Leave the City Behind with These 9 Nature-filled Escapes from Atlanta

Life in the big city can be exciting, but honestly, sometimes you just need to get away to enjoy some peace surrounded by nature.

From the Blue Ridge Mountains to coastal islands, I’ve rounded up the top destinations that make ideal weekend nature retreats from Atlanta. So grab your friends and family and hit the road! These beautiful spots are just waiting to be explored.

The list below is organized based on distance from Atlanta, starting with the closest to the farthest.

The drive times listed are approximations. The length of time it takes you to drive to each destination will of course depend on several things such as the time of day, your exact starting and ending point, and the weather, etc.

Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge

Tiered waterfall cascading over rocks in Northern Georgia

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Distance from Atlanta: 72 miles
Approximate drive time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Amicalola Falls State Park is an awe-inspiring spot for a quick escape from Atlanta. Falling 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the third-highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.

Hikers enjoy the park’s trails. The park is particularly known for the Approach Trail that leads to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail

The park’s lodge rooms feature panoramic views. You’ll be close to the falls and the rest of the park’s beautiful attractions, resort activities, and dining.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park

old wooden grist mill in Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Distance from Atlanta: 165 miles
Approximate drive time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Found in Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some of the most stunning scenery anywhere in the U.S. It’s one of the best southern national parks.

In my opinion, one of the best things about this park is that you don’t have to be super outdoorsy to enjoy it. Anyone can enjoy the scenic drives at Cades Cove and Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. But avid hikers love the trails to Laurel Falls, Alum Bluff Cave, and Abram Falls.

For everything you need to know about visiting this amazing park, see my Great Smoky Mountains National Park travel guide.

For a complete discussion of where to stay on your Smokies weekend trip, see my article all about where to stay in the Smokies.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not really offer any traditional lodging options. So probably your best option will be to stay in one of the gateway towns at the major entrances to the Park. Gatlinburg is the most popular. Cherokee, North Carolina, and Townsend, Tennessee are also fine options.

Here are a couple of popular options in Gatlinburg:

The Park Vista offers beautiful views of the Smoky Mountains, and every room has its own balcony.

Fairfield Inn and Suites has long been one of our go-to hotels when looking for an economical and comfortable stay. Their downtown Gatlinburg location is mere moments away from the beginning of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.

narrow paved road through a green forest
Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go.

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Lake Junaluska, North Carolina

Distance from Atlanta: 170 miles
Approximate drive time: 3 hours

Spending a weekend at Lake Junaluska is a unique and perfect way to relax and unwind. With its beautiful scenery and abundance of outdoor activities, there is something for everyone here. Enjoy fishing, kayaking, birding, and swimming in the lake. Explore the lake on foot using the Lake Junaluska Walking Trail or enjoy 18 holes of golf.

Lodging options include cabins, vacation rentals, and a couple of hotels and B&Bs.

The Terrace Hotel offers beautiful lake views, a heated pool, and easy access to all of the recreational activities the lake has to offer.

The Lambuth Inn appears on the Register of National Historic Places and underwent a major renovation in 2018 to modernize and upgrade amenities.

Congaree National Park/Columbia, South Carolina

wooden boardwalk path through a forest

Distance from Atlanta: 230 miles
Approximate drive time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

A weekend of hiking and canoeing through South Carolina’s only National Park is a great way to spend a weekend away from Atlanta.

We love its unique landscape of old-growth hardwood forests and wetlands. The park’s boardwalk loop trail is quite popular and one of the easy hikes in Congaree National Park. Avid paddlers won’t want to miss the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail.

There are no hotels or lodges available at Congaree National Park, so camping is the only way to sleep within the park. My recommendation is that you plan to stay in a hotel in the Columbia, South Carolina, area.

The rooms are great at Residence Inn Columbia Northeast/Fort Jackson Area. For the money, we love how much space you get at Residence Inn hotels. They also offer a free breakfast.

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Resort on Hilton Head Island beach at dawn

Distance from Atlanta: 285 miles
Approximate drive time: 4 hours, 40 minutes

Hilton Head Island makes a perfect weekend getaway from Atlanta. It’s one of my top choices for romantic getaways in the South. Travel + Leisure has named it one of the best islands in the continental U.S., and I totally agree. 

For public beach access head to Coligny Beach; it’s a designated swim area with free parking. The small park there is also quite charming. If biking is your thing, you’ll love the miles of beaches and recreational paths to explore.

For a luxurious stay, try the Inn & Club at Harbour Town, the only Forbes four-star hotel on Hilton Head Island.

We loved our stay at Marriott Hilton Head Resort & Spa, which offers great beach and ocean views.

Jekyll Island

many driftwood branches on a sandy beach

Distance from Atlanta: 325 miles
Approximate drive time: 5 hours

Jekyll Island is one of the “Golden Isles” barrier islands off the coast of Georgia that include St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island, Sapelo Island, Blackbeard Island, plus Historic Darien and Historic Brunswick.

Jekyll Island is a great destination for beach lovers. Don’t miss Driftwood Beach on the northern end of the island. Jekyll Island is also home to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, which offers educational programs and works to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured turtles.

To enjoy a relaxing weekend at a historical 19th-century resort with beaches and biking trails nearby, try a stay at Jekyll Island Club Resort.

Hampton Inn & Suites Jekyll Island offers 3-star accommodations with free breakfast, and it’s just steps from the South Dunes Beach Boardwalk and Picnic Area.

30A (Florida)

Grey wood slat tower in Seaside Florida

Distance from Atlanta: 310 miles
Approximate drive time: 5 hours, 15 minutes

For a relaxing and romantic getaway from Atlanta, try 30A in Florida’s Walton County. The white sand beaches on this stretch of scenic highway have to be seen to be believed.

And there are plenty of things to do in 30A even if you don’t really consider yourself a “beach person.” From great shopping and food to biking and kayaking, you definitely won’t lack fun activities in 30A.

Hotel stays in 30A can be rather expensive, so consider going with a vacation rental to perhaps save some money. And if you have a full kitchen, you could save on food by cooking some of your own meals and eating in.

If you are looking for a luxurious hotel stay, try The Pearl, Rosemary Beach. It’s in the center of town and just steps from a private beach.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Distance from Atlanta: 350 miles
Approximate drive time: 5 hours, 30 minutes

Gulf Shores offers visitors beautiful white sand beaches, delicious restaurants, stunning views of the Gulf Coast, and plenty of activities to keep you busy. From scuba diving and snorkeling to dolphin cruises and from golf to biking and hiking, options are endless. Don’t miss the 6,000+-acre Gulf State Park or historic Fort Morgan.

Gulf Shores is a great place to get a vacation rental with beach views and access.

Amelia Island, Florida

Beach on Amelia Island in Northern Florida along the Atlantic Ocean

Distance from Atlanta: 360 miles
Approximate drive time: 5 hours, 30 minutes

A popular beach vacation destination, Amelia Island boasts 13 miles of beaches in Northeast Florida.

In 2020, Travel + Leisure put Amelia Island at number 6 on its list of the top 15 islands in the United States. Southern Living also named it one of the 10 most romantic destinations in Florida.

Enjoy 5-star luxury at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Guests love the beachfront location and excellent service.

The bottom line

Taking a weekend getaway from Atlanta is the perfect way to unwind and enjoy some quality time with your special someone. From 30A in Florida’s Walton County to nearby Amicalola State Park, there are plenty of nature-filled options for travelers seeking serenity.

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