It’s Fall y’all! Maybe we’re even cutting it a tad close. No matter what you like to do, there are tons of options to explore. Take a break from the hustle and bustle, and pack your bags to enjoy the best season of the year. I’ve put together a fabulous selection of the best weekend Fall getaways near Atlanta. You don’t have to go on the weekend – all of these are crafted to cover a 2-3 night stay. If you keep a different kind of schedule, just pick what works best for you. From leaf-peeping to nightlife hunting, I’ve got you covered. I’ve arranged these from closest to farthest. Full itineraries are at the end – just click the button for the destination that speaks to you!
Distance from Atlanta: 120 miles, 2 hrs 10 mins
I absolutely fell in love with Chattanooga, TN when I visited last summer. It’s definitely an under-the-radar destination. It boasts an appealing, walkable downtown with fun bars dotting the riverfront. Culture vultures can choose form sculpture gardens or the Hunter Museum of American Art. If you’re looking for something more intense than a riverside stroll, hiking abounds nearby. This is the perfect choice if you only have 2 nights, but I definitely suggest 3 if you can swing it. If you have a little extra time, this also pairs well with the Smoky Mountains itinerary below. When I went, I spend a night in the Smokies followed by 3 in Chattanooga.
Distance from Atlanta: 150 miles, 2 hrs, 15 mins
When thinking of the best fall getaways near Atlanta, Birmingham might not immediately spring to mind. Don’t rule it out just yet. As a bonus, leaf season peaks late here so you can get fall color and mild weather well into November most years. It’s near Talladega National Forest, which lets you squeeze in some hiking to offset all the delicious food you’ll have while visiting . Birmingham is a mid sized city that I believe could end up as the “next” Nashville in terms of popularity. Walk the revitalized historic neighborhoods, lunch at any number of charming independent restaurants, and take in unique exhibitions at the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Nantahala National Forest, NC
Distance from Atlanta: 170 miles, 3 hrs 20 mins
This one is for nature lovers and hiking aficionados. Nantahala is North Carolina’s largest national forest, covering over half a million acres. There’s no shortage of scenery here, and you can choose to camp (though it will be cold at night!) or stay in a cozy cabin. For seeing fall foliage, go ASAP since the leaves start turning in late September at the higher elevations. Most color will peak around early-mid October.
Distance from Atlanta: 200 miles, 3.5 hrs
Asheville is a perfect choice if you want access to hiking & nature but still want to enjoy arts, culture, and beer. In less than an hour you can be exploring Pisgah National Forest to the southwest. An hour in the opposite direction will have you tackling (almost) 7000 foot Mt. Mitchell, with tons of scenic overlooks on the way there. Whichever option you choose, come back to sample some of Asheville’s legendary local craft beers. Visit the Pinball Museum (where you can play the games!), try your hand at glassblowing, or just admire the gobs of art at every turn. If you’re feeling fancy, book a visit (or a stay if it’s a truly special occasion) at the famous Biltmore Estate. Built in the late 1800’s and covering over 16,000 square feet (plus the grounds), this Gilded Age mansion will have your jaw dropping at every turn.
Great Smoky Mountains (NC/TN near Gatliburg, TN)
Distance from Atlanta: 185 miles, 3.5 hrs
As mentioned in the Chattanooga summary, you can do this as it’s own trip (like Nantahala) or pair it with a shorter stay in Chattanooga. Choose camping, a cabin, or a hotel in nearby Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. The Alum Cave Trail and Clingman’s Dome are truly spectacular, but there are tons of trails to choose from. Book ahead, as during leaf season it gets very busy on weekends. Leaf season is anticipated to hit mid through late October this year, depending on elevation.
Distance from Atlanta: 250 miles, 4+ hours
Nashville is booming! It’s one of the choice destinations in the Southeast for bachelor(ette) bashes, live music lovers, and anyone looking to have a wildly good time. Nosh on famous Nashville hot chicken, take in a show at Ryman Auditorium, visit the Johnny Cash Museum, and strut down party-central Broadway in a pair of custom cowboy boots.
Distance from Atlanta: 250 miles, 3 hrs 40 mins
Flexible Savannah is sometimes a popular party destination but don’t write it off if that’s not your thing. With gorgeous architecture, a stunning riverfront, and destinations like Wormsloe Historic Site nearby it almost feels like stepping into another era. Not many cities offer cemetery ghost tours by night and modern kitsch by day. Savannah is fabulously walkable, with tree lined streets and squares, amazing food, beautiful scenery, and culture galore. There are tons of museums here, a number of which take the time to educate and address Savannah’s role in the era of slavery. Take a deep breath with a day trip to Tybee Island, just 30 minutes away. If you can swing 3 nights (or 4!) here, definitely do so.
If you have any questions or suggestions, just leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. Happy trails!
