20 Best Road Trips From Atlanta
If you live in Atlanta, or just visiting the City in a Forest, it is a perfect spot from which to explore the Deep South of the United States.
Located in the heart of Georgia with Tennessee, Alabama and the Carolinas on your doorstep, it is the perfect starting point for road trips long and short across the Cotton States.
Featuring traditional city breaks, beautiful mountain retreats, southern blues and longer drives out of Georgia, here are our 20 best road trips from Atlanta.
Short road trips from Atlanta
1. Macon, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 84 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: Great to visit all year round
Only a short drive south of Atlanta, the city of Macon is a huge antidote to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The streets are full of cafes and restaurants which serve up amazing local food. The city is also known for its music with Otis Redding and The Allman Brothers Band both calling Macon home. Check out one of the live music venues or visit the Big House Museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the Allman Brothers.
The city has festivals throughout the year happening virtually every single month, so check what's on before you travel - from craft beer to music events to a cherry blossom festival, there's something for everyone on the agenda.
Take time to visit the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, which is within the city bounds and has recently been upgraded from being a National Monument. The Historical Park preserves cultures of Southeastern Native American culture with artefacts, buildings and mounds going back to ancient times.
The site was inhabited for 17,000 years and you can see elements of old temples and visit the archaeology museum inside the visitor center.
2. Lake Lanier, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 49 miles (1 hour)
When to visit: April to Labor Day when the weather is good and water activities and Margaritaville water park are open
Lake Lanier is just outside Atlanta and is a reservoir formed above the Buford Dam built in 1956.
This reservoir is unlike any other you have seen - the landscape is stunning, the coastline is jagged with beautiful islands dotted throughout making this a perfect escape from Atlanta.
There are over 90 different parks spread around the 680 miles of shoreline that are home to endless water activities, camping sites, walking and hiking trails and 23 beaches.
The lake is incredibly popular with a reputed 10 million visitors a year, but with so much to see and so many different parts of the lake to explore, you're unlikely to encounter big crowds.
During the summer months, you can rent kayaks and canoes which is one of the best ways to enjoy the lake. If you want a bit of a thrill, head to Margaritaville on the Lanier Islands (the closest part of the lake to Atlanta) - it's a water park with various slides, beaches and restaurants that is great for the whole family.
3. Stone Mountain Park, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 20 miles (40 minutes)
When to visit: Fun activities and things to do throughout the year
The Stone Mountain Park is Georgia's most visited attraction drawing over 4 million visitors a year. Being only 20 miles outside the city, it is a great place to come during the weekend to get away from the busy streets of Atlanta.
The large park that has a lot of trees and paths is surrounded by lakes - Stone Mountain Lake, Venable Lake and Howell Lake being the largest ones.
The mountain itself is the largest single piece of granite in the world with a large Confederate Memorial Carving on one side. You can climb all the way to the top along a dedicated trail or engage in the numerous activities at the base ranging from golf to train rides.
There are shows and events organized throughout the year so check what's on before you go - from laser shows in the summer to an amazing snow-themed Christmas event list, there's always something fun going on.
4. Lake Oconee, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 78 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: April to October for the best weather and water-based activities
Lake Oconee was created in 1979 when the Wallace Dam blocked the flow of the Oconee River and flooded the valleys above the dam. Today the lake is a mesmerizing network of waterways with retreats, luxury hotels including the stunning Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Hotel and a boatload of things to do.
If you want to unwind, play a bit of golf, spend a couple of hours in a kayak on the still water of the lake or hike the 21 miles of hiking trails, there's plenty to do on a day road trip from Atlanta or even a whole weekend.
Lake Oconee is very easy to get to - the I-20 runs right from Atlanta and over the middle of the lake. If you have time on your hands the Oconee National Forest is at the northern tip of the lake and offers a natural woodland that you can explore and spot animals including deer and foxes.
If you're into shooting, archery of want to rent a boat for the afternoon, visit the Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds. Sitting at the northeastern end of the lake, the 100 acre site specializes in clay pigeon shooting and is a great place to come whether you're a seasoned expert or a complete novice.
5. Augusta, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 145 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: Great year-round but avoid mid-April when the Masters golf tournament rolls into town and it gets crowded.
The city of Augusta is Georgia's second oldest after Savannah and there is a whole lot more to it than the famous golf course bearing its name.
