Easy Weekend Trips From Atlanta – Going South!


This is the next installment of our Easy Weekend Trips from Atlanta saga. Going South! Whether you’re in Atlanta for a Bowl Game or you actually live here, there are lots of really cool places to enjoy outside of the city. In our last story, we discussed state parks and other venues north of the city, including the gorgeous North Georgia mountains.

This time we’re going to visit glorious gardens, peaceful lakes, scenic drives and, yes, some more wineries! Who would have thought that Georgia was a perfect place to grow fruit for wine! But the wine industry is growing every year, and there are some fabulous choices for your tasting pleasure.

First, let’s travel down I-85 south of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) and then onto I-185, toward Columbus. It takes about an hour and a half. Pretty soon, you’ll see signs directing you to the huge Callaway Gardens

complex. Callaway Gardens was founded in 1952 by Cason J. Callaway and his wife Virginia Hand Callaway. Located in the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, it has evolved through the years into one of Georgia’s favorite vacation destinations. In the last few years, they’ve even added residential communities.

Here you will find 14,000 acres of breathtaking natural beauty; incredible gardens to explore and enjoy, regardless of the season; a wide variety of lodging choices – everything from the Mountain Creek Inn and Villas, opened in 1956, to The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, one of Marriott’s Autograph Collection Hotels.

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can enjoy Robin Lake Beach, a large fresh-water lake with a sandy bottom and beach, complete with pedal boats and other lake and beach activities as well as the famous FSU Flying High Circus, which has been performing here every summer since 1961. This is also the site of the Masters Water Ski & Wakeboard Tournament on Memorial Day weekend and the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival on Labor Day weekend. There’s even a floating playground called Aqua Island for kids and adults alike.

You’ll also find the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, a huge glass-enclosed conservatory where you and the kids can delight in sharing space with hundreds of gorgeous butterflies. Callaway Gardens offers a year-round schedule of special events, everything from Leaf Watch and Steeplechase to Murder Mystery Dinner Theater and Fantasy in Lights, the holiday event started in 1992, with displays including more than eight million lights.

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Some specific events and venues are seasonal. Others are open all year long. There are bicycling trails, hiking trails, year-round fitness events, a horticultural center, and the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel, site of numerous weddings throughout the year. Admission prices vary depending upon the season and the event, and annual passes are available.

Still in the Pine Mountain area, your kids might want to visit Wild Animal Safari, a drive-through animal park covering 250 acres and offering over 65 different species of animals. You can drive through the park in your own vehicle or take the complimentary bus tour led by an Animal Safari tour guide. Park days and hours of operation vary by season, so check their calendar to be sure they’re open during your visit to the area.

Pine Mountain and nearby Warm Springs offer a large variety of restaurants – everything from barbeque and pizza to country cooking and elegant buffets. One outstanding choice is The Bulloch House, located in a historic home in Warm Springs, serving lunch seven days a week and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.

And if camping or staying in a rustic log cabin is more your style, be sure to check out FDR State Park, Georgia’s largest state park with 10,000 acres devoted to preserving the beauty of this land and the history of our 32nd US President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Roosevelt visited this area in 1924, searching for relief from the paralysis he suffered as a result of polio. He hoped swimming in the naturally warm springs could cure or at least improve his suffering. While he was here, he fell in love with the area, and in 1932, while he was still Governor of New York, he built a modest home which came to be called the Little White House after his election to the Presidency. It was here in the Little White House that President Roosevelt suffered a stroke while sitting for a portrait. He died a short time later, in April, 1945. That unfinished portrait is part of the display in the house and museum.

If you’ve had enough history for now and you’re still thinking about wine tasting, travel just down the road (about six miles) to the Warm Springs Winery, where you can tour the wine-making facility and sample various offerings. Most of these wines are muscadine-based, but depending on what other yummy things the winemaker has added, the sweetness might not be as obvious. And be sure to sample the daily wine slushy! They’re especially wonderful on a hot summer day!

If you’re really into visiting South Georgia wineries, you’ll have to travel about 2 more hours south to visit the Horse Creek Winery in Nashville (Georgia) or the Still Pond Vineyard and Winery in Arlington (Georgia). Both are closer to Tifton, near I-75.

About an hour east of Tifton is the General Coffee State Park, in Nicholls, GA. This park offers over 1500 acres including Heritage Farm, with log cabins, a cane mill, farm buildings and animals as well as campsites, cottages, picnic shelters, equestrian trails, canoe rentals and a 19th century house you can rent.

