It’s the perfect time of year to plan a quick trip to the north Georgia mountains for hiking, checking out the many waterfalls, exploring the area towns and restaurants, and leaf peeping later in the fall.
Clayton, Georgia, located approximately two hours northeast of Atlanta, is a mountain town trifecta of food, drinks, and local charm. While the town makes a great stop for lunch on the way to Asheville or Highlands, North Carolina, Clayton is an even better destination for Atlantans looking for a get-away involving minimal travel time.
As the county seat of Rabun County, Clayton has seen an influx of tourists drawn to the robust food scene here and the local shops. It’s a great home base to explore some of the region’s attractions. North Carolina is only 20 minutes north, with South Carolina just 30 minutes east, and the north Georgia towns of Hiawassee, Blue Ridge, and Ellijay a short drive west.
Disclaimer: Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here. Regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask when indoors or in crowds.
3:00 p.m. Hike to Angel Falls
Rabun County includes the highest concentration of waterfalls in the state of Georgia, and Angel Falls is among the prettiest. This easy 1.75-mile hike leads to two different waterfalls: Angel Falls and Panther Falls (not to be confused with Panther Creek Falls.) Paid parking and clean bathrooms are available at the Lake Rabun Beach Campground. Free parking is also found at the street side trailhead.
Seeking more nearby trails? Consider this list compiled by Atlanta Trails.
4:30 p.m. Afternoon snacks at Goats on the Roof in Tiger, Georgia
This totally cheesy and family-friendly roadside attraction really does include goats on the roof. It’s also great for ice cream or to grab a sandwich at the counter inside the gift shop to bring outside to the picnic tables, porch swings, and grassy areas for safe socially distanced dining. Feed the goats via the bicycle-powered conveyor belt. If the goats happen to be in a good mood, they may even pop down from their perch for a head rub. Order gifts, tee shirts, and other souvenirs online. Nationwide shipping available.
Afternoon snack alternative: White Birch Provisions in downtown Clayton serves locally-sourced coffee and fresh-made sweets and baked goods. Grab a pumpkin latte and a scone or visit the wine cave at the shop and enjoy a cigar. Order online for takeout.
6:00 p.m. Dinner and live music outside at Universal Joint in Clayton
While Universal Joint (or “U-Joint” to locals) has an Oakhurst location, the Clayton outpost is decidedly Rabun County. The dog-friendly patio features a large fire pit and plenty of socially distanced tables and outside seating areas. The restaurant serves burgers, sandwiches, salads, and tacos, with an array of vegetarian and gluten free options on the menu. U-Joint offers a mostly local beer menu that includes brews from Atlanta, Asheville, and Franklin, North Carolina.
Dinner alternative: Murphy’s Chophouse at Laprade’s Marina for steaks and seafood overlooking Lake Burton. Grab a seat on the lake-side patios or the outdoor seating areas at the restaurant’s tiki bar and grill Hawg Wild BBQ.
8:00 p.m. Drive-in movie and snacks
Catch a movie at the Tiger Drive-In, open from March through November, and order snacks like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, and popcorn and candy for the car from the grill. Here’s what’s playing.
Post-dinner alternative: Axe throwing at Admiral Axe in Clayton on North Main. Lanes range between $10 and $15 per hour and can be reserved for up to two hours for ages 12 and up.
7:15 a.m. Biscuits at Tiger Food Mart in Tiger
The early birds get the biscuits at this small, roadside grocery store and sandwich counter. Located just off of Highway 441, the Tiger Food Mart features gas station-style biscuit sandwiches. Everyone in the South knows some of the best food comes from such counters at gas stations. Options here include sausage, egg, and cheese, bacon, or chicken. Only a few biscuits are made each day. Biscuits typically sell out by 8:30 a.m. Grab coffee and a seat at the picnic tables out front. Closed Sundays.
Breakfast alternative: The Rusty Bike Cafe for hearty breakfast dishes all day long. Order it to go and fuel up before hitting the trails.
8:30 a.m. Morning hike at Tallulah Falls
The two-mile long Tallulah Gorge is the stuff of legends. At nearly 1,000 feet deep, the gorge has served as a natural playground for generations of visitors, including the famous Wallenda family. Karl Wallenda traversed the gorge on a high wire in 1970, continuing a tradition of tightrope walking across the gorge, dating back to 1883. Today, visitors flock to the gorge for its hiking trails. Stay on level ground on the rim trails or get up early to obtain a permit to descend down into the gorge. Kayakers head to the gorge in the spring and fall when the dam opens and the water levels rise dramatically.
