Why You Should Visit Clayton, Georgia, This Spring

The charming mountain town just got a chic upgrade

An aerial of a city with mountains behind it in the distance

Photo: Molly Harris

The Bridge Creek Inn in downtown Clayton.

Clayton, Georgia, sits smack dab in the center of Rabun County in Northeast Georgia, a region chock-full of waterfalls, hiking trails, and clear mountain lakes. Just ninety minutes north of Atlanta, Clayton makes an excellent detour on the way to Asheville or the Smoky Mountains, but the recent opening of the Bridge Creek Inn broadens the town’s appeal as a weekend destination. “We always say this is an outpost,” says Tyler Caswell, co-owner of the forty-five-room boutique inn. “The hotel can act as a home base for all of the adventures that exist around you.” Those adventures are nearby—here’s where to stay, eat, and play in Clayton.

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Bridge Creek Inn opened its doors in 2023 after an extensive renovation of the 1940s building that houses it. Its sun-filled lobby boasts original concrete flooring and columns, while leather seating and cheery art by local married duo Michelle and Broderick Crawford (she’s a nature photographer, he’s a painter) add cozy touches. The rooms’ earth tones echo the mountains within view. Charleston-based Indigo Road Hospitality operates the hotel and its dining options, which include the BCI coffee shop with its pastries and breakfast sandwiches and the forthcoming full-service restaurant the Vandiver, which will serve modern American dishes. Unfussy yet polished, the hotel lends itself nicely to solo travelers and families alike.

photo: Molly Harris
BCI coffee shop inside Bridge Creek Inn.

Elsewhere downtown, the White Birch Inn offers an intimate bed and breakfast experience with six guest rooms and a homey lobby with a stone fireplace and guests-only bar. It’s a romantic alternative for adults traveling without young children.

photo: Molly Harris
A painting by Broderick Crawford in Bridge Creek Inn.


Clayton packs a broad range of restaurants into its petite downtown. White Birch Provisions (sister to the inn) serves up excellent caffeinated beverages and an impressive selection of sweet and savory pastries, including coconut-studded “magic” cookie bars and fluffy bacon-cheddar scones; high ceilings, wood accents, and abundant natural light make the coffee shop a place you’ll want to stay awhile. Lunchtime calls for a stroll to the north end of Main Street to Hush Cuban Cafe, where blue walls and vibrant folk art set the backdrop for a meal of lechon (roasted pork) and plump yuca-cheese fritters served alongside a cilantro ranch dip for dunking. At night, Fortify Kitchen & Bar’s brick walls and Edison bulbs create a date-night ambiance in which to enjoy seasonally driven Southern dishes. Its sister restaurant, Fortify Pi, sets a more casual tone with wings, sandwiches, and brick-oven pizzas topped in sophisticated fashion. (“The French onion” comes with caramelized red onions, sliced beef, mozzarella, arugula, balsamic glaze, and crushed pistachios.)

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Downtown quiets at night, but there’s still fun to be had. Route 76 Road House sits about one and a half miles away and offers live music and plenty of local flavor thanks to the owner who happens to be an Elvis impersonator. If a genteel nightcap is more your speed, micro-distillery Oldknow Bev Co. opened a swanky lounge at the north end of Main Street and pours botanically-inspired cocktails like “the Bouquet,” a combination of gin, jasmine tea, Oldknow amaro, honey, and lemon.

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Just fifteen minutes south of town, Tallulah Gorge stuns with its thousand-foot-deep canyon within the state park of the same name. Take in views of the Tallulah River and its numerous rushing waterfalls from lookouts along the rim, descend the stairs to cross a nerve-testing suspension bridge, or arrive early to snag a permit for a more strenuous hike along the gorge floor. A few minutes north of Clayton, Georgia’s highest-altitude state park, Black Rock Mountain State Park, beckons with long-range views into multiple states and an easy walking trail around a tranquil lake. Nearby, the Foxfire museum comprises eight acres of walking trails and historic log cabins containing Appalachian artifacts—textiles, pottery, butter churns, tools, and more—from the nineteenth century through present day.

photo: Lia Picard
Tallulah Gorge State Park

Strolling up and down Clayton’s Main Street is its own kind of adventure. Ghost Apothecary calls to shoppers looking for something unusual thanks to a lovingly curated collection of home goods, art supplies, tarot cards, and beauty products; don’t miss the upstairs bookshop and tea counter. Wander North Georgia’s expansive shop celebrates the region’s beauty with whimsically designed clothing upstairs, while its lower level houses the recently opened Hullabaloo Books, which dedicates an entire wall to local authors. Art enthusiasts will appreciate Main Street Gallery and its three levels of Southeastern contemporary folk art, while Crawford Art Gallery (the same Crawfords featured in Bridge Creek Inn) specializes in wildlife paintings and photography.