Just at the city limits of Rossville on the Georgia and Tennessee state line, Highway 27 in Georgia begins almost unceremoniously along the ridges of the Cumberland Plateau, just at the junction where Lookout Mountain rises to the clouds. But it is here that the historic highway practically does a ceremonious 180-degree turn into a place that stirs whimsy and nostalgia for the open road.

walkerFrom Rossville in Walker County to Attapulgus in Decatur County, the four-lane, mostly rural highway meanders for 350 miles, give or take a mile or two, through hilly countryside and then through myriad small towns and cities, places like Summerville, Rome, Carrollton, LaGrange, and Cedartown, before the road flattens somewhat south of Columbus. After that it lazily lolls through Cuthbert, Colquitt, and Bainbridge before it ends in Decatur County at the Florida line.

The days are generally quiet along Highway 27, considered a golden oldie of Georgia’s long ribbons of roadways. Once called the Dixie Highway, along with its north-to-south cousins Highway 1 and Highway 41 that also traipse through Georgia, it extends from Fort Wayne, Indiana, southward through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and then our majestic state before crossing through Florida’s heartland to ultimately end near Miami’s fabled golden beaches. Here and there, it becomes chameleon-like and changes its name. Stretches of it are known as the Martha Berry Highway, the CSA Army of Tennessee Highway, Victory Drive, Veterans Parkway, and even the Desoto Trail, named after the intrepid explorer Hernando Desoto. Some even call it the Kudzu Highway because of its profuse, seemingly endless acres of kudzu.

The golden rule of adventure travel is never take the bypass when far more interesting things await. Along the way, whenever it becomes necessary, Highway 27 skirts off the four-lane to two-lane blacktops that then renames itself as Business 27 and takes you straight through heart of most of the towns. Trion, Cuthbert, and Cedartown are good examples. But be cautioned. Veering off for only a few minutes to see one of the Business 27 towns can easily turn into a few hours because of the myriad hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered.

Business 27 is the ultimate travel distraction, after all. Did you know about Westville, a working 1850s town in Lumpkin? Or that there is a stunning flower-filled square in Bainbridge? A colorful collection of street art wolves in Carrollton? An old-fashioned “Drink Coca-Cola in Bottles” hand-painted sign in Attapulgus?

While taking those Business 27 detours might be the long way around, so to speak, they always connect back to Highway 27 and the next attraction down the road.

The journey begins in Walker County, etched with the towns of Rossville, Lafayette, and Chickamauga and crisscrossed with lofty mountains and sprawling valleys punctuated with the greenest of hills. The paradox of Chickamauga Battlefield, a place that triggers goose bumps like no other, is that now it is such a peaceful, soul-stirring, and beautiful place that was once the scene of some of the fiercest battles of the Civil War. Walker County is also a place to bravely spread your wings and try hang-gliding, and then afterwards you’ll understand how angels fly. The best named business in the county might have to be Too Good to be Threw, an amusing thrift store that lives up to its moniker. You’ll love the festivals here, too, with Balloons Tunes Festival, Picnic on the Marsh, Rocktoberfest, and the ever-popular War Between the States Day.

catoosaThe next county to the south is Catoosa County, where every turn provides a view of Lookout Mountain, the most recognized and beloved mountain below the Mason-Dixon and from the pinnacle of which you can famously see seven states. Among the cities here are Ringgold, once the marriage mecca of the Southeast, and Fort Oglethorpe, a busy little city with its mishmash of shops, restaurants, and antique stores that is the doorway through which you enter Chickamauga Battlefield. Here in Catoosa County you can also visit the Sixth Cavalry Museum or cool off in the summer with a visit to Lake Winnepesaukah.

