Things 2 Do

North Georgia Mountains: A Fall foliage wonderland with hidden waterfalls and wineries

RABUN COUNTY, Ga. — It’s almost time.

It’s time for Mother Nature’s coat of many colors to blanket the trees of North Georgia. It’s time for the green leaves that adorn the landscape to turn various shades of yellow, orange, purple, and red.

If you’ve never experienced leaf-peeping season, find time on your calendar this year to enjoy it. If you have experienced it before, chances are, you’ll be back again this season.

“Especially up in (Rabun County), (you’ll see) amazing leaf foliage,” said Casey Quarterman from the National Forest Service. “This is one of the most biodiverse areas in the country when it comes to trees.”

“It’s a great place to come and just see the Fall come alive,” Quarterman added.

Head to places like Clayton, Tiger, Dillard, Lake Rabun, and Sky Valley to experience fall in all its brilliant colors. But while you’re there, enjoy much more than just leaves on your visit.

“Fall is a migration of the southeastern United States to Rabun County,” Clayton Mayor Kurt Cannon said. “Everybody comes to see the leaves change and (experience) the beautiful fall air and the great things that we offer here.”

Waterfalls and wineries rank near the top of that list.

Rabun County is home to three state parks. Tallulah Gorge State Park ranks as one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern United States and offers views of several waterfalls.

“What most of our visitors do is the suspension bridge loop, also known as the Hurricane Falls loop,” Tallulah Gorge State Park manager Lieren Merz said. “That takes you down 310 stairs, across the suspension bridge which is 80 feet above the floor of the gorge at that point, but you are in between waterfalls, then you’ll go down another 221 stairs to the viewing platform at the very bottom of Hurricane Falls. From there, you get the view of Hurricane Falls, which is our biggest waterfall. After that, the only thing to do is go back up.”

Georgia’s highest state park is not far away. Black Rock Mountain State Park reaches altitudes of 3,640 feet and offers views spanning 80 miles across four states. It sits around the Eastern Continental Divide.

“We also have our Ada-Hi Falls trail which is a very steep, quarter-of-a-mile hike, and it takes you to Aida High Falls and it’s not Niagara Falls by any means but it’s a nice place to kind of experience the ecosystem of the creeks and streams that we have around here,” Jessica James from Black Rock Mountain State Park said.

The state’s smallest state park is nearby. Moccasin Creek State Park sits on the shores of Lake Burton. Between Lake Burton’s beauty and all the outdoor recreation opportunities it offers, it’s a sensational spot for a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

“Moccasin Creek is a beloved state park in Georgia,” Daniel Henderson from Moccasin Creek State Park said. “It’s very, very small but it’s a very special place to many people.”

“One of my favorite places is Hemlock Falls,” Trey McFalls from Shady Creek Expeditions said. “It’s a really easy hike, beautiful waterfall. It’s right across from Moccasin Creek State Park. I really recommend it to you.”

Rabun County ranks atop the list of counties with the most waterfalls in the state. While Georgia is home to about 700 waterfalls, you’ll find more than 120 of them in Rabun alone.

“There are several waterfalls where you can just park and walk right to, short walk,” Quarterman said. “And then others that you really have to earn the reward. Panther Creek Falls for instance is a 3.5-mile hike to the waterfall and then you have to hike 3.5 miles out.”

Once you’re done with the waterfalls, or possibly as an alternative, more and more wineries now call North Georgia home. The Blue Ridge Mountains provide the ideal climate to grow grapes and produce wine.

Stonewall Creek Vineyards was founded in 2004. Nearly 20 years later, you’ll find a tasting room, wine flights, live music, an outdoor patio, and plenty of events.

Tiger Mountain Vineyards is less than 5 miles away. It too offers live music, a tasting room, wine slushies, a vineyard tour, barrel tasting, and more.

Don’t miss 12 Spies Vineyard on a visit, too. The Rabun Gap winery offers a wide variety of wines ranging from crisp dry whites to robust dry reds to lush sweet wines. Check out the live music scheduled for 12 Spies.

Call it a day at Terra Incognita Vineyard. Enjoy a spectacular sunset from this vineyard that sits 3,000 feet up in the mountains. Enjoy live music or a gorgeous night sipping on wine at Terra Incognita.

“What we have here is a remote location and we see that as a benefit,” Torsten Ernest from Terra Incognita Vineyard said. “If you’re looking for a place that is off the beaten path, that is really something that is unique and a little rough around the edges, but very genuine, and has some really unique attributes, this is the place for you.”

Head to North Georgia this fall to enjoy the leaves. It’s a spectacular sight that you won’t soon forget. But make sure to pencil in some time for more of the adventure and fun that the area offers.

“There is something about being here in the Fall that just makes it extra special,” Clayton city manager Trudy Crunkleton said. “It’s cool enough at night to have a fire, so that’s an added bonus.”

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This story is sponsored by Rabun County.

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