Best Weekend Fall Getaways Near Atlanta
CHATTANOOGA 3 Days/2 Nights:
Chattanooga might be my favorite weekend Fall getaway destination – any time of year really but I digress. If you leave by 3PM, you can be unpacking while everyone is still sitting in Friday rush hour traffic. Stroll across the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge to Coolidge Park. Challenge yourself at Escape Mission Chattanooga before heading to dinner. There are lots of tempting choices, but I was absolutely blown away by the food and service at Mezcla Cocina y Cantina. Fair prices, fun vibe, and delicious more Mex-than-Tex food.
If you’re still up for some nightlife, check on longtime favorites (still walkable) like Flying Squirrel or Bitter Alibi. A bit further but worth the ride is Tremont Tavern, with regular live music and trivia. Sip your whiskey neat or in a clever cocktail on the roof of Whiskey Thief. Soak up the stylish interior or bask in the sweeping views across the river.
Start your day with a morning hike in Prentice Cooper National Forest or Signal Mountain. Snooper’s Rock and Julia Falls Overlook are two popular destinations. With your appetite worked up, head for brunch. If you skipped it for low-key late night tipples, definitely come for their creative brunch menu. Once you’re suitably refueled, take in the kitsch and local art while strolling the Bluff Arts District. Visit the Hunter Museum of American Art, which houses works from the 18th through 20th centuries.
Feeling like a sweet pick me up? Bop on over to The Ice Cream Show around the corner, or cross the bridge again for Clumpies where you can choose from classic or seasonal flavors. Check out a brewery, like OddStory or Hutton & Smith. Not a beer drinker? You can explore less-usual offerings like the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum – make it a quick visit or book one of their scenic train rides.
Take a breather back at your hotel, and doll up for a fabulous dinner at the likes of Easy Bistro. While you dine on thoughtful fare that includes top tier raw bar or charcuterie selections, you can also sip one of over 300 whiskies they offer. Don’t worry, they have an excellent wine list as well. For a dose of old-school elegance, swan up to St. Johns Restaurant, housed in a turn of the [20th] century flat-iron building. The menu balances a classic palate without ending up stale. Definitely reserve in advance for either of these restaurants!
Before you head home, there’s still more adventure to be had. Buy your tickets (it operates on a timed schedule so start looking as soon as you’re planning your trip) in advance for Rock City Gardens. I almost didn’t go on my visit, because it sounds cheesy but NO. It has a fascinating history and much of the formations and landscaping are natural/minimally altered. If you go early you’ll beat the crowds and enjoy the tranquility and views (almost) all to yourself. I’m so glad I didn’t skip it, it was one of the highlights of my visit to Chattanooga.
After you finish at Rock City, cap your trip with a tour and tasting Chattanooga Whiskey. Producing both classic and experimental whiskies, the tours are easy going, friendly, and informative. Be sure to book ahead as group size is limited.
Before heading home, pop across the street for a quick visit to the old train station. The interior houses shops, another distillery, and in winter an ice rink. This is another opportunity to check out Flying Squirrel or Clumpies other location if you missed them earlier in the trip. If you find yourself in the mood for all-day breakfast, the top rated Bluegrass Grill, or chow down on juicy burgers and wild sandwiches at Urban Stack.
BIRMINGHAM 3 days, 2 nights
Cruise almost due west to under-the-radar Birmingham, Alabama. Go luxe and stay at the likes of the Autograph Collection or stay a bit further afield (start by looking near Homewood) for bargains. Book ASAP as there aren’t tons of options in the center of things. Once you’re settled in, head off for dinner. Of course you’ll find no shortage of southern comfort food here. Saw’s BBQ has multiple locations with slight variations. Juke Joint & Soul Kitchen are consistently rated well. Dreamland, Full Moon, and Jim n Nicks are all small-mid sized chains that will do you alright if you can’t get in to Saw’s.
If you’re not too tired, check out Monday Night Social Club, from none other than Monday Night Brewing. More than just beer, sip cocktails from the full bar or grab a bite if you weren’t quite ready to tackle southern barbecue. For kitsch, good vibes, and carefully crafted cocktails check out quirky Atomic Lounge. If that’s full, there are several well rated bars nearby to choose from.
It’s Saturday and that means brunch – or breakfast if you got good shut eye. Indulge in polished classics at The Essential – Mimosa or Bloody Mary optional but absolutely available. For brunch with an Italian twist check out Trattoria Zaza with its modern, airy interior and carefully curated menu. And, if you just want good ole eggs and bacon and pancakes, visit none other than the The Original Pancake House on 11th Avenue. ‘Cause it’s not like you can’t get Waffle House back home!
Now that you’re all fueled up, it’s time to explore all that Birmingham has to offer. And I have to admit, with some chagrin, I didn’t expect so much! Lovers of transport or all things industrial can choose from The Barber Vintage Motorsports Center, The Birmingham Railroad Park, Southern Museum of Flight, or the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark.
For history, particularly in regards to Civil rights, start with The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and take an illuminating walking tour around the Civil Right District.
