Dawsonville is a small North Georgia mountain town (population 2,500) an hour’s drive from Atlanta. It has a reputation with NASCAR and moonshine, earning it the title “Moonshine Capital of the World,” plus it is the southern terminus of the iconic Appalachian Trail system. The best way to get to Dawsonville is by car or truck, and my favorite time of year is in the fall when the leaves are at their peak colors. Besides fantastic scenery and a waterfall that will blow your mind, Dawsonville has other things that will entice you to visit. Here are the ones I enjoyed.
Note: I was hosted by the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park to write this article. As always, opinions and reviews are 100 percent mine.
1. See Amicalola Falls
One of the coolest and certainly most-photographed waterfalls you’ll find in the Southeast would have to be Amicalola Falls. Not only is it one of Georgia’s gems but also the tallest (729-feet) cascading waterfall I’ve ever laid eyes on. There are two viewing platforms for the picturesque falls that are easy to access from nearby parking lots despite your abilities. At times, you are close enough to get a mist on your skin from the water.
A series of stairs, 600 in total, run alongside the falls from top to bottom. I challenged myself to walk down the stairs, and though I could barely walk for several days afterward, it was worth the scenic views.
Amicalola Falls is at the state park by the same name, Amicalola Falls State Park, with hiking paths, lodging, camping, and much more.
2. Go On A Zip Line Canopy Tour
Also at Amicalola Falls State Park are zip line canopy tours. The landscape is perfect for a great day of zipping through the forest and treetops with the Screaming Eagle Aerial Adventure Tour. There are 16 zip lines in total, reaching 250 feet in the air, and cable and wire suspension bridges. You’ll be part Tarzan, part nature explorer as you soar through the stunning landscape on an aerial tour.
3. Stay At The Amicalola Falls Lodge
Want to enjoy all the bounties of the park and not have to rush home? Make it an overnight or a weekend getaway at the Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park — the perfect place to unwind and enjoy a dose of fresh air and mountain scenery.
My husband and I had a room with enormous windows overlooking the postcard-worthy landscape. The lodge has plenty of space to roam around and to find a quiet place to sit, read, chat, or people-watch. Amicalola Falls Lodge also has an onsite restaurant serving three meals a day and a fantastic gift shop for browsing. Don’t miss the cozy fire pit with the best seat in the house for picturesque Georgia sunsets.
Pro Tip: While autumn in the North Georgia Mountains is spectacular with the changing colors of leaves, you can experience Dawsonville and its neighboring towns all year long.
Amicalola Falls State Park has 10 hiking trails, great for getting outside to enjoy the magnificent scenery and possibly a few critters along the way. There are various skill levels so that everyone will have a perfect hike matched to their ability. Trout fishing is a popular activity, and enjoying the Reflection Pool, which feeds into the Little Amicalola Creek. Keep an eye out for bears, which are populous in the North Georgia Mountains, and whatever you do, do not leave open food lying around.
5. Feast On Local Barbecue
Eddie and I had a great lunch at Big D’s BBQ, which has multiple locations. The Southern-style smoked barbecue pork and chicken were excellent, while the side dishes of green beans and macaroni and cheese were great accompaniments. Our friendly cashier shared a few things to do and see in Dawsonville., which wWe took her advice and ventured out to them all.
Fun fact: Big D’s serves breakfast with cathead biscuits, too.
6. Sip Spirits
Savor the sweet taste of moonshine from the Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery. Serving small-batch, hand-crafted spirits, those over 21 are welcome to a free tasting at the Hwy 53 location. The apple pie 60-proof is the one that everybody raves about. The batches are made from an old family recipe (four generations) that turns mash to corn whiskey and, through several processes, becomes the bottled product.
Dawsonville Moonshine Distillery also has a product named for NASCAR racing legend and Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductee Bill Elliott, 109-proof White Lightning.
My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the North Georgia Premium Outlets for people-watching, getting in some exercise, and shopping. The mall is very clean and visually appealing, with 140+ designer and high-end retail stores in total to shop ‘til you drop. A few of the ones we visited were Burberry, Tory Burch, Gucci, and a wonderful Orvis store. If you are hungry or craving a snack, the food court has several options including Mexican, Asian, coffee, cookies, ice cream, and more.
FYI: Curbside pick-up is available at the premium outlets. See the website for details.
8. Pan For Gold
If you’ve never had the chance to pan for gold, Crisson Gold Mine is the place to do it. The city of Dahlonega was the site of the country’s first gold rush in 1829, and while the rush was only for a short time, there is still gold in “them there hills.” My husband and I ventured into Crisson Gold Mine knowing nothing about mining for gemstones or panning for gold. Once you choose the package you wish to do, you’ll be all set to begin.
First up was gold panning. It is a little more tedious than gemstone mining. We sifted through clumps of dirt over a trough of water to expose flakes or specks of gold, which we collected in a small vial with liquid in it. It’s a little hard on your back leaning over for so long, so if you have a folding chair or walker that you can also sit on, you may want to bring it with you. We didn’t find much gold, but it was fun. The best part came next.
9. Go Mining For Gemstones
The gemstone mining at Crisson Gold Mine was similar, in that we scooped dirt from packed buckets into the pans and rooted through it for valuable or interesting rocks. Once we uncovered all the treasures, which we stored in a baggie while digging, we took them to one of the staff to explain what we had found.
Two huge rubies were in our bounty, as well as blue topaz, citrine, labradorite, and jasper. We spoke to the onsite gemologist about having two rubies polished and made into jewelry for Christmas presents, which one rock alone was big enough to do, and we will still have some left. It is all very fascinating, and if you haven’t done it, I encourage you to give it a try and please let me know your thoughts.
10. Eat A Gourmet Burger
Spirits Tavern in downtown Dahlonega has a fabulous menu that shouldn’t be missed. Featuring gourmet burgers, salads, bowls, hot dogs, and “elevated American classics,” Spirits Tavern is a foodie eatery that offers affordability, tasty eats, and great service. I loved the Augusta burger with yummy white pimento cheese and green tomato chow-chow. My husband chose a chicken sandwich with cucumbers, feta, and tzatziki sauce.
Not that hungry? An appealing list of appetizers included mac & cheese bites and fried green tomatoes, to name a few.
A must in Dahlonega is a visit to the Gold Museum. The museum is housed in a historic building and has very detailed exhibits that explain what happened during the rush, how the gold was mined, and how the technology improved throughout the process. An educational film hit the nail on the head for how big of a deal this gold rush was and how quickly the hunt changed many lives with valuable finds. It was hard, back-breaking work. The gold strike produced more than $30 million in profits. You can also buy postcards, T-shirts, and souvenirs at the museum’s shop.
12. Admire A Charming Downtown
Eddie and I were thrilled to roam the quaint downtown area of Dahlonega and its lovely town square. The award-winning Main Street offered brick sidewalks lined with trees and dotted with locally owned cafes, galleries, and boutiques in 19th-century buildings, and musicians performing outside. I honestly felt like I was strolling through a Hallmark movie set.
Prepare to get lost for an hour or more in the Dahlonega General Store, which offers 5-cent cups of coffee. Southern Soles has excellent hiking boots, Bear Cub Gifts was perfect for grandchild presents, and Cranberry Corners was the place for seasonal decorating items, books, and fun trinkets. Paul Thomas Chocolates is a must for a piece of homemade chocolate bark, gourmet apples, and divinity.