From the foothills of northern Georgia, it’s only an hour by freeway southwest to Atlanta, the cultural and commercial center of the New South, and a fascinating (and fun) place to explore. Unfortunately, Atlanta is surrounded by miles and miles of mega-freeway sub-prime-mortgage sprawl, so you’ll have to endure some of the country’s craziest driving to get there.
From Athens, Hwy-316 merges into I-85 for the quickest route there, but for a more interesting route follow old US-78 southeast, approaching Atlanta by way of Stone Mountain (770/498-5690 or 800/401-2407, daily, $10 per car), 16 miles east of downtown. A Confederate Mt. Rushmore and historic KKK rallying point, Stone Mountain consists of the 20-times-larger-than-life figures of Robert E. Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and Jefferson Davis carved into an 800-foot-high hump of granite. A 45-minute patriotic laser-and-fireworks extravaganza is shown nightly in summer (June-Oct.). At the base of Stone Mountain are 3,200 acres of tacky tourist traps: riverboat cruises, a scenic railroad, a reconstructed antebellum plantation, a cable car Skylift to the summit, and a treetop Sky Hike rope course and rock-climbing complex—all of which charge separate fees of around $10 each, or $30 for an all-inclusive all-day pass. Stone Mountain also holds a number of restaurants and hotels, plus Atlanta’s best campground.