Sports fanatics will want to hit up the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and for music lovers there’s the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Don’t miss the Birmingham Museum of Art which covers a fantastic variety of artwork, and expands beyond the Euro centric. It includes of course paintings and sculpture, but also photography, textiles, and cultural artifacts. If you’re lukewarm about art, but love science – good news! Visit the McWane Science Center – though it’s heavily focused on natural history (like, dinosaurs) there are scientific exhibits as well.
Take a break!
All this exploring will tire you out, so don’t forget to take a break for lunch. Trattoria Zaza is still a great option for lunch if you went elsewhere this morning. Ashley Mac’s (locations in Homewood and Fountain Heights) offers fresh, delicious sandwiches and salads if you want to be quick, healthy, and budget conscious. Hot Chicken might be a Nashville thing, but Hattie B’s is the place to go for lunch with a kick. For Southern comfort food made with top-quality ingredients, get yourself over to John’s City Diner.
With all that you’ve taken in, you probably need a break. There are some great rooftop bars, and you can watch the sun set over the town while sipping happy hour cocktails. Staying at the Elyton Hotel might be out of your budget but you can still visit their rooftop bar. SoHo Social is another popular spot for happy hour tipples. Visit the Morris Avenue Historic District for independent shops, galleries, and bars.
For dinner, make reservations at Highlands Bar & Grill (re-opening slated for 11/11/21) for hearty yet elegant food in a fine dining setting. If your trip is before they re-open, El Barrio is lauded for its inventive takes on Mexican inspired dishes. Chorizo meatloaf anyone? If Southern (American) and Italian fusion sounds like your kind of adventure, make a reservation immediately for Bottega Restaurant.
Finish up your whirlwind weekend with some fresh air. Talladega National Forest is almost exactly halfway between Birmingham and Atlanta. You’ll be able to enjoy brilliant Fall color from late October to early November this year. Often overlooked for either the Gulf Coast or North Georgia Mountains, Talladega covers nearly 400,000 acres! So pack a picnic and choose a trail (or two) and immerse yourself in nature before coming back to reality. Find the perfect trail – the Pinhoti is one of the most popular – using the AllTrails app or website.
NANTAHALA NATIONAL FOREST 2 days, 2 nights
Day 1 – half day
Put this on your calendar ASAP as leaves will peak really soon in Nantahala. You can choose this for a weekend fall getaway or save it for winter wonderland if you have the experience and tires. Sitting around 3 hours from Atlanta, you’ll arrive after dark in Nantahala National Forest.
If you don’t mind chilly nights, camp on the cheap or in this Harry Potter themed tent setup. Of course you can also choose cozy cabins ranging from around $100 per night for a tiny house type setup to $650 for a lux mountain home getaway. If you will be arriving late, be sure to check with the host to make sure they know and you won’t have any hiccups checking in. They can also make you aware of any navigational quirks that can be common out in the middle of nowhere.
If you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, get ahead of the game by making your Friday night dinner ahead of time. This way, you just have to heat it up when you arrive. If you won’t have kitchen facilities, bring sandwiches in a cooler or stop along the way for a quick bite. Stay near Bryson City, Sylva, or Franklin if you won’t be able to cook for yourself and want access to some dining options rather than camp food.
Plan ahead: before you even leave Atlanta, pick up a selection of non-perishable snacks for your hikes. This way you’ll be able to hit the trails without delay. Some of my favorite items for hikes: mixed nuts, fruits like apples and bananas, dried figs or apricots, EPIC bars (which provide protein without a bunch of fillers or salt), whole grain crackers, tomatoes, celery, cucumber – you get the idea. If you bring a cooler that keeps items cold for long periods of time, you can bring hard cheeses, hard boiled eggs, and even pre-made sandwiches if you like.
Choose your hikes ahead of time too, and have a back up in case there’s a last minute trail closure. I’ve saved some more serious (moderate to difficult rating, 4-9 miles) trails that are top rated. Check out my list of hikes or set up your own. I use AllTrails to choose my hikes, which offers both free and premium options. Personally, once hiking I use Gaia GPS (downloading offline maps which I always recommend) and turn on live tracking. That way if I get off course, I can see my path and get back to it. It definitely came in handy during all my solo hiking out west earlier this year.
Day 2 – Full Day
Split your day between two shorter hikes or go for broke and pick an all-day adventure to tackle. Depending on your fitness level and how much you like to stop, estimate an average pace of 2 miles per hour. Personally, I stop a TON for photos and often choose more difficult trails. I have a tendency to average about 1.5 miles per hour, sometimes less on hikes over 10 miles as I’ll take a couple longer breaks along the way. Always give yourself more time than you think you’ll need, especially later in the day. Dark comes fast in the mountains. If sunset is at say, 6:00PM, it will be really dim on trail by about 5:00PM. Be sure to bring a flashlight that isn’t your phone, even if you think you won’t need it. I recommend aiming to be back at the trailhead 60-90 minutes before official sunset.