The best thing to do in Augusta is to stroll. You should stroll along Broad Street to see a mix of cafes, galleries and restored classic buildings (over 150 of them are now on the National Register).
Then walk two blocks towards the Savannah River and walk back along the Augusta Riverwalk. The trees lining it and the river breeze are very welcome at the peak of the summer heat and there are places to stop for a drink or lunch as well as the Morris Museum of Art at the western end of the walk.
The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, grew up in Augusta after moving here from South Carolina as a child and you can visit the Augusta Museum of History to see a section dedicated to his life's work as well as other exhibits taking you through the city's history.
6. Athens, Georgia & the Georgia Guidestones
Distance from Atlanta: 115 miles (2 hours 20 minutes)
When to visit: Whenever you want, but avoid weekends when the Georgia Bulldogs are playing at home as the city gets very busy
Athens is a charming Southern town that is home to the University of Georgia and is known for its excellent food and live music scenes. If you are a foodie, who also likes a bit of live blues, a visit to Athens might just be the right thing for you.
The college town's vibrancy means there are a few interesting museums and art galleries to visit and you can drop into one of the very good local breweries - the Creature Comforts Brewing Company is based here and there are a few other craft brewers as well.
The Georgia Guidestones are a further 50 minutes' drive away and just before you get to the Savannah River marking the state boundary with South Carolina.
This granite structure outside Eberton is 19 feet tall and is covered by 10 key principles of preserving humanity and the planet for the future written in 8 modern and 4 ancient languages including Egyptian Hieroglyphics on different parts of the monument.
Known as America's Stonehenge, it has attracted a lot of controversy since it was constructed in 1980. The authors and sponsors have remained anonymous and the principles advocate things like keeping the global population under 500 million and developing a new global language.
7. Providence Canyon State Park, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 147 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: Summer when the beautiful rhododendrons are blooming
A hidden secret in Southwestern Georgia, the Providence Canyon State Park is little known outside Georgia and surprisingly inside the state too.
The Providence Canyon is frequently referred to as the Little Grand Canyon due to its look and similarity with the famous sight in Arizona. There are actually 16 different canyons in the park and their origin is a little less exciting and natural than you might think.
The canyons formed due to local settlers' poor farming practices which eroded the soil leading to the formation of deep gullies with the deepest going 150 feet down.
You can hike down to the bottom, although be prepared for it to be wet and muddy. The best views are from the top, looking down the canyons and the colors of the different soil layers.
Look out for the red flowers of plumleaf azalea which only exists in this part of Georgia with the Providence Canyon having the largest number of these plants.
Allow for a few hours to explore the different canyons, but don't expect to spend more than a day here - the camping facilities are very basic and it's only a 2 hour drive back to Atlanta when you're done hiking.
8. Callaway Gardens, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 79 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: Go in April to catch the azaleas in full bloom
Callaway Gardens is a large 6,500 acre garden set among a few small lakes that has a mix of flowers, woodland areas, attractions and even 2 golf courses.
Just over an hour's drive from Atlanta, Callaway Gardens have been open to the public since 1952 and a 10-mile trail that runs through the grounds connects different parts of the gardens including the world's largest man-made beach around Robin Lake and the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center with over 1,000 butterflies inside.
The main attraction of the gardens is the Overlook Azalea Garden with different types of azalea flowers. Georgia is known for having a large number of different kinds of azaleas growing around the state and the park has large bushes of these flowers in different colors growing in a park setting where you can sit and relax on a bench in the shade.
Weekend road trips from Atlanta
9. Birmingham, Alabama
Distance from Atlanta: 147 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: Outdoors season with good weather from April to October
A city that was born and flourished during the Industrial Age and came to country-wide prominence as a major hub during the Civil Rights Movement is today undergoing a major renaissance with neighborhoods regenerating and a boom in the arts and cultural scene.
Birmingham, Alabama is famous as the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his letter from prison and where a church bombing in 1963 took the lives of four little girls.
Today, the city celebrates its position as the leader of transforming civil liberties during the 20th century - you can walk through the Civil Rights District and visits sights such as the Sixteenth Street Church and the Kelly Ingram Park.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute displays an eye-opening exhibition of the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and carries on to show broader Civil Rights and equality struggles around the United States and the rest of the world through to modern day.
In addition to seeing some of the most formative pieces of American history, there are art and science museums, Botanical Gardens, a great zoo and plenty of nature to explore outside the city.
