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Rural Retreat: A Weekend in Cleveland

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Serenely situated in the rolling hills of rural northeast Georgia, Cleveland is a tiny treasure waiting to be discovered! From outdoor adventures to baby doll dreams-come-true, a weekend in Cleveland offers something fun for everyone. Read on to see some of the Rural Center’s recommendations for this rural retreat.

You’ve heard it said it’s not the destination that matters but the journey. When it comes to Cleveland, Georgia, both the destination and the journey are delightful. No matter which direction you’re traveling from, this getaway begins when you hit the highway, especially if you’re taking US Highway 441 north from Athens into the foothills of the Appalachians. Before you head out, set your GPS to avoid highways, and enjoy a journey through unspoiled countryside and picturesque communities.

While nearby Helen has enjoyed popularity as a family-friendly vacation spot for decades, Cleveland offers plenty to do and explore. Perhaps the town’s most well-known landmark and claim to fame is Babyland General Hospital, the birthplace and home of the world-famous Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Opened in 2009, the new facility boasts more than 70,000 square feet of CPK museum, “hospital” and gift shop, is free to visit and a great spot to picnic.

North Georgia Wildlife and Safari Park is another spot families do not want to miss during this rural retreat. From a wildlife walk to a petting zoo to a safari drive-thru and about a dozen other wild animal experiences, this park is definitely worth the short drive from downtown Cleveland. Be sure to plan your visit during the weekend, because the park is only open Friday through Sunday.

Explore the great outdoors at Smithgall Woods State Park, located about 15 minutes from Cleveland. The park is known for its excellent trout fishing, but hiking and bicycling are favorite activities there as well. Six cottages within the park offer visitors the opportunity to enjoy the north Georgia mountains for more than just a day.

The Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest also offers a number of hiking trails in the vicinity of Cleveland, including the Mount Yonah trail. This 2.3-mile trail rises 1,500 feet as it leads to the top of Mount Yonah and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Yonah is the Cherokee word for bear, and it was on this mountain that the legendary story of the star-crossed Cherokee lovers Sautee and Nacoochee took place.

Obviously abounding in family-friendly fun, the Cleveland area is also a great destination for grown-ups-only getaways. Several vineyards, wineries and at least one microbrewery call White County home and offer tastings, tours, events, dining and even lodging. In fact, there are five wineries within a 10-minute drive of downtown Cleveland, and a number of companies offer tours with transportation to and from sites throughout the state.

If shopping’s your thing, plan to spend several hours hopping from shop to shop in downtown Cleveland. The old courthouse square downtown is loaded with unique local shops and restaurants. Enjoy a hot or cold pick-me-up from Farmhouse Coffee or Sweet Things on the Square, and rest your feet (or take advantage of an immaculate public restroom) at the lovely Farmhouse Commons event space. Pop in to see the White County History Museum, pictured above, while you’re on the square. There’s more to peruse as you leave the heart of downtown, with Blue Heron Antiques and Velvet’s Vintage being two must-see stops.

As for where to stay in or near Cleveland, vacation rentals in the area abound online and are a wise way to meet locals and find out their favorite spots to picnic, play or simply enjoy the best of local life from those who know it best.

And honestly, we can’t even begin to list all the uniquely delicious spots in and around Cleveland to grab a locally crafted bite to eat. Just a few local favorites include Creekside Gourmet Deli, the Soda Fountain Café, Clyde’s Table and Tavern, Cleveland Donuts and the Country Bake Shoppe. For a small town, Cleveland also boasts a variety of nationwide chain restaurants as well.

Just compiling all of this has those of us at the Rural Center ready to retreat to Cleveland, and we hope you will too! Whether it’s a shopping excursion, camping trip, destination wedding or weekend away, remember that your dollars spent in Georgia’s small towns and rural communities help keep unique and wonderful places like Cleveland alive and well for all of us to enjoy. So hit the road with less-populated places pinned in your GPS and let us know what you discover on your next rural retreat.

If you want to see your hometown or favorite rural Georgia getaway featured on our blog, let us know by emailing

Photo credits from top:

17 22 481 yonah by DSDugan, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

White County Courthouse Museum by Thomson 200, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


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