If you’re cooking for yourself (whether at a campsite or cabin), you won’t have to worry about dinner time as much. But if you don’t have a way to cook for yourself, you’ll need to make sure you don’t end up hungry with everything closed! Just look up the various restaurants closest to where you’re staying, and check their hours. It’s wise to call or at least visit the website as Google is NOT always right. 😉
It’s important to be well prepared, even if you’re planning shorter hikes. It’s better to be overprepared and not need it than to need it and not have it. All of the items listed add very little weight and bulk to your kit. Even if there’s no major emergency, it can prevent a small incident from spoiling the day.
- If you’re new to hiking, start with shorter, easier trails that are also listed as moderately-highly trafficked (AllTrails has these stats). You’re less likely to get turned around and there will be others on the trail in case you need help
- Make sure someone know exactly where you’re going and how long you expect to be gone, and if there’s a trailhead sign in sheet use it.
- Bring more food and water than you think you’ll need
- A basic first aid kit & a mylar blanket (they fold up incredibly tiny and weigh almost nothing)
- A sharp knife with at least a 4 inch blade
- Lighter or matches (I keep mine in a plastic baggie)
- A very loud whistle
- Extra socks if there are any water crossings or it has rained recently
Day 3 – Half Day
You’ll be heading home later today, so plan for a hike under 8 miles. If you’re an early bird who keeps a faster pace, you can definitely get in a longer hike. Wayah Bald via the Appalachian Trail would be a good choice, as it’s rated moderate and could be done in 5-6 hours. There are several trails of varying length around Jackrabbit Mountain on Lake Chatuge Lake near Hiawassee, though technically they aren’t in Nantahala.
If you’d rather get a hearty breakfast and start the drive home first, visit Sunset Restaurant or Franklin Cafe in … Franklin. Your drive home will take you right past Tallulah Gorge, Toccoa, and Blood Mountain. Alternatively, other routes will carry you through Dahlonega, which is a great place for a late lunch or afternoon hike and dinner if you have the time.
ASHEVILLE, NC 3 days, 2 nights
If you can swing either Sunday night in Asheville or leave early on Friday, do so. Asheville itself has lots to keep you entertained for a full day or two, but with nearby hikes and the Biltmore, your dance card will fill up fast. This itinerary is written assuming an early Friday departure. If you can’t make it in time to count as a weekend fall getaway, it’s still delightful in winter, especially if there’s snow.
Leave Atlanta around lunchtime, which will put you in Asheville by happy hour. Weekends in Asheville mean premium prices most of the year. To be in the thick of downtown, splash out at the likes of Kimpton Arras Hotel, a reliable luxury brand. On the other end of the spectrum you have Bon Paul & Sharky’s Hostel a short drive from town and offers shared spaces $30, camping from $22 and private rooms from $78. East of town there are wallet-friendlier options from Holiday Inn, Country Inn, and Courtyard et al. There are also tons of charming bed and breakfasts to choose from – but book soon unless you want to wait til Spring (also a great time of year to visit) as lodging is filling up fast.
If you’re more into hiking trails than brewery hopping, you’ll have lots of options within 45 minutes of Asheville. For hiking west of town, look along the I-40/Hwy 74 & 23 or along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway if hiking northeast of town.. If you’re more inclined to attempt tackling Mt. Mitchell, look north of town.
Happy Hour in Asheville
If luxe craft cocktails that still prioritize flavor are your thing, cozy up on the patio or on one the best Asheville rooftop bars at Antidote. If you’re not in the mood to head into downtown but still want scenery, visit Highland Brewing – just keep in mind the rooftop is closed November-March. Fermented grapes your thing? Cruise over to 5 Walnut Wine Bar, where you can now get cheese with that wine in a cozy, rustic setting. Breweries of course abound, and you’ll find no shortage of these (or other fun cocktail bars) along Patton Avenue and College Street.
Time for Dinner
Where to for dinner? One of the highest rated restaurants in town is Jargon. It’s not cheap but the menu is delightfully inventive and changes often according to season and availability of items, with as much locally sourced as possible. For a Spanish flair in tapas form on your plate, Curate is also an excellent choice with rave reviews. Feeling more casual? Visit Mamacita’s Taqueria, which offers more than just tacos, or Pack’s Tavern for polished bar food (brisket mac n cheese anyone?) and excellent beer selection which of course includes local brews.
Are you a food hall aficionado? Head for S&W Market, housed in a circa 1929 Art-Deco drenched building. Sample local brews in the taproom, sip a true craft cocktail or chow down on fare from hot dogs to Thai.
Whew! If you have zero intention of getting up early and aren’t ready to turn in just yet, you’ve got choices. There’s no shortage of live music in downtown, and many of the breweries in the South Slope Brewing District have music as well on weekends. If you’re feeling squirrely, visit Ben’s Tune Up which is both a beer garden AND sake brewery!