One of these is the Red Mountain Park in the Appalchian mountains. The former mining site has hiking and bike trails and a lot of things to do outdoor including a long zip line but make sure you clean your shoes afterwards from the distinct red shade of iron ore - it can get everywhere!
10. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Distance from Atlanta: 118 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
When to visit: Visit in the fall when the weather is great and the trees begin to turn golden
Chattanooga didn't use to be on the tourism radar until recently, but it fast transformed into a popular destination as the city developed to match its stunning surroundings.
One of the main attractions in Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium which includes the largest freshwater aquarium in the world among its exhibits. As one of the newer aquariums in the country, the facilities are great and there is a huge amount of sea, river and lake creatures to see here. The large sea tanks are beautifully decorated making it look like you are looking at the fish from inside an underwater sea cave.
When visiting Chattanooga, you won't miss the Lookout Mountain which sits high above the city on the border with Georgia.
There is a trail that will take you to the top for amazing views of Chattanooga and far beyond that will make the perfect Instagram snap. It's only just over 4,000 feet long so it won't take you long to get up there.
Underneath the Lookout Mountain is another sight - the Ruby Falls is the tallest waterfall in the deepest commercial cave in the United States and is within walking distance of downtown Chattanooga.
11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Asheville, North Carolina
Distance from Atlanta: 220 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: Great all year round although for cooler weather and better prices, go in April or May
The Great Smoky Mountains is right up there in my list of favourite places I've ever been to across the United States. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala National Forest and the Chattahoochee National Forest form one large nature reserve that will make you feel a million miles away from Atlanta.
The Great Smoky Mountains (locally referred to as the Smokies) got their name from the fog that frequently sits in the valleys giving the mountains a subtle blue smoke effect. The amazing views, together with endless trails and things to do have made the Smoky Mountains the most visited National Park in the country with over 11 million vititors coming every year.
Bryson City and Gatlinburg are both great spots for exploring the area. There are a few lodging options out of town in the surrounding country which will definitely add to the experience - check AirBnb and other lodging websites.
Take time to hike along trails around the Fontana Lake for a gentle walk with occasional views of the lake through the dense forest. If you want more of a challenge, the Appalchian Trail starts from the Fontana Dam and eventually follows the Tennessee - North Carolina border. It's around 70 miles long so you might want to plan your route to see how far you want to go!
Asheville is a little further along in North Carolina and is picture-perfect, surrounded by tree-covered mountains on all sides.
The city is known for its arts with the River Arts District running along French Broad River and colorful street art dotted around town.
The main sight in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate, a giant mansion with landscaped gardens built in 1889 by the Vanderbilt family. With over 250 rooms, it is the largest home in the country but beware that tickets are $79 which even with the discounts for children can turn into an expensive family day out.
12. A weekend in Northern Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 160 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: June to September to get the best weather across Northern Georgia
Northern Georgia is home to the Chattahoochee National Forest and some of the oldest and prettiest cities of Southern United States. It's not far to go from Atlanta so you can spend a lot of time exploring and less time on the road on this road trip.
The town of Dahlonega, Georgia is famous as the site of the first major gold rush in the U.S. in 1828. After quickly growing in stature, Dahlonega began deflating almost as fast as the California Gold Rush offered even greater potential riches drawing miners to move west.
Today you can walk the historic streets, visit the Dahlonega Gold Museum housed in an 1830s courthouse and explore a big part of what Dahlonega is today - wine. Lumpkin County in which Dahlonega is located has recently built a bit of a reputation for its wine and there are tasting rooms and shops in town where you can try the local produce.
Helen is another city in northern Georgia you should add to your list of stops. Only 25 miles away from Dahlonega, it is an incredibly different kind of town - you may just feel that you've taken a wrong turn and ended up in central Europe as you drive into the distinctly Alpine style town.
The houses, shops and restaurants are all built in a Bavarian style and there are a number of outdoors activities near the town for you to enjoy.
As well as the National Forest, there is a huge amount of nature to explore in Northern Georgia. The Appalachian mountains start here and you can visit the tallest peak in the state at Brasstown Bald. You can hike up the mountain along one of two trails leading to the top or for those who want the views without the sweat, you can drive right up to the Lookout Tower at the top.
Make sure you stop off at Toccoa Falls in Northeastern Georgia, near the border with South Carolina. The falls drop some 186 feet and are surrounded by forest, making for amazing views.
13. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from North Carolina to Virginia
Distance from Atlanta: 630 miles (18 hours)
When to go: May to September to catch the good weather
The Blue Ridge Parkway holds the record for being the longest park in the United States. Its entire 469-mile route starting from Cherokee in the Smoky Mountains to Waynesboro on the edge of Virginia's Shenandoah National Park is a designated park and it must be one of the most scenic roads you can drive anywhere in the world.
You'll first need to get yourself to Cherokee - if you have time on your hands, explore the Great Smoky Mountains (see above) while you're there before setting off on your drive.
From there, you can take as long as you want to make the drive. The driving time on the road is likely to take around 15 hours. The road twists and bends along the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains and the speed limit is 45 miles per hour or lower the entire way.
There are endless sights to see, places to stop and historic cities to visit along the length of the route. You can take two weeks and still not see everything along the way. Along with dozens of places you can take pictures of the road meandering through the mountains or overhanging over a valley, don't miss Mabry Mill at milepost 176. You will see it right next to the road, but take your time to stop and look inside - the lunch at the restaurant is pretty good.
If the 469 miles is not long enough, you can keep going! The road actually continues into the Shenandoah National Park as Skyline Drive and ends up in Front Royal, Virginia, a few miles outside of Washington D.C.
14. Destin, Florida
Distance from Atlanta: 314 miles ( 5 hours)
When to visit: April to May when the weather is perfect and before the summer crowds get here
Destin is a coastal city in the Florida Panhandle, a 5 hour drive southwest of Atlanta. If you want some hot weather, pristine perfectly white beaches and plenty of activities to do in and around the water, the Emerald Coast is the perfect destination for you.
The city of Destin sits on a narrow spit of land that separates Choctawhatchee Bay from the Gulf of Mexico and everything you will want to see, visit, eat or drink sits along the southern edge, along the beach facing the Gulf
Aside from laying on the sand and soaking in the rays, you can hire a boat in the harbor, go on a dolphin cruise, try your hand at deep sea fishing or even parasail.
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park lets you get up close and personal with different sea creatures including shows with dolphins and sea lions.
There are other beach destinations further afield (see Orlando at #19 below), but if you just want to get away from things and laze around to the sound of waves rolling in, pack your swimming shorts and head south to Destin!
15. Savannah, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 248 miles (3 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: March to July for perfect weather and the festival season (although summers do get hot)
Savannah is Georgia's oldest city sitting on the south bank of the Savannah River as it flows into the Atlantic.
The city was designed in the 1730s and has a unique layout with 22 green squares laying the structure for its Historic District. The mansions with wooden cladding and painted shutters stand on streets lined with Live Oaks that have their branches hanging over the road and front lawns.
Just outside the city is the Wormsloe Historic Site - as you enter, you will see the iconic drive with a Live Oak tunnel stretching into the distance. You can walk around the grounds and see the remains of the oldest structures in Savannah here.
Top tip: The second best thing I have ever eaten in my life is the peanut butter and jelly chicken wings served up at Savannah's Treylor Park - the place is not fancy, it's also loud and you may well have to eat sat on a bar stool if you get a seat at all, but you really have to try them if you come to Savannah!
16. Charleston, South Carolina
Distance from Atlanta: 305 miles (4 hours 40 minutes)
When to visit: Spring and fall as summers can get hot and humid
Charleston is a unique old Southern city sitting on a peninsula stretching into the Charleston Bay and flanked by the Cooper and Ashley Rivers. The fastest route to Charleston from Atlanta comes in along the land via the I-26 so you won't have to take one of the three bridges connecting the city with Mt Pleasant and West Ashley.
The picturesque streets of Charleston date back to the 17th century when the city was founded and named after the King Charles II of England. A lot of the buildings in the city date back to the 17th and 18th centuries with the oldest stone house called the Pink House being built between 1694 and 1712.
As you get further towards the Bay, the buildings get larger and more colonial. Right at the tip, by the Battery seawall and promenade is the White Point Garden surrounded by mansion-lined streets and needle palm trees.
The best thing to do in Charleston is to walk its streets and admire the architecture. There are plenty of quirky museums, interesting things to do and places to visit. Historic homes and museums are numerous and seem to stand on every corner south of the Historic City Market so take your pick and go inside.
