From islands and beaches along the coast to the lush mountains and hills dotting the north, Georgia has no shortage of stunning natural landscapes to enjoy. Hikers from around the world flock to Springer Mountain to begin their 2,190-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail, while surfers can be found ripping up waves on Tybee Island. But what about those of us who believe nature is best enjoyed from behind the wheel of a well-equipped 4×4? Off-roading is a popular pastime across the state, and the Atlanta area, in particular, offers numerous top-tier off-road destinations. Just walk into any Atlanta off-road truck dealership and you’ll find a wide selection of gleaming trucks and SUVs begging to escape the city’s concrete jungle.
Let’s explore some of the most popular off-roading destinations in Georgia. I’ll be focusing on spots within a short drive from Atlanta due to ease of access. Then, I’ll take a look at the exciting new off-road models eager to kick up some Georgia red clay in the open trails.
Sarah’s Creek Road
Location: Clayton, GA
Length: 9 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Notable features: Views, wildlife, camping
For drivers looking to cut their teeth in the world of off-roading, Sarah’s Creek Road is a great place to start. The 9-mile trail has a mix of beginner terrain with some fun surprises thrown in, like streams and creeks that allow you to try your hand at fording water. The trail also offers some waterfalls, making this off-road circuit as beautiful as it is fun to drive. Sarah’s Creek Road gets bonus points for its affordable, 22-site, developed campground located right next to the trails. This is the perfect destination for a weekend camping and off-roading trip. Sites are only $10 a night and are rented out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Beasley Knob Trail
Location: Union County, GA
Length: 10.6 miles
Notable features: Mud, dirt, and gravel
Once you’re starting to feel comfortable behind the wheel of your off-road rig, it’s time to kick it up a notch. Beasley Knob Trail, located just west of Sarah’s Creek Road, is a noticeable step up in terms of difficulty. The rough terrain and steep trails offer a real challenge, which is only amped up in wet or rainy conditions. However, the trail does close when things get a little too saturated, so make sure to call ahead. Open from sunrise to sunset and accessible for a nominal $5 fee ($50 for a season’s pass), the trail traces through the dirt trails, gravel roads, and rocky hill climbs of the Chattahoochee National Forest. With 10.6 miles to explore, the trail is a favorite amongst the state’s off-road set.
Tray Mountain Road
Location: near Helen, GA
Length: 8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Notable features: Mountain views
This mountain trail is probably one of Georgia’s most popular, offering a unique ride that intersects with the Appalachian Trail at Tray Gap. Tray Mountain Road follows a ridge up the mountain and is dotted with challenging blind spots, but it’s all worth it for the breathtaking view of the rolling hills below. In addition to the mountainous climb, the trail features a number of creek crossings, giving you the opportunity to get wet and wild. The trail is open year-round and can offer a distinctly different experience depending on the season, so it might be worth making a few trips a year. While there’s no camping offered at the trail itself, Tray Mountain Road is easy to get to—with trailhead access from either GA-180 or FS-44.
Appalachian Blue Road
Location: near Helen, GA
Length: 6 miles
Notable features: Mud and rocks
Georgia drivers looking to test their off-road mettle simply need to head for the state’s Appalachian Mountains, where some serious elevation and terrain start to come into play. Located near the slightly easier Tray Mountain Road, the Appalachian Blue Road is full of rocky ledges, muddy trails, and the intimidatingly-named Blood Mountain. The 4458-ft peak is a gem among the mountains of North Georgia, featuring well-maintained trails, stunning views, and a unique two-room stone shelter—built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Excellent off-roading opportunities aside, if you’re looking for some bragging rights, you couldn’t do much better than telling everyone at work that you summited Blood Mountain.
Horseshoe Ridge Road
Location: near Dahlonega, GA
Length: 9.2 miles
Notable features: Paved roads
Horseshoe Ridge Road, also known as Grassy Gap Road, is an ideal day trip for Atlanta residents who are curious about the world of off-roading. Located a short distance from the capital, Horseshoe Ridge Road is notable for the fact that it can even be traversed by some 2WD vehicles. This makes it a great destination for drivers who aren’t quite ready to invest in a 4WD vehicle just yet. That’s not to say that Horseshoe Ridge Road doesn’t offer some challenges for those equipped with 4WD; the trail is very rocky, adding a fun challenge for moderately experienced off-roaders and allowing them to get comfortable with uneven terrain before trying out some of Georgia’s higher-altitude routes. The trail also offers hiking and camping, making this a great destination for a weekend full of off-roading, camping—and, of course, s’mores.