For bourbon and cigars, check out Boomer’s Bourbon & Cigar back in downtown.Sample from an absolutely insane (like, over 1000) spirit selection in an Edgar Allen Poe meets Victorian England atmosphere flit over to Crow & Quill. If you’re feeling ready for some kitsch, have a listen at Off The Wagon Dueling Piano Bar.
There is SO MUCH hiking to be had! Between the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, there are a dizzying number of trails. I’ve collected a dozen or so varying from moderate to hard, from just a couple miles to 10. See the list of Asheville hikes I’ve made on AllTrails, and choose one (or two) that will keep you occupied til around lunchtime. Longer if you bring a picnic. All include views and many include beautiful waterfalls. Personally, I’m the one who wants to start before sunrise and clock ten miles before lunch. Obviously not everyone is into that, so use the AllTrails search functions to narrow down one that fits your mood and ability.
If you’re not going the picnic route, visit Luella’s Bar-B-Que Merrimon Avenue location for messy goodness. It’s a different kind of messy, but fabulously tasty tacos await at White Duck Taco Shop (3 locations – downtown, west of town, and not far from Biltmore) which offers fun fusion vibe tacos and snacks. If carbo loading with wood fired pizza sounds like the ticket, make for White Labs Kitchen & Tap – where you can tuck into Neapolitan style pizza or choose from a modest selection of apps, sandwiches, and salads.
At this point you’ll probably be ready to recharge with a shower and change of clothes. Once that’s sorted, spend the last daylight hours exploring the River Arts District, where you can see artists at work. Visit several local galleries nearby, like Odyssey Clayworks, which offers workshops & private lessons in addition to beautiful works from local artists.. There are numerous glass blowing studios in Asheville, which are part of tomorrow’s itinerary so don’t think I’ve left them out!
Now that you’ve basked in nature and explored local arts, it’s time for a relaxing dinner. Chai Pani offers select Indian street food plus wraps, sandwiches, and South Indian Uttapam – lentil crepes with savory toppings. It’s also vegan/vegetarian friendly, which is nice if you’re either a strict adherent or just like to take a break from meat sometimes. Honey-colored wood brings a feeling of coziness at Chestnut with an equally cozy (perfect for Fall!) yet refined menu.
If you want to grab dinner in a brewery, many do offer proper menus. Burial Beer Co. offers bar bites and sandwiches in addition to 20 (ish) tap selections. For a slightly more posh taproom vibe, visit Archetype Brewing’s downtown location, with 9 beers on tap and a charcuterie menu. Wicked Weed Brewing is one of the most famous of Asheville breweries, and their brewpub offers a hip menu and 25 beers to choose from.
Home stretch! Today is a great day to visit the Asheville Art Museum (regional and American art from the 19th-20th centuries), The Pinball Museum (where you can play vintage pinball games!), or The Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center.
If you can fit it into your budget, allot a minimum of 2 hours at the opulent Biltmore Estate. Depending on various options, tickets start at $55 to visit the gardens and grounds – but not the interior of the mansion. Tickets including mansion visits range from $76 all the way to $300 plus for full mansion access, small guided tour, wine tastings, and more. For just the Gardens and Grounds, allow up to 90 minutes. If you can, at least choose the ticket that allows you to visit the interior as it’s quite something, especially if you’re a lover of architecture and design.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TN 2 Days, 1 Nights
Straddling North Carolina and Tennessee and boasting over half a million acres, Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees over 12 million visitors per year. If you’re not pretty acclimated to camping in cold (40 degrees or less) temps, look into a cabin or RV rental. Choose the smallest RV possible to avoid not being able to access certain trailheads. If camping or RV-ing, makes campground/RV park reservations well in advance as they’ll book fast on weekends.
Gatlinburg is an incredibly popular base for those visiting the Smokies but I can’t recommend it unless you have small kids to entertain. You’re likely to overpay for lodging and deal with thick crowds on weekends. Look for a cabin along the 441 between Cherokee and Gatlinburg. This way you’ll have access to popular trails like Alum Cave, Mt. Le Conte, and Cades Cove.
Rise early so you won’t have to navigate mountain roads in the dark. If you can manage it, leave by 6:00AM so you’ll arrive around 9:30 AM. With sunset falling around 6:45 in mid-late October (prime leaf time, a bit past peak at higher elevations), you’ll want to plan to be back at the trailhead before 6:00. This way if you get held up or turned around you won’t have to deal with hiking in the dark. Remember, in the mountains, it’ll be dark an hour or so before official sunset.
You can plan your day in one of two ways. Both end with a visit to the unique and every popular Clingman’s Dome Observation Trail. It’s only 1.2 miles, so even walking back in near-dark won’t be hard. Just don’t forget your flashlight! Catch the last light of day before heading back to camp or cabin for a cozy end to the day.
