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A popular retreat for those looking to escape the urban confines of the city, the North Georgia mountains can be reached within a 1-2 hour drive of Atlanta. For those already living outside of the metro area (like myself), the North Georgia mountains are a mainstay of the weekend, providing day-trip-worthy hiking options ranging in lengths of .5 miles – 9+ miles, with terrain for all abilities.
As an avid hiker and seasoned explorer across North Georgia for the past 20 years, I’ve become well acquainted with the trails requiring boots, packs and poles. Only in the past few years have I begun to explore the other types of trails in North Georgia – those that require no more than a love for wine, good conversation and beautiful views (and possibly a designated driver).
Each of North Georgia’s five key regions – Clayton, Dahlonega, Helen, Ellijay and Blue Ridge – can be considered wine trails in their own right, with multiple wineries close enough to each other to visit several in a day.
Perfect Weekends are Made of Waterfalls and Wine
Given that North Georgia is now home to over 30 wineries and literally hundreds of hiking trails, it’s little surprise that you’re likely to find a winery, vineyard or tasting room within a 30-minute drive, or less, from almost any trailhead. Hence, it’s become common practice for me and my furry sidekick to set out on a day hike, then recoup at one of our favorite wineries — me enjoying a glass of vino while my pup laps from cold water from a bowl offered up by our host. Yes, many of the wineries here are dog friendly, making them a perfect post-hike destination if your four-legged companion is by your side.
If you are looking to enjoy all that the Georgia outdoors has to offer, from blazes to bottles, I recommend starting your day on the trail early, then plan to rest your weary legs at the wineries in the afternoon.
Below is just a sampling of my favorite regional North Georgia day trip itineraries, based on the following criteria:
- All trails contain waterfall views. In North Georgia you can have your pick of sweeping vistas and challenging terrain, but waterfall trails showcase the beauty of the Georgia outdoors in all its glory.
- All distances are round trip.
- All wineries are casual (muddy cuffs, hiking boots and camp shirts welcome).
- All wineries are dog friendly (my lab rescue has been my hiking partner for 14 years now and gives four paws up to the destinations below).
Should you wish to extend your outdoor adventures through a full weekend or longer, the Georgia State Park system is extensive and offers several camping options (tent and RV) throughout all of North Georgia for you and your pup.
Talulah Gorge – trails ranging from 2.5 – 3.5 miles
Talulah Gorge was made famous as a filming location for the 1972 movie Deliverance, and later in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War was filmed in the adjacent state park. One stop here and you will see why – the views of this two-mile long and 1,000 foot deep canyon are nothing short of cinematic.
One of the few Georgia wineries specializing in dry reds, Stonewall Creek showcases Cab Franc, Malbec and their Three Eagles blend with a bucolic mountain view. In the warmer months, their light and dry Provence-style Yukari rosé, steals the show, featuring Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot grapes. Come early in the spring to grab a bottle upon release (they go fast!) and return in the fall to help harvest grapes alongside Owner Mark Diehl and Winery Manager Alex Blackwood.
Tiger mountain produces European vinifera wines from 100% Georgia-grown grapes, planted on over 10 acres of their fifth-generation farm. Help yourself to the cheese board in the tasting room or enjoy a more substantial meal onsite at the Red Barn Cafe, where dogs are welcome for patio dining. Although their Viognier is extremely popular, their Cab Franc and other dry reds are particular standouts.
Owner Mike Brown gave up a corporate career to pursue his passion for wine, and has found great success in growing Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Tannat and Traminette. I‘m always sure to have a bottle of the latter on hand for Thanksgiving every year. Enjoy a bottle on their veranda or stay for a pizza and live music on Friday nights. And though it sounds odd, you’ll want to check out their very unique bathroom sink!
Amicalola Falls – 2.1 miles
Falling nearly 720 feet, Amicalola Falls is both Georgia’s tallest waterfall and the highest cascading falls east of the Mississippi River. This also makes it one of the most popular North Georgia destinations, so be prepared for crowds as well as the 604 steps that you will climb down and back up again!
Overlooking the foothills of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, Wolf mountain offers one of the most breathtaking views in North Georgia. Specializing in dry whites, rosés and reds, it’s their Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Wines, particularly the refreshing Blanc de Blancs Brut, that keeps me coming back. Enjoy a reserve tasting in their fieldstone cellar or outdoors on the dog-friendly terrace. However, you’ll want to leave Fido at home to enjoy a meal or themed Sunday brunch at their Vineyard Cafe.
Owner Claire Livingston offers a warm, rustic retreat in the woods where dogs and donkeys roam amongst vineyard views of Norton, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Manseng. The focal point of the winery is an updated 1820’s hand-hewn log cabin, available to rent for weekend stays.