On the way in, or as you head back to Atlanta, take your time and stop Summerville just outside Charleston. The Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site allows you to see the ruins of a once busy trade city from the 17th and 18th centuries. Then you can explore the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, see the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States at Middleton Place and the Drayton Hall plantation dating back to 1752.
17. Nashville, Tennessee
Distance from Atlanta: 250 miles (3 hours 50 minutes)
When to visit: Best weather from April to October, but you can really come all year round
Nashville is unlike many cities you will have visited around the United States. Known as the Music City, it is famous for the live music scene that has brought some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century to the fore - the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music of Fame are just two amazing things to do here.
Then there's the famous neon signs of the Honky Tonk Highway running along Broadway and Music Row which will give you a taste for the musical history of the city.
Nashville's Centennial Park is home to a full size replica of the Parthenon that was originally built in ancient Greece. Today it is a museum you can visit to see modern American art as well as marvel at the 1897 construction built for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition.
Don't forget to spend some time in the city's parks and visit a few of its quirky museums. Check out our list of the best things to do in Nashville for some inspiration!
The route from Atlanta to Nashville passes by Chattanooga which is a good place to stop if you want to break up your journey or take more time on your trip.
18. Memphis, Tennessee
Distance from Atlanta: 391 miles (5 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: April to June or May for the annual Memphis in May festival
If you add a couple more hours to your trip into Tennessee, you will swap country music for blues and end up in Memphis.
This city sitting on the east bank of the Mississippi River is all about music. Just outside the town is Graceland where you can see the complete exhibition of the life and work of Elvis.
Back in the city, there is Sun Studio where everybody from Elvis and Johnny Cash to U2 has recorded music over the decades. Then there is the Museum of American Soul Music, The Rock n Soul Museum and the Blues Hall of Fame to complete your education on local music.
After you've done all that, head to Beale Street and listen to the best of today's blues in one of a number of venues with live music.
Make sure you make a stop at the National Civil Rights Museum in the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was tragically killed. The museum is one of the best in the country at displaying the struggle for equality and Civil Rights across the ages with a focus on the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.
We've got an awesome list of things you can do in Memphis if you want to scout for more options.
19. Orlando, Florida
Distance from Atlanta: 439 miles (6 hours)
When to visit: Can be good all year round but weather and prices are best from April to May
Getting to Orlando from Atlanta is straight forward even if not very quick. You'll get to know Interstate 75 well as it takes you almost the entire way from downtown Atlanta and the journey can be done in a day with about 6 hours of driving.
Orlando is a vibrant city and known for many things. In recent years, tourism has become the main reason people travel to Orlando with some of the world's best known theme parks. That may be the reason you're going to head to the heart of Florida - Disney World, Universal Studios Floria and SeaWorld Orlando are just some of the huge number of theme parks in the area that is home to 5 of the 10 most visited in the world.
The city itself is also worth spending some time in - there are lakes and swamps throughout the area and you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Orlando from far away making for a great evening photo.
With so much tourism in Orlando, there is a huge selection of places to go out and eat both in the city and in the surrounding neighborhoods. Be sure to try different Central American cuisines with large communities based here from across the different countries of the Caribbean offering amazing authentic options.
20. New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance from Atlanta: 470 miles (6 hours 30 minutes)
When to visit: Great all year but can get mighty expensive in late February during Mardi Gras
Last, but most definitely not least on our list of the best roads trips from Atlanta is New Orleans. It's the furthest away and will take the best part of 7 hours' worth of driving time to get to, but boy is it worth it!
The best part of driving from Atlanta to New Orleans is the fact that the road there is almost as good as the destination. Driving across the Deep South, you can take the more direct route via the Alabama cities of Montgomery and Mobile or take the I-20 to Birmingham and then drive down Eastern Mississippi on your way to The Big Easy.Following a certain trend in our list of road trip destinations, New Orleans is yet another that you must visit for its music. Its jazz scene is known around the world and you can find outstanding performances any night of the week all around the French Quarter and not just along Bourbon Street.
The Garden District neighborhood and other parts of Uptown have amazing colonial mansions and tree-lined avenues that you can explore on foot or by catching one of the streetcars.
The food in New Orleans is something that few cities can match. There's everything from fancy French food restaurants to small corner diners serving Alligator Po Boy and dozens of varieties of the Gumbo. You have to try it - it may not be a typical foodie city, but food here is really phenomenal!