Chattooga County and its communities of Summerville, Trion, Menlo, and Lyerly greet you next along Highway 27. The Chattooga River runs through the county, but it’s not to be confused with the “other” Chattooga River of Northeast Georgia. Below Trion, the Chattooga beckons for an afternoon of kayaking or canoeing. The original route of the infamous Trail of Tears is in Summerville, and so is Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden, best described as a folk art center, museum, yoga and spiritual retreat, airbnb, and garden all rolled into one spot. If you enjoy trains, stop in at the Summerville Depot – portions of HBO’s “Warm Springs” were filmed here, or the Railroad Turntable, a fine spot for taking photographs. Chattooga County is home to Silver Hill Baptist Church, perhaps the most well-named of the dozens and dozens of churches along the entire length of Highway 27. Everybody loves a celebration, and there’s no shortage of them in Chattooga County, including the Finster Fest, Northwest Georgia Balloon Festival, and the Rattling Gourd Arts Festival.

floyd1The lands rolls from Chattooga County into Floyd County in a series of deep valleys and foothills of the Appalachians. If ever a college campus is an attraction unto itself, it would be Berry College. With more than 27,000 acres, it is the world’s largest contiguous college campus, just teeming with wildlife, including vast herds of deer and bald eagles. With the Chieftains Museum, the Major Ridge House, and an official site of the National Trail of Tears here, it’s one of the best places in Georgia to trace Native American history. Three rivers – the Coosa, Etowah, and Oostanaula – flow through Floyd County, and like its similarly-named counterpart in Italy, it, too, is surrounded by seven gracious hills.

Highway 27 then slides into Polk County, named for President James K. Polk, and its cities of Cedartown, Aragon, and Rockmart. Cedartown, a Georgia Main Street City, is awash with pretty buildings of red brick with lots of white brick laced into the mix. Just blocks from downtown is the site of the Cherokee Removal Camp, a place almost guaranteed to stir your soul. Georgia’s 66-mile long Silver Comet Trail walking, hiking, and nature trail slices through Polk County. In Rockmart, visit the Rockmart Historical Museum and the Rockmart Cultural Arts Center.

If you enjoy farms and barns and even giant statues of cows, then spend time among the pastoral peacefulness of Haralson County and its cities of Buchanan, Bremen, Tallapoosa, and Waco. The big bovine, just off Highway 27, is the gatekeeper to Callaway Livestock Pavilion and is a sight to behold. Historic Haralson County comes to life at West Georgia Museum of Tallapoosa and at the circa-1892 courthouse in Buchanan. The county is also the birthplace of the now explosive Georgia wine industry, which all began here in the late 1800s when families of Hungarians brought over their Old World winemaking traditions.

carrollPlan to spend at least a day or two in Carroll County and its towns of Carrollton, Bowdon, Mt. Zion, Roopville, Temple, Villa Rica, and Whitesburg. The city of Carrollton is really a small town at heart, but there are loads of big things to do. Visiting downtown Carrollton, with its eclectic mix of old and new restaurants and shops, is like going on safari. You just never know what lies around the next corner. A must-see is the Carrollton Cultural Arts Center that offers everything from art to dance classes to performing arts and everything in-between. Just across Adamson Square, explore the cultural history of the Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum and attend a concert, movie or other exciting event at the Amp amphitheater. You can also hunt wolves in downtown Carrollton – that is, those colorful statues of the University of West Georgia Wolves – or enjoy the complete outdoor experience including zip-lining at Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg. If you want to try your hand at striking it rich, pan for gold Pine Mountain Gold Museum in Villa Rica. At the county’s southern edge, visit Udderly Cool Dairy in Roopville (just off a short stretch of Business 27) for a taste of their award-winning applewood smoked gouda or other delicious smooth-as-velvet cheeses created using milk from the Berry College dairy heard — as Highway 27 as cheese can get.