Back to the west, in Cordele, just off of I-75, you’ll find the SAM Shortline, a passenger train featuring air-conditioned 1949 vintage cars, traveling on various excursions. The name comes from the original railroad’s name, the Savannah, Americus and Montgomery. Fun trips like the Watermelon Express Train Ride, the Americus Adventure Train Ride, the Leslie Local, the Archery Explorer Train Ride, and Christmas in Plains offer glimpses of the old and the new as you travel through this section of South Georgia.

Also in Cordele, you might want to visit Georgia Veterans State Park, which features a museum with military aircraft, armored vehicles, uniforms, weapons, medals and other artifacts from the Revolutionary War through the Gulf War. There’s also an 18-hole golf course as well as 8700-acre Lake Blackshear. This state park offers a hotel-type lodge as well as campsites, cottages, picnic shelters and a sandy beach. The SAM Shortline Excursion Train runs through the park on its way from Cordele to Plains. A variety of programs and special events are offered throughout the year.

Traveling north on I-75, you might choose to visit the Jarrell Plantation Historical Site, a cotton plantation owned by the same family for more than 140 years, and donated to the state of Georgia in 1974. There are a variety of special events offered here throughout the year – everything from a Quilting Bee to a Green Tomato Festival to Syrup Makin’ Time to a Jarrell Plantation Christmas.

Nearby is the peaceful 3600 acre Lake Juliette, where limited fishing, camping and hunting are allowed. There are no lodging facilities or beaches here, and boats are limited to those with engines less than 25 horsepower. No water skiing, aquaplaning or personal water craft are allowed.

About 15 minutes north of Juliette on US Highway 23, you’ll find Indian Springs State Park, one of the oldest state parks in the United States. For centuries, locals have collected the spring water for its healing qualities, and for a while in the 1800s,  the area was a resort destination. During the 1950s several amusement activities prospered. Today visitors still bottle the water and take it home. There’s a wonderful stream, Sandy Creek, where generations of children (and adults) have climbed on the rocks. Lake McIntosh offers a sandy swimming area with a bathhouse during summer months. Cottages and campsites are available for rental and various events are scheduled throughout the year.

Just a few miles up US 23 is High Falls State Park, named for the rushing falls of the Towaliga River. This park offers campsites, yurts, and picnic shelters, as well as hiking trails along the river’s edge. There’s a swimming pool for summer fun, and the park’s lake is known as one of Georgia’s top fishing spots.

While you’re in the Jackson area, be sure to stop by Dauset Trails, a non-profit nature center with exhibits of wild animals native to Georgia that are unable to be released into the wild because of previous injuries, as well as reptiles, aquatic and farm animals. It’s a great place to let kids wander through the woods, and it’s FREE – donations are accepted, of course.

And no visit to Jackson would be complete without stopping by Fresh Air Barbeque, on Highways 23 and 42, about nine miles from High Falls and less than 5 miles from Indian Springs. Often voted the Best Barbecue in Georgia, this place

has been in operation since 1929 and offers the basics – chopped pork, Brunswick stew, slaw, pickles, white bread and crackers. And the usual soft drinks and iced tea, as well as a few varieties of chips and desserts.

A little less than an hour north, you’ll find Panola Mountain State Park, in Stockbridge. There are no lodging facilities in the park except for five primitive campsites, but there are picnic shelters, a fishing lake, a playground, paved trails for biking, roller blading, jogging and walking as well as fitness trails for hiking and running. The mountain is a 100-acre granite outcrop that has been preserved in its natural state, protecting rare plants and animals. It’s part of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, a partnership among the state of Georgia, DeKalb, Henry and Rockdale counties, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and other communities and public-private groups. Panola Mountain has also been designated as a National Natural Landmark. Various tours and programs are offered throughout the year including Saturday Mountain Hikes, Tree Top Excursions: Introduction Climb, Paranormal Panola, archery classes, safety programs and bird walks.

So now our loop is completed – you’re about 30 minutes southeast of Atlanta. Obviously, there’s no way you could do the entire loop in a weekend, unless you’re a true enthusiast! But maybe we’ve given you some options for a Sunday drive or a weekend escape.

Let us know when you’ve tried one of the locales we’ve suggested. We’d love to share your stories with our readers!

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