10:30 a.m. Doughnut break at The Farm House Donuts in Clayton
A morning hike calls for a fancy doughnut reward. The doughnuts here are made on demand in hot lard after ordering via a sushi-like checklist menu. Choose between large, yeast doughnuts or mini cake doughnuts. Order doughnuts covered in Fruity Pebbles cereal, slathered in peanut butter and chocolate, or the popular Girl Scout-inspired doughnut covered in coconut, chocolate, and salted caramel. There’s a small park just a few doors up from the shop with swings, tables, and benches for a socially distanced doughnut break outside.
11:30 a.m. Black Rock Mountain State Park in Mountain City, Georgia
Black Rock Mountain State Park is Georgia’s highest state park. Blue Ridge Overlook is the second of two roadside platforms on the winding, rising road leading up to the park entrance. Skip the first overlook and head straight for Blue Ridge overlook, located just before the official park entrance.
Hike alternative: Hike the Tennessee Rock trail (2.2 miles) or the grueling James E. Edmonds trail (7.2 miles) to the park’s summit.
12:30 p.m. Lunch at Fortify Pi in Clayton
Fortify Pi defies mountain town expectations with its pizzas and sandwiches. The all-local beer menu, which pulls from Asheville to Atlanta, is unmatched in the area. The menu here includes pies like the duck bianca (a white pie with duck confit, spinach, and bacon); butternut pi with squash and Georgia olive oil; and a mushroom pizza made with mushrooms harvested from just down the road. Gluten-free and vegan options are available, too. Also worth ordering, the skye veggie burger. While Fortify Pi’s tables aren’t spaced 6 feet apart, the front wall of the restaurant is a retractable window, which allows for fresh air to flow throughout the restaurant. Call 706-782-0079 to order takeout.
2:00 p.m. Whiskey and brandy tasting at Chattooga Belle Farm in Long Creek, South Carolina
Just 30 minutes east of Clayton, Chattooga Belle Farm offers apple, peach, berry, and scuppernong picking during the warmer months. The disc golf course, country market, and distillery are open all year. The distillery here features liquor using fruit grown, fermented, and distilled on the farm, including apple-muscadine brandy, gin distilled from apples, muscadine vodka, and bourbon. A tasting flight is around $7 and can be served on the distillery’s covered porch complete with rocking chairs and plenty of great views. Closed Sundays. Email Shop@ChattoogaBelleFarm.com or call 864-647-9768 to have products from the farm shipped.
Tasting alternative: Visit Georgia winery Tiger Mountain Vineyards.
3:30 p.m. Waterfall side trip at Issaqueena Falls
Right around the corner from Chattooga Belle Farm is Issaqueena Falls, a soaring 100-foot waterfall. The falls are a quick, most-abilities walk from the unpaved parking lot and picnic area ($2 fee) down to a viewing platform overhanging a steep mountain.
Waterfall alternative: Yellow Branch Falls, an out-and-back, ruddy and rough three-mile trail to a stunning, wide, shelf-style waterfall.
4:30 p.m. Shopping at Wander North Georgia and downtown Clayton
Find camping supplies, locally-made bath and beauty products (think beard butter, soaps, and lotions,) and a vast selection of national outdoor brands at Wander North. Wander also sells local beer to go.
Other must-visit shops: Downtown Clayton is home to a number of great local shops for toys, books, and clothing, including Reeves’ Ace Hardware. People can even rent tuxedos here or register for their wedding.
6:00 p.m. Wine and dinner at Grapes and Beans in Clayton
Grapes and Beans has been a Clayton staple for years, and with various owners and tenures. The current iteration of the restaurant saw it refurbished. There’s now a large dog-friendly covered patio and a more focused menu here, featuring local and sustainable ingredients and an extensive wine list. Grapes and Beans is also open for lunch. Grab sandwiches for takeout, too.
Dinner alternatives: Order pizza, subs, and pasta from Mama G’s Italian and sit outside on the patio or taco and burritos from Manriques Mexican restaurant for a picnic in a nearby park or to take back to the cabin rental.