After the fanfare of Carroll County, Highway 27 slides more quietly into Heard County and its communities of Franklin, Ephesus, and Centralhatchee. Here the star of the show is the Chattahoochee River and the headwaters of the pristine, sparkling West Point Lake, well-known for fishing, water sports, and boating. Birdwatchers flock here, too, as the forests of Heard County provide bird-perfect habitat that draws feathered friends from as far away as the Arctic. While you’re here, check out the Heard County Historical Center and Museum, once a jail built in 1912.

Rolling into Troup County and LaGrange, another of the larger cities along Highway 27, you’re met with a range of unique attractions. LaGrange, so very ooh-la-la French-sounding, is named for Chateau de LaGrange, the France home of Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette. But the city is much more international than its French-flair origins. The Explorations in Antiquities Center takes you on a Biblical journey to ancient lands in the Middle East, while the Wild Animal Safari takes you on safari through Africa. Even Kia, with its roots in Korea, is here with a massive plant on the outskirts of the city. But the crown jewel may be the Hills and Dales Estate, a 1916 Italian-style villa complete with lush gardens.

Harris County is the next entry on Highway 27. Here the divide between North and South Georgia at the Fall Line provides stunning pull-off-the-road views where you can see practically to next week. And it is in Harris County that the hardwood forests, so prevalent since Rossville, begin to transform into those of tall shady pines. Harris County’s communities of Pine Mountain, Hamilton, West Point, Waverly Hall, and Shiloh provide the splendid small town backdrop for its star attraction of Callaway Gardens. Striated with creeks, among them Ossahatchee, Standing Boy, and Mountain, the natural beauty here is just magnificent. Throughout the year have tons of fun at festivals and events that include, among others, the Harris County Rodeo, Ossahatchee Indian Festival and Powwow, the Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival, and the Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration.

muscogeeWhile Harris County may be rural, Muscogee County with the big city of Columbus and Fort Benning is its metropolitan neighbor. You want historical trivia? Columbus, Georgia’s second largest city only after Atlanta, was one of the last of the planned cities of the 13 original colonies. During the Civil War, it was a major supply point because of the Chattahoochee River. There’s more history, of course, including the National Infantry Museum and National Civil War Naval Museum. Two of the coolest things you can do in Georgia are in Columbus, and they are walking – or riding or hiking – the thoroughly amusing 15-mile length of the Chattahoochee River Walk or shoot the rapids past downtown on the longest urban whitewater course in the world. In a city this size a veritable tsunami of attractions awaits.

Fort Benning also lies in Chattahoochee County, just to the south of Columbus, but the county is also home to Cusseta. River Bend Park, hugging the shores of Lake Walter F. George, is for nature aficionados and for those who want to experience some of the best fishing on the Chattahoochee River. Songbirds serenade you as you paddle or canoe these quiet waters or walk the parks that are picnic-perfect. For those who really want to get out of the city and into the country, Cusseta has no traffic lights.

From Chattahoochee County, Highway 27 becomes more and more rural, with Stewart County and its towns of Lumpkin and Richland the next stops on your sojourn southward. You can step back in time in Westville, an 1850s living history museum and working town that’s in Lumpkin, to watch a blacksmith at work or take a horse-and-buggy ride. Providence Canyon, one of Georgia Seven Natural Wonders, is a smaller scale version of the Grand Canyon. It was created by erosion from bad farming practices, but the result is deep canyon of color drawn by Mother Nature just waiting for hikers and photographers. The shores of Lake Walter F. George are in Stewart County, so you’re never far from water.

The hills are gentle as you drive into Randolph County, home of Cuthbert and Shellman, and are striated with the warmest, richest colors that are found in Georgia red clay. Roadside stands punctuate Highway 27 with their bounty of tomatoes, peaches, summer squash, watermelons, and boiled peanuts, our tasty state snack that’s often called country caviar. If you travel to Randolph County deep into the fall, a few October festivals await, including the Boudleaux Bryant Festival in Shellman Park, the Fletcher Henderson Jazz Festival in Cuthbert, or the Randolph Crossroads Festival, also in Cuthbert.