If you aren’t a hard core hiker or prefer a little variety, choose two of the shorter trails. Start with my Great Smoky Mountains trail list or do your own search. A perfect combo would be Laurel Falls Trail – which of course has waterfalls and is clocks 2.4 miles – with the Peregrine Peak via Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Alum Cave Bluffs are extremely popular so I’d suggest starting with that as parking fills fast. It’s worth the effort, as you’ll enjoy forest scenery complete with streams, periodic views, and the famous Alum Caves.
For a more serious hike, tackle Chimney Tops and Road Prong Trail, featuring views and a waterfall during its 8+ mile route. The Alum Cave Trail to Mt. Le Conte Trail is fantastic, but if parking is full save it for tomorrow. At 11 miles it’s not for beginners, but you could also turn around at the caves and make it a shorter (but still challenging) hike. I went last summer and didn’t quite get to Mt. Le Conte as thunder and lightning were starting up and the top of a mountain is not where you want to be during that weather.
Once you’ve taken in the sunset, head back for camp and enjoy a campfire dinner. Pack your hiking goodies for tomorrow and get some sleep – it’s gonna be quite the day!
There’s lots on the itinerary today. Once again, you have options based on your preferred activity level. Cades Cove is ridiculously popular. You can drive or bike the 11 entire mile loop or take one of two cut-throughs. Here’s how to get the most out of it: know that it will be busy. Especially on a weekend if Fall colors are still going. If you don’t go super early, save it for a time when you can. It can take two hours to drive the whole loop, as it’s one way. There also aren’t all that many good spots to pull over. I’d strongly recommend renting bikes to get the most out of Cades Cove. That way you can stop easily to take in the scenery and it may well be faster than driving.
If you have done Cades Cove, you can still get in some good hiking. Revisit that list of mine! Visit the Laurel Falls Trail, which is an easy 2.4 miles. If you need to get home, you’ll be done before noon as long as you started good and early. Got time for one more hike? Take on the Newfound Gap to Indian Gap, a moderate 3.3 mile trail on the way back towards Atlanta. If you’re in no rush and want something a little more challenging, skip Laurel Falls. Go for Trillium Gap to Grotto Falls (6.8 moderate miles), Rainbow Falls (5.1 hard miles), or go for broke with the Chimney Tops & Road Prong at 8..5 hard miles.
If Cades Cove isn’t your bag, you have the whole day to really do some big hikes. Several on the list I made top 10 miles. If you keep an average pace of 1.5-2mph, you could definitely accomplish upwards of 12 miles well before dark. Happy trails!
NASHVILLE. TN 2 days, 2 nights
If you’re looking for a weekend Fall getaway from Atlanta in November, Nashville can give you mild weather and colorful leaves late in the season. Land of hot chicken, country music, and Johnny Cash. Of course there’s more to it than that. If your idea of the perfect weekend fall getaway is to play city mouse, Nashville is the perfect choice. The city is growing rapidly, and actually has more to offer than just country music and cowboy boots. Although there are LOTS of cowboy boots for sale.
Meander up from Atlanta Saturday morning, arriving right on time for brunch. If you don’t want to wait in line, make reservations at Henrietta Red. Tuck into sweet-tart Monkey Bread, buttermilk biscuits, or wood roasted oysters if standard brunch fare doesn’t satisfy your sophisticated palate. If a brunch buffet that offers items like shakshuka in addition to your standard bacon-eggs-n-sausage, book a table for brunch at Adele’s. Consistently recommended Butcher & Bee has fun with breakfast, serving items like Green Eggs & Lamb. For no-fuss breakfast classics in a diner meets homey living room vibe, choose Sky Blue. There will likely be a wait, but it’s a cute area so take a stroll and come back within the quoted time – I found them to be pretty accurate.
With your bellies full, it’s time to check out some of the unexpected sides of Nashville. Believe it or not, Nashville has its very own Parthenon! It’s actually cooler than it sounds and worth the short drive from the center of town. If you love guitars – like, really love them – visit the Gallery of Iconic Guitars at Belmont University.
It’s likely getting to lunchtime now and there’s lots more to have energy for. Dig into wood-fired oven Neopolitan style pizza at DeSano, where they adhere to the strict guidelines of Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Ready for some famous Nashville Hot Chicken? With outposts in numerous southern cities (including Atlanta), Hattie B’s is synonymous with Hot Chicken. Want to buck trends? Choose from traditional Hot Chicken takes or mix it up with a Hot Chicken Crunchwrap or Mac n Cheese at Red’s 615 Kitchen.
Refueled, take in some quiet time at the Frist Art Museum, or walk the halls of the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum. Shop for something fun and different at Hatch Show Print or Cool Stuff Weird Things. Stroll up and down Broadway if you want to get a taste of it before it becomes party central, or head back to your hotel and take a breather.
Be sure to check the calendar for Ryman Auditorium, which hosts a variety of musical acts. Of course there’s the legendary Grand Ole Opry, just keep in mind it’s about 30 minutes from downtown Nashville. If there’s nothing to your liking, you’ll be sure to find something along Broadway. On nice days, the bars open their windows and doors, so you can hear the various acts getting started for the night. You’ll hear blues and rock in addition to various styles of country and folk music.
