Blue Ridge Parkway during autumn — Photo courtesy of iStock / James Mahan
As the weather cools off and the leaves start to change, escaping for the weekend to the mountains is high priority for many. Thankfully, throughout the Southeast, there are plenty of great mountain towns with gorgeous mountain views, lots of fall-themed activities and fun places to stay.
Bryson City, North Carolina
Take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad from Bryson City — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
In the mountains of western North Carolina, Bryson City welcomes visitors to explore the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, take a journey on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and spend time shopping and eating in the cozy downtown.
There are actually six access points to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including the Road to Nowhere and the Deep Creek section, which offers hiking to three waterfalls. On the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, you can travel alongside the Nantahala River or check out the scenery on the way to Dillsboro. In downtown, don’t miss breakfast at the Everett Street Diner.
Downtown Ellijay offers plenty of local shopping and dining — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
As the "Apple Capital of Georgia," Ellijay overflows with fun fall activities for all ages. Each October, Ellijay serves as the home of the Georgia Apple Festival, which brings together a variety of vendors selling arts and crafts, tasty treats and, of course, plenty of apples.
Speaking of apples, you can pick a peck or grab a bushel at more than a dozen apple houses, including R&A Orchards, the 2019 10Best Readers’ Choice winner for Best Apple Orchard, for all things apple. In downtown Ellijay, you can shop along the square, where you can grab some new home décor, an antique treasure or a souvenir of your visit.
Gatlinburg is surrounded by scenic mountains — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
Sitting right outside the gates of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg offers as much – or as little – entertainment as you want in your fall weekend getaway. For instance, book your own cabin and stay in to enjoy the scenic views as you relax by the fire or soak in the hot tub.
Or you can head into town to visit a wealth of attractions, such as crossing the Gatlinburg SkyBridge, a 680-foot-long pedestrian cable bridge that reaches a height of 140 feet at its midpoint. For a more grounded experience, stop by The Donut Friar for a sweet start to your day or enjoy an evening meal by the river at Howard’s Restaurant.
Beech Mountain, North Carolina
Enjoy panoramic views from Beech Mountain — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
Located in the state's high country, you'll find some of the best mountain views atop Beech Mountain. Before the snow covers the slopes for skiers, visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, kayaking and more. Get started at the Emerald Outback trail park, which features nearly 7 miles of trails. Beech Mountain also offers 51 miles of bike routes for novice to advanced cyclists wanting a new perspective on fall foliage.
Also, during September, visit with Dorothy, the Tin Man and other “The Wizard of Oz” characters as you follow the yellow brick road during “Autumn at Oz” at The Land of Oz.
Helen is a Bavarian Alpine-themed mountain town — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
When it comes to fall weekend activities, this Bavarian Alpine-themed town really shines, particularly during the months-long Oktoberfest. Starting in September and running through the end of October, Oktoberfest events in Helen include a parade, traditional German music and dancing, and plenty of German food and beer.
You can also take a ride on the Georgia Mountain Coaster, an alpine coaster that will have you racing through the trees. At nearby Unicoi State Park, you can set out on one of the five hiking trails or try your skills on the competition bike trail. Downtown Helen also contains plenty of local shops and restaurants that provide hours of enjoyment.
10 of the best and easiest waterfall hikes in the Southeast
10 of the best and easiest waterfall hikes in the Southeast
Tour Elvis Presley's birthplace in Tupelo — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
Located right off the Natchez Trace Parkway in the Appalachian foothills, Tupelo features a wealth of things to do during a fall weekend getaway. Start your visit at the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum, where you can learn about the man behind the King of Rock and Roll.
Then, take a ride on the Natchez Trace Parkway, where you can view the fall foliage along the way. For a different view, you can hike, bike or take a horseback ride along the parkway. Back in town, grab a bite to eat at Kermit’s Soul Kitchen or Local Mobile, Tupelo’s first food truck.
Rock City is one of Chattanooga's many natural attractions — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
Surrounded by mountains and sitting on the banks of the Tennessee River, Chattanooga makes the perfect destination for a fall weekend getaway. In downtown, you can visit the marine life at the Tennessee Aquarium and Chattanooga Zoo before taking a walk over the Walnut Street Bridge, which crosses over the Tennessee River.
Just minutes from downtown, you can explore the gardens at Rock City and see the underground waterfall at Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain. And everywhere you turn in the city, you’ll find fantastic restaurants, such as Public House, Big River Grille and Taco Mamacita.
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Eat, play and stay in Blue Ridge. — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
Whether it’s outdoor recreation, a cozy cabin, great eats or shopping until you drop, Blue Ridge has it all. Because the Chattahoochee National Forest covers 106,000 acres in and around Blue Ridge, there’s no shortage of hiking trails.
For a more relaxing way to see the fall foliage, take a ride on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, which takes riders on a visit to nearby McCaysville and back. Of course, you’ll find a wide selection of cabins that you can call home during your stay. And with offerings such as Harvest on Main, the Hook & Eye, and Black Sheep, you’ll satisfy your appetite in no time.
Asheville, North Carolina
The Blue Ridge Parkway is minutes from downtown Asheville — Photo courtesy of Karon Warren
A bustling town in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville stands ready to host you for a fall weekend getaway. The eclectic downtown is filled with local restaurants and shops that are ideal for a few hours of entertainment.
At the Biltmore Estate, you can tour this historic private home as well as the onsite winery, where you also can sample some of the wines during a complimentary tasting. Also, minutes from downtown, you can hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can drive to the mountaintops for a panoramic view of the fall foliage.
The Dahlonega square features plenty of shopping and dining — Photo courtesy of Ralph Daniel / Discover Dahlonega
Around an hour north of Atlanta, Dahlonega welcomes visitors to the heart of the North Georgia mountains. The town is the site of the second U.S. gold rush, a history you can explore at the Dahlonega Gold Museum. It's also home to numerous local shops and boutiques where you can find unique collectibles and souvenirs to take back home.
Wine lovers will have more than enough to explore with 12 wine tasting rooms and eight wineries in and around Dahlonega. You’ll also have ample opportunities for hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, horseback riding or just taking a ride through the countryside to enjoy the fall foliage.