Moving deeper south you reach Clay County with its communities of Fort Gaines and Bluffton. Life is hushed and gentle here in this place that was once home to the Creek Indians. The fort at Fort Gaines still exists and was built as an outpost to protect the settlers during the Creek Indian Wars. Christmas at the Fort, a local arts and crafts festival, is always an enjoyable event. Fort Gaines eventually grew into a town that became the center of cotton activities in the days before the Civil War. Today Clay County is home to George T. Bagby State Park and Lodge, and like other counties along Highway 27, is also a part of the Lake Walter F. George system.

Early County, to the south of Clay County, is full of natural beauty, bubbling creeks, rural landscapes, and plenty of wildlife. Here, cotton fields stretch long and low, and coveys of bobwhite quail croon to one another along their edges. So honored is the little quail that in downtown Blakely the Quail Motel rests on Bobwhite Avenue. For Native American history enjoy Kolomoki Mounds State Park, the oldest and largest of the Woodland Indian sites. The sweet wines of Still Pond Vineyards pair perfectly with just about any dish, be it a plate of Georgia quail or perhaps grass-fed beef, lamb, goat, or chicken from White Oak Pastures. And for a little romance, Early County is where you’ll find Coheelee Creek Covered Bridge, the southernmost covered bridge in the United States.

millertallJust two more counties are left to discover on Highway 27. Miller County, whose seat is the lovely town of Colquitt, is the first. Colquitt is home to “Swamp Gravy,” Georgia’s official state folk play at the Cotton Hall Theater. And in all its small town loveliness, it also contains no fewer than 15 hand-painted murals that are scattered around the town. Finding them is sort of geographical version of hide-and-seek. The National Mayhaw Festival is here, too, an exciting celebration of the diminutive fruit that’s mostly found in jelly but occasionally sneaks it way into other products. Colquitt is also known for its down-home, locally-owned restaurants serving a wide range to suit any palate from fried chicken to Mexican to barbecue and beyond.

At the far reaches of Georgia’s Highway 27 is Decatur County and the cities of Bainbridge and Attapulgus. As you drive along these mostly flat stretches of the highway, the tallest of Georgia pine, mimosa, and chinaberry trees are tangled clusters of wild grape and honeysuckle vines. Horse and cattle farms, vast pecan plantations, and fragrant peach orchards edge the roadways before you reach Bainbridge, with one of the prettiest and shadiest town squares along all of Highway 27. You’ll really enjoy the quite walkable mélange of antique shops, historic homes, local cafes, and historic churches that dot downtown. And anglers, know this: Bainbridge has been declared the bass capital of Georgia, with plenty to be caught on the Flint River and Lake Seminole. Stay for a while and enjoy the River Town Days in May or the Bainbridge Bike Fest in September.

And all along these 350 miles from Walker County to Decatur County, if you’re so inclined, you can buy a used car or get your old one washed, get your stumps ground, buy antiques, eat everything from fried chicken to seafood to grits and steak, shop at one of the untold numbers of Dollar General stores, get a new hairdo or shape up an old one, play bingo, go to church, get doctored right up at a hospital or medical center for whatever ails you or get buried at a shady old cemetery if whatever ails you can’t be fixed, or if you’re old enough and so inclined you can even visit an exotic dance club — you’ll pass one or two of those along Highway 27.

Taking everything into consideration at the end of the day, Highway 27 – and its kissin’ cousin of Business 27 – is possibly Georgia’s least-known attraction. Many travelers ignore it, preferring to take the faster and considerably less scenic and certainly less interesting Interstate 75 that runs parallel to Highway 27 to the east. But truly the highway is an attraction, one that was never meant to be hurried, and with practically no traffic it is arguably one of the best don’t miss, picturesque, and loaded-with-photo-ops drives in the Peach State. With so much to see, it has honestly earned its name of Georgia’s Scenic Hometown Highway.