If you skipped Adele’s for brunch, definitely give it a shot for dinner. Same goes for DeSano. If you want to stay close to Broadway, for retro sophistication book at Mockingbird Nashville for a cheeky internationally influenced menu. Unlike many tourist-heavy cities, there are tons of excellent restaurants on (and close to) the Broadway strip. From Hattie’s to old school steakhouses, you won’t go hungry. It’s great for those that like to wing it a bit rather than be locked into a dinner spot.
I hope you brought your part shoes because Nashville rollicks all night. Bar hop broadway with ease or get away from the throngs and head to the Gulch neighborhood. Station Inn features music seven nights a week – blues, bluegrass, Americana, and roots. Shows usually start between 8 and 9, and usually have a $15-$20.
If you got your bougie brunch fix yesterday, go for “regular” breakfast at The Pancake Pantry. Obviously you can slay a stack, but there are lots of savory options from biscuits to pigs in blankets to eggs-bacon-n-grits. They’ll also be opening a second location come November, so you’ll be able to pick the perfect spot. Not far from PP is Ruby Sunshine, where if needed you can sip a Morning Margarita, Bellini, or Bloody Mary. With 8 varieties of eggs Benedict, breakfast tacos, omelets, and more you can’t go wrong here.
I’m not what could be considered a Johnny Cash “fan” but I like his music well enough. The Johnny Cash Museum though was a pleasant surprise. It’s a detailed, well organized museum that houses personal and professional memorabilia. Follow the trajectory of his rise to stardom as well as the personal events that impacted his music. Open 7 days a week, it’s not cheap at $24 with a token $1 discount for AAA members, military, students, and seniors. Allow at least an hour to explore at leisure.
Country Music fans would be remiss to skip the Country Music Hall of Fame – it’s also open 7 days a week and tickets start at $28 with various upgrade options. If you skipped Hatch Show Print yesterday, it’s right around the corner. After all that, stroll across the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge to Cumberland Park and take in the downtown Nashville skyline.
Looking to grab lunch before heading home? Pop over to Redheaded Stranger Tacos. Vegetarian friendly and creative tocos are supplemented by a hearty burrito or green chile cheeseburger. If you didn’t get around to a more upscale dining experience yet but still want comfort food, check out Earnest Bar & Hideaway. Last but not least, if you love historic homes, wine, or thoroughbred horses, arrange a visit to Belle Meade Historic Site & Winery just outside the city.
SAVANNAH, GA 3 Days, 2 Nights
Last up (but absolutely not least) in best weekend fall getaways near Atlanta is inimitable Savannah, GA. If you can manage to leave Friday morning, do so because there is SO much to do and see here! It’s one of my favorite southern cities, especially in Spring or Fall. At minimum, make it a point to leave by about 3:00PM so that you’ll avoid rush hour and should be able to make the trip in under 4 hours. Make dinner reservations in advance for 8:00pm or later.
Savannah offers a surprising range of value when it comes to lodging. You don’t have to stay in the boondocks to find something affordable (but the sooner you book for weekends the better), and it’s worth spending a little extra to be as close to the historic center or riverfront as possible. I stayed at The DeSoto on one of my visits. This beautifully designed hotel not only has a prime location but excellent service and cleanly simple but lovely rooms. If you feel like splurging, choose the legendary Mansion on Forsyth Park or the amazingly well situated (and fairly priced!) Marshall House. for more modest rates but still loads of charm check availability at the likes of 1790 Inn & Restaurant or Rousells Garden Bed & Breakfast.
The Grey is one of Savannah’s top upscale dining destinations, with stunning art-deco inspired decor and vintage inspired cocktails. As synonymous with Savannah as ghosts and oaks, The Olde Pink House (built in the late 1700s) has been serving refined Southern cuisine for almost 30 years. Usually my go-to for brunch, B. Matthew’s Eatery is no slouch for dinner either. It’s like going to a friend’s hip old house, with menu items that are thoughtful, modern, and of course Southern-influenced.
Not ready to turn in just yet? Head for the River Street District, with an eclectic mix of bars, lounges, and top notch people watching. Dueling pianos bars are popular in southern cities – pop in to Savannah Smiles and see what you think. Snag a seat if you can at Top Deck Bar and take in the river front with a prime view from several stories up.
Savannah has some real gems not far from the historic center. First up, breakfast! One of my personal favorites is the aforementioned B Matthew’s Eatery. They also open at 8:00AM so you can easily get an early start to the day. At The Collins Quarter (locations in downtown or by Forsyth Park) you can skew health conscious with chia pudding or decadent with short rib hash. They also boast an excellent tea selection if you prefer a different kind of caffeine fix. For gorgeous, fluffy buttermilk biscuits get your butt to Maple Street Biscuit Company – obviously you can go for a biscuit bonanza but they also offer bowls, waffles, and potatoes.