Currahee Mountain Trail
Location: near Toccoa, GA
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Notable features: Rocky roads
Those looking for a slightly easier mountain climbing off-road adventure should check out Currahee Mountain Trail, located near Toccoa. Previously used as a training site for World War II soldiers, this 2-mile trail offers a less challenging way to gain some elevation and enjoy the view. The trail’s shorter length—it can be completed in as little as 20 minutes—and wider road makes it the perfect destination for your first time out. That’s not to say it’s always a walk in the park, as the trail can become noticeably more challenging after heavy rainfall. But if you want to experience some entry-level mountain off-roading in North Georgia, this is the place to start. Off-roaders should note that this trail is also open to hikers, so take caution when navigating the rocky roads—especially around tight or blind corners.
Off-Road Models Continue to Grow
Off-road-specific models have become all the rage as of late, with several automakers launching off-road sub-brands of some of their most popular models. These souped-up trucks, SUVs, and crossovers typically feature higher ground clearance than their base model cousins—as well as beefier suspensions, skid plates, approach angles, electronic locking differentials, and everything else a vehicle needs to have a little off-road fun.
There have been some intriguing offerings from relative newcomers in recent years, with automakers like Honda and Subaru getting in on the game. The two Japanese brands aren’t traditionally known for their off-road prowess, but these new sub-brands immediately vault both Honda and Subaru into contention within the category.
Subaru’s effort includes new Wilderness editions of its two most popular models, the Outback and Forester. The brand already has a strong reputation among the outdoorsy crowd thanks to the fact that nearly all Subarus come standard with all-wheel drive, so this move makes a lot of sense. In addition to AWD, the Wilderness models feature improved ground clearance, all-terrain tires, revised gear ratios, redesigned bumpers, and dual-function X-MODE selectable driving modes—perfect for navigating dirt, snow, and mud.
Over at Honda, the new TrailSport sub-brand has already been applied to the Passport, with the Ridgeline expected to follow in the coming years. Honda seems to be taking a gradual approach with the new brand, steadily expanding the off-road features with upcoming models. The Passport, Honda’s 5-passenger midsize SUV offering, gets a redesigned exterior and interior with more aggressive styling, as well as additional body cladding and all-weather floor mats.
The changes extended well beyond styling. The TrailSport edition features 18” wheels and tires with sidewall treads, plus increased front and rear track width that Honda says will aid in the SUV’s stance and stability. Intel from Honda leads us to believe that future TrailSport editions might feature all-terrain tires and a suspension tuned specifically for off-road purposes—but it’s still too early to tell.
Of course, one of the features that makes the Passport such a good fit for off-road applications can be found on every version of the SUV, not just the TrailSport version: Honda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system. Available on all Honda Pilots and Passports—and standard on the Ridgeline pickup, the innovative AWD torque-vectoring system is here to prove that you don’t have to invest in a traditional four-wheel drive vehicle if you want to enjoy some off-roading. By distributing torque independently between the left and right rear wheels, the system gives the driver greater control and responsiveness. This can make all the difference when faced with challenging off-road conditions.
Time to Hit the Trails
With a wealth of exciting trails, all within an easy drive of the city, the Atlanta area is an off-roader’s dream. There are various types of terrain to explore, plus stunning vistas just begging for a selfie. Whether you’re setting out in your own rig or one of the exciting new off-road-inspired offerings from Honda and others, remember to always play it safe. Stay on the trail whenever possible, examine any unknown obstacles before tackling them with your vehicle, and make sure your tires have sufficient tread. Always pack some basic tools to help you get out of a jam, like a hand winch, high-lift jack, wood blocks, and a shovel.
Also, keep an emergency bag in your vehicle complete with a first aid kit, extra clothes, water, and a sleeping bag if things go sideways. Let someone know where you’re going and when you plan on returning. Most importantly, always remember the old off-road mantra: as slow as possible, as fast as necessary.