery with a pint and live music, or hit the 60-year-old Swan Drive-In Theatre.
Hard apple cider
The cider is pressed, fermented, and bottled on-site at Mercier Orchards. Choose from seven varieties, like Grumpy Granny and Rock Steady Red ($12, four-pack).
8:30 a.m. Mercier Orchards, just two miles northeast of Blue Ridge along GA-5, serves a homey breakfast—or you can order goodies at the bakery and nibble as you stroll the picturesque orchards and lake.
10 a.m. Spend the rest of the morning wandering around Blue Ridge, home to dozens of art galleries, antique stores, and specialty shops like Huck’s General Store and Blue Ridge Fly Fishing. For lunch, grab a table at C-Bolt’s for an enormous burger and a malt.
1:30 p.m. Get back on the road, taking GA-76 five miles south toward Cherry Log. There you’ll find Expedition: Bigfoot ($6–$8), a surprisingly well-staged museum with life-sized creature replicas, a theater, and even (yes) a Bigfoot butt print. Chat up owner-operator David Bakara, a fount of Sasquatch knowledge.
2:30 p.m. Head toward I-75 for Atlanta. If you’re up for one last stop, take exit 285 for the Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site ($1–$6), home to one of the largest Indian mounds in North America. Hike to its 63-foot summit for a view of the ceremonial grounds, then make your way home.