Now that you’re properly fueled, hop in the car and head a mere 20 or so minutes east of the city. Start with Wormsloe Historic Site – most famous for its long drive lined with massive Spanish-moss draped oaks – then pop virtually next door to Skidaway Island State Park. Explore the many nature trails, birdwatch, visit the Tabby Ruins, and informative exhibits detailing Colonial life. Allow 2-4 hours to visit both places.
Lunch time! Just around the corner from Wormsloe, you’ll find waterside restaurants where you can tuck in to Savannah seafood treats. At Castaways, slurp She-Crab soup, take down platters of crispy seafood, or tackle some tacos. Try and snag a table in the small garden area at Driftaway Cafe. In addition to Southern classics like chicken pecan salad or shrimp n grits, there are influences from further afield: Jerk chicken, a Key-West Cuban, or a Pork Asado Po Boy. There is absolutely something for everyone!
Back in Savannah
Stroll through elegant Forsyth Park towards Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Built in the late 1800s, it has stunning Austrian stained glass windows and beautiful details throughout. It’s also the oldest Roman-Catholic church in Georgia. If you’re as fond of cemeteries as I am (very!), just around the block you’ll find Colonial Park Cemetery. A peaceful oasis with plots dating back to the 1700s, it’s the oldest cemetery in the city.
Meander through historic Savannah, taking in the architecture and exploring the shady mini-parks dotting the district. There are six originals, like Oglethorpe and Chippewa Square. Take a rest under the shade of the proverbial Spanish-moss draped oaks, before continuing to the Yamacraw Village neighborhood. On the way, pop in to The Olfactory Co., one of the most fun, quirky shops I’ve ever been in. With spices, potions, ouija boards, macabre books, cheeky tchotchkes, and even an animatronic wererwolf head, you really shouldn’t miss it. There, you’ll find Ghost Coast Distillery. While they have not yet resumed tours, you can sample their wide ranges of liquors. Of course there’s bourbon, but also vodka, gin, rum, as well as fernet and bitters. They also often have live music in mid or late afternoon.
You’ll likely be ready for another breather, so pop back to your hotel and get ready for Saturday night in Savannah. A local legend that was one of the first to serve alcohol after the end of prohibition, Crystal Beer Parlor offers a wide array of often hard to find beers and hunger-demolishing bar fare. Yes, you there is actually alligator on the menu at Alligator Soul (alligator chorizo mac n cheese, WHAT?!) as well as soul food staples like gumbo and upmarket choices of lamb or duck. Listen to live music while snacking on small plates at Jazz’d Tapas Bar & Restaurant – American favorites done in the popular tapas format.
If after dinner you’re looking for a quieter end to the evening instead of bar hopping, head for something sweet at Better Than Sex. With desserts featuring names like Cookie Nookie Pie, Kinky-er Key West Cream Pie, and Caress My Carrot you can get a chuckle along with a decadent sugar rush. Prefer your dessert in liquid form? Put your lips on The Minty Moaner or the Slip Inside surrounded by the shadowy budoir-esque interior. Alternatively, you could book any number of infamous Savannah ghost tours, most of which wrap in a good dose of general Savannah history as well. Tours typically last about 90 minutes, and cost about $30 per person.
If you aren’t hitting one of yesterday’s brunch options and want something a bit lighter or quicker, try out Goose Feathers Express Cafe & Bakery. While you can sit at a table and have eggs n bacon, you can also grab a croissant or breakfast bagel to take along with your coffee. Stroll to nearby Johnson square, one of the most charming and inviting of the downtown squares. Tuck into a tasty breakfast sandwich, while sipping your chosen caffeine delivery beverage, amongst brick, dark wood, and leather at Savannah Coffee Roasters.
Prohibition lasted 13 years in the US. Naturally there was no shortage of rebels and bootleggers during that time – learn all about it at the American Prohibition Museum. There are numerous museums in and around Savannah, from contemporary art to maritime or military, and of course civil rights and slavery. Alternatively, consider visiting the famous Bonaventure Cemetery less than 15 minutes outside the city. Explore on your own or book a tour.
If you have time for lunch before heading home, try out Hitch (or sister restaurant Treylor Park), with casually stylish vibes and fun nibbles to suit a wide variety of tastes. Avocado fries were a fun surprise, the chili hummus delightfully punchy, and while I’m not usually a margarita girl – theirs was very good!
This is the perfect hour to head back home, avoiding much of the coming-home weekend traffic. You’ll make it home with plenty of time to unpack, unwind, and reminisce before getting back to the “real” world. Alternatively, stay until early evening when most weekenders have headed home already. You can use this time to visit places you missed other days, have just one more fabulous dinner, or do some local shopping.
Best Weekend Falls Getaways Near Atlanta
Whew! What a huge post. Please get in touch if you’d like help planning your own perfect weekend getaway, have suggestions for a shop, restaurant, or activity in any of these cities, or to request future weekend getaway posts. Happy travels!