The Cottage Vineyard and Winery
Sitting atop 29 acres with 360-degree mountain views, it’s easy to see why the family owned Cottage Vineyard and winery is ranked as a top US winery. Pouring over 20 different wines, including an impressive selection of reds (Pinot Noir, Cab Franc, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec and Cab Sauv). I’m partial to visiting in the fall to enjoy a glass of their earthy Meritage while taking in the changing colors of the leaves.
Raven Cliffs Falls – 5 mi
The eponymous trail of my furbaby, the unique Raven Cliffs Falls is my hands down favorite hike in all of North Georgia. Just long and steep enough to get the blood pumping, this trail holds your interest as it follows a rushing creek with several smaller cascades along the way. The path culminates in a 40-foot-tall granite cliff, fractured in half by the falls pouring through the narrow crevice.
Family-owned and operated, CeNita’s success is built on the foundation of four generations of farming expertise. If their rolling landscape and oaky Barbera don’t impress you (and I’m sure they will), then the knowledgeable and friendly staff certainly will. Enjoy complimentary fresh-baked rosemary bread while giving belly rubs to Buddy, the sweetest winery dog around.
Yonah Mountain Vineyards receives a lot of attention for its tours of the only known wine cave in Georgia. However, sweeping views of the surrounding pastures and the looming figure of the namesake mountain in the near distance is even more impressive. An airy, sunny tasting room offers 360-degree panoramic views, while the dog-friendly patio sits in the shadow of Yonah Mountain. Take the four-mile round trip hike up to the peak and you’re sure to earn that glass of Estate Meritage.
Serenity Cellars specializes in Old World style wines, in a colorful Tuscan atmosphere that “celebrates the fusion of wine, music and art.” Here you will find one of the few Sangioveses in North Georgia, along with an impressive array of complex yet balanced red blends.
Long Creek Falls – 2 mi
One of the few waterfalls on the southern stretch of the Appalachian Trail, Long Creek Falls offers a moderate hike to 50-foot tall and impressively wide falls that are guaranteed to flow freely even during the dry season. The road leading to the trailhead follows the meandering Noontootla Creek, which itself showcases several smaller falls along the way.
Bring your pup and a picnic to enjoy the Friday night sunset concert series at Fainting Goat. Yes, you will be greeted by the four fainting goats on the property along with Teddy and Rosie, the resident Great Pyrenees dogs. Step out onto the balcony for cool breezes and mountain views paired with a glass of tart yet crisp Blanc du Bois.
German for “Angel Home,” Engelheim is home to a selection of interesting red and white blends, as well as single varietals. Head out to the patio overlooking the vineyard to enjoy a glass of the Hummingbird – a 100% estate-grown Chambourcin with a touch of Merlot aged in Hungarian oak, slightly spicy, sweet and fruity.
Wind through dusty country roads to find Chateau Meichtry nestled amongst peaceful pastures. A warm and inviting tasting room offers over 15 wines, from a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon to a crisp Albariño, and even something for the mead drinker.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Toccoa River Swinging Bridge – 2 mi
Spanning 270 feet across the Toccoa River, this is the longest swinging bridge east of the Mississippi River. Technically you will see a small waterfall on the opposite bank of the river, but hikers come here to explore the wilderness, watch the paddlers play in the eddies and giddily enjoy that unnerving feeling of your stomach bouncing into your throat with every step across the bridge. Note: four-wheel drive strongly recommended to reach the approach trail.
Originally built in the 1920’s, the renovated Tasting Barn is the centerpiece of this farm winery. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t pull up an Adirondack chair around one of their many welcoming outdoor fire pits. Not far from the Aska trail system, me and the pup have joined in conversation with several hikers on their outdoor patio while enjoying a flight of their fruit forward wines and blends, which incorporate varietals from Chardonnay and Chambourcin to Cab Franc.
Located at 1832 feet above sea level, cool mountain breezes pair well with Bear Claw’s selection of oaked and stainless steel aged wines including Chardonnay, Semi-Sweet Riesling, Vidal Blanc, Cayuga and Cabernet Sauvignon. Hit the trails early and make a reservation for their 1 p.m. Wine and Dine tour to relax and refuel after an adventure filled morning. Or stay for a glamping weekend by booking their treehouse accommodations, complete with a live tree growing through the center of the room.
When To Visit North Georgia
Having spent two decades hiking across the Appalachian foothills, my recommendation is to hit the trails Mid-October through late May, before the notorious heat and humidity set in (it’s not called Hotlanta for nothing, y’all). However, due to somewhat cooler elevations, you can still set out on shorter hikes comfortably in the summer during early morning hours.
Most of the North Georgia wineries are open seven days a week, offering live music on weekends and themed dinners or reserve tastings with food pairings. Regardless of the season, beautiful scenery awaits you on and off the trail, along with delicious wine and signature Southern hospitality.