Above: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina has reopened its park spaces. SPECIAL
By Gianna Smith Bedford and Collin Kelley
If you’re hankering to get out of town, but also mindful of the COVID-19 outbreak, these scenic drives through North Georgia, Pine Mountain and North Carolina make for the perfect social distancing daytrip.
Traveling through White, Towns and Union counties, the nearly 41-mile Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway looks onto gorgeous vistas surrounded by the Chattahoochee National Forest. Wind through the mountain gaps and valleys of the Southern Appalachians, stopping for Instagram moments along the way.
One of the best is atop Brasstown Bald, the highest natural point in the state and an ideal spot to watch the leaves turn brilliant colors in the fall. On a clear day, you can see Atlanta from the peak of Brasstown Bald, even though it’s more than 100 miles away.
If you feel like some exercise, tackle the nearly two-mile round-trip hike to Dukes Creek Falls or a portion of the famed Appalachian Trail at the Hogpen Gap trailhead before hopping back in the car to continue your scenic drive.
Spanning from Cohutta to Ellijay, the 56-mile Cohutta-Chattahoochee Scenic Byway travels through the Chattahoochee National Forest, plus a number of charming towns.
At Prater’s Mill in Dalton, observe a working 19th-century gristmill and cotton gin and pick up goodies at the general store. Don’t miss the many Civil War sites in and around town.
After leaving Dalton, drive east to Chatsworth, where you can break for lunch and see the Chief Vann House Historic Site, a restored mansion built in 1804. This town is also home to Fort Mountain State Park, a great place to stretch your legs on a trail.
If you want to go a little further, head into North Carolina for to see the Cullasaja River Gorge, which offers a spectacular scenic drive along the Waterfall Byway between the towns of Franklin and Highlands.
The fast-moving Cullasaja River tumbles down three major waterfalls alongside the 61-mile road that winds through the Nantahala National Forest. Visitors can drive their vehicles beneath the 120-foot Bridal Veil Falls and walk behind the roaring water at Dry Falls. The tallest falls are the Cullasaja Falls, which drop 250 feet.
Cullasaja means “honey locust place” in the Cherokee language. The gorge is part of the trail followed by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto in 1540.
The gorge and its waterfalls can be accessed along U.S. Highway 64 / State Road 28 between Highlands and Franklin, which is part of the Waterfall Byway. The road is winding and narrow.
Scenic mountain views aren’t limited to North Georgia or North Carolina.
A couple of hours south of Atlanta, the Pine Mountain Highway-Scenic Heights Road (State Route 190) runs from Manchester to Callaway Gardens through F.D. Roosevelt State Park.
There are numerous parking overlooks with gorgeous views overlooking the valley below and hiking trails.
Stop at Dowdell’s Knob to see the view that President Franklin D. Roosevelt loved so much that he had a brick oven and picnic area installed so he could dine there when he was at the nearby Little White House in Warm Springs.
The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has reopened its park spaces, including the gardens and grounds with more than 20 miles of walking, hiking and biking trails. Be sure to visit biltmore.com for details and admission information.
The Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests in North Carolina are open, but at press time, most campgrounds remained closed. The forests are open for hiking, mountain biking, fishing and for scenic drives. Visit fs.usda.gov/nfsnc for updates.
If you want to go glamping (that’s a mashup of glamourous and camping), then you’re in luck because Under Canvas is welcoming guests who want to add a touch of luxury to their outdoor getaway in the Great Smoky Mountains. Located near Gatlinburg, this eco-friendly site offers luxury canvas tents, daily housekeeping, on-site dining and more. Visit undercanvas.com for details.
Coral Hospitality, which operates lodges for Georgia’s State Parks, has reopened Brasstown Valley Resort and Lodge in Young Harris, Unicoi State Park Lodge and Amicalola Falls Lodge, along with the restaurants. Social distancing will be in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Visit coralhospitality.com for details and reservations.