It’s finally autumn in Georgia. This is the perfect time to plan a weekend trip to the north Georgia mountains for leaf peeping, hiking, and exploring the area’s towns and restaurants.
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 quick weekend 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.
Here, Eater Atlanta recommends restaurants to check out and a few outdoor adventures to consider during an overnight or weekend trip to Clayton, Georgia.
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. Masks required inside.
Afternoon snack alternative: White Birch Provisions in downtown Clayton serves locally-sourced coffee and house-made sweets and baked goods. Grab a pumpkin latte and a scone or visit the wine cave at the shop and enjoy a cigar. Masks required inside.
6:00 p.m. Dinner and live music 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 outdoor 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. U-Joint just built a new outdoor ordering station and created menus incorporating QR codes for contactless ordering. Masks required when not seated.
Dinner alternative: Murphy’s Chophouse at Laprade’s Marina for steaks and seafood overlooking Lake Burton. Call for COVID-19 precautions.
8:00 p.m. Axe throwing at Admiral Axe in Clayton
Located in the basement of the shop Wander North Georgia, Admiral Axe is a fun (and not at all dangerous) night out with friends. Lanes range between $10 and $15 per hour and can be reserved for up to two hours for ages 12 and up. Closed over the summer, the Admiral’s owners are now working on plans to reopen at reduced capacity in the near future.
Post-dinner alternative: Catch a movie at the Tiger Drive-In, open from March through November.
7:15 a.m. Biscuits at Tiger Food Mart in Tiger (closed Sunday)
Video: River Market now offering outdoor dining on weekends through October (KTHV-TV Little Rock)
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. Options 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.
Breakfast alternative: The Rusty Bike Cafe for hearty breakfast dishes all day long. Masks encouraged.
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. Masks required inside.
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’ 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. Masks encouraged.
Lunch alternative: Take a step back in time at Clayton Pharmacy Soda Fountain. Grab a burger, fries, and a hand-spun milkshake for lunch. Please note: restaurant is only open for indoor dining. Mask encouraged.
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 $7 and can be served on the distillery’s covered porch complete with rocking chairs. Masks encouraged. Email [email protected] or call 864-647-9768 to have products from the farm shipped.
Tasting alternative: Visit Georgia winery Tiger Mountain Vineyards. Socially distant seating available in the café, on the patio, and on the green. Masks required when not seated a table.
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. Masks required inside.
Other must-visit shop: 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 back 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. Masks encouraged.
Dinner alternatives: Grab pizza, subs, and pasta from Mama G’s Italian and sit outside on the patio or taco and burritos from Manriques Mexican restaurant for curbside takeout. Masks highly encouraged.