The north Georgia mountains turn brilliant colors in fall, an inviting setting for a drive along U.S. 23. And if you continue to follow it north, you’ll find Franklin not far beyond the North Carolina state line. Here, autumn scenery and crisp mountain air—a welcome relief after summer’s heat and humidity—set the stage for celebrations of fall that include a festival, outdoor adventures, and history. Use these eight to start planning your visit.
Hunt for Gems
For more than 150 years, the ruby-and-sapphire-studded soil around Franklin has given it the title of “Gem Capital of The World.” Set off on your own treasure hunt at any of the 10 local gem mines. After learning about local mining history and receiving some instruction, sift a bucket or two of native soil in hopes of finding some precious stones. It’s fun for all ages but requires appropriate clothes; with so much water and dirt involved, it gets messy at the sluice.
See Dry Falls
You’ll see all of 75-foot-tall Dry Falls’ beauty from the observation deck that’s adjacent to the parking area off U.S. 64. But follow the trail, navigating its few stairs and stopping to admire the colorful leaves along the way, and you’ll soon find yourself in the unique position of standing behind the waterfalls. It’s a nearly dry spot when the water flow slows, as it does most autumns. The trail continues to another perfect view of the falls before doubling back, completing an easy walk of less than a mile. Dry Falls is one of several nearby waterfalls, which you can visit by following the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway.
Catch a Show at Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts
It’s about a 2-hour drive to Franklin from Atlanta, and just before you arrive, you’ll pass Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts. Its state-of-the-art production equipment and intimate setting make each of the 1,500 seats feel like the front row. Enjoy a variety of top-bill acts, including musical and theater productions, movies, and national recording artists. Country music singers Terri Clark, Pam Tillis, and Suzy Bogguss, for example, will perform in October, and holiday offerings are scheduled from late November through December.
Sample Local Craft Brews
North Carolina has the most craft brewers of any state in the South, and you’ll find two of them in Franklin. Lazy Hiker Brewing Co., 11 miles from the Appalachian Trail and 3 miles from 115-mile Bartram Trail, which winds from north Georgia into North Carolina, occupies the former city hall and fire department. Enjoy its flagship beer—Slack Pack IPA—while admiring the wall-sized Appalachian Trail map or warming by the outdoor fire pit. You’ll find Currahee Brewing Co., which recently opened a second brewery in Alpharetta, Ga., across town. Sample its year-round and seasonal offerings, including Der Betrunken, its take on a traditional German Oktoberfest, at a table overlooking the Little Tennessee River.
Explore Downtown Franklin
While a variety of lodging choices, from quaint inns to hotels representing national chains, are found on Franklin’s outskirts, head downtown for food and fun. Try Yonder Café, which sources ingredients from western North Carolina and northeastern Georgia for breakfast favorites and specialties such as Southern Benedict: country ham, greens, and egg atop a scratch-made biscuit, all covered with smoky Southern gravy. Afterward, browse the many shops, which sell everything from antiques to outdoor gear, and explore three museums. Exhibits at the Scottish Tartans Museum, for example, recount Scottish history, dress, and migration to the Appalachians. Visit Root + Barrel Kitchen for dinner, when you can order from a well-stocked bar and menu filled with Southern flavors, including a pimento cheese dip, pecan-crusted North Carolina trout with brown butter, and cake flavored with Cheerwine soda. And if your timing is right, enjoy musical entertainment at Town Square, whether it’s at Pickin’ on the Square during summer and fall or Winter Wonderland during the holidays.
Take a Ghost Tour
Uncover Franklin’s history, and maybe something that goes bump in the night, on a Where Shadows Walk Historic Ghost Tour. Well-versed guides lead the 2-to-3-hour evening walks. There are several to choose from, including Ghosts and Graveyards or Coffins and Corn Whiskey, which explore downtown Franklin. Tours of Woodlawn Cemetery, which are done by appointment, have encountered cold spots, voices, and full-body apparitions. The chance of a paranormal experience adds to the tales of war and murder, and especially to a visit to the grave of George Meek, who made what some believe is the first recording of a spirit’s voice.
Celebrate at PumpkinFest
Enjoy all things fall at family-friendly PumpkinFest, which has been held the third Saturday in October for more than 20 years. There are plenty of fair foods, a pumpkin pie-eating contest, locally made arts and crafts for sale, and roving street performers. Dress up and join the parade or enter the costume contest. There are always plenty of pumpkins to purchase. And if yours seems rounder than the rest, consider entering it in the festival’s biggest event, the Pumpkin Roll. Contestants climb to the top of Phillips Street and let their pumpkins go, hoping for the longest roll.
Enjoy Wayah Bald Lookout Tower’s views
Standing about 550 feet above Georgia’s highest spot – 4,784-foot Brasstown Bald—is Wayah Bald. Drive to its top, where you’ll find picnic tables, restrooms and 53-foot-tall Wayah Bald Lookout Tower. Built from stone in 1937, forest rangers originally used it to spot wildfires. Now you can enjoy its panoramic view of the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia. Use the signs inside the tower to locate landmarks in all directions.