The holiday season sparkles around Lake Lanier and headwater mountain towns with a boat parade, snow tubing, Santa visits, Victorian traditions and other outdoor festivities. Then, get ready to ring in the new year and start 2024 with a first-day hike or cold dip.

Here’s a sample of activities to engage the holiday spirit:

An outdoor Christmas tree decorated with ornaments and ribbon. A young man and women dressed as Victorian carolers.








License to Chill Snow Island/Lakeside Lights Spectacular, Buford. Snow tubing, ice skating, carnival rides, s’more making, plus walk-through holiday light extravaganza with festive music; Snow Island 11 a.m.-10 p.m. through Feb. 25;  Lights Spectacular 5-9 p.m. through Jan. 15, Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, 7650 Lanier Islands Pkwy. Various prices.

Holiday Tree Trail, Gainesville. View six-feet Fraser firs decorated by local clubs, organizations and businesses, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tues.-Sun., through Dec. 31, Gainesville Garden of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1911 Sweet Bay Dr. $14.95 adults, $12.95 children ages 3-12, free to children younger than 3 and members. 404-888-4760.

Wilshire Wonderland of Lights, Gainesville. Stroll through beloved Gainesville park decorated with holiday lights, through Jan. 5, Wilshire Trails Park, 849 Wilshire Trials Rd.

Victorian Christmas at Hardman Farm, Sautee Nacoochee. See Mansion at West End decorated in period décor, learn about Victorian holiday traditions from re-enactors, plus live music, s’mores around a bonfire, 4-7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays in December. $15-$49, free to children 5 and younger. Registration required. 706-878-1077.

Christmas in the Mountains Festival & Lighted Parade, Cleveland. Parade, open houses, market on downtown square, Cleveland County Courthouse, 5-8 p.m. Dec. 2, intersection Ga. 129/115.

Christmas at the Gorge, Tallulah Falls. Santa visits, craft making, hay rides and more, 1-3 p.m. Dec. 2, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Jane Hurt Yarn Pkwy. $5 parking. 706-754-7981.

Christmas on Green Street, Gainesville. Annual celebration on Historic Green Street with antique car parade, marching bands, and floats, plus food trucks, activities and performances at historic homes, 2-7 p.m. Dec. 3. See new schedule:

Holiday Craft-Making, Gainesville. Create a holiday craft, free with regular admission, 10 a.m.-noon Dec. 5, Gainesville Garden of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. $14.95 adults, $12.95 children ages 3-12, free to children younger than 3 and members. 404-888-4760.

Mountain Country Christmas in Lights, Hiawassee. See Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in holiday lights, plus music, arts vendors, food, Santa visits and Cowtown exhibit with cow milking, butter ice-cream making, 6 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. through Dec. 9, nightly Dec. 14-23, 1311 Music Hall Rd. $7, free to children 12 & younger.

Sunset Candy Cane Hunt, Tallulah Falls. Hunt candy canes, watch movie, enjoy s’mores and hot chocolate, 5-7 p.m. Dec. 9, Tallullah Gorge State Park, Jane Hurt Yarn Pkwy. $5 parking. Register in advance. 706-754-7981.

Chanukah Celebration on the Square, Gainesville. Lighting of the menorah with hot latkes, donuts, games, children’s crafts, music; open to entire community, 4:30 p.m. Dec. 10, Downtown Square. Free. RSVP:

Old Fashioned Christmas, Dahlonega. Annual celebration with near-daily holiday activities including carriage rides, Santa visits, food trucks, Festival of Trees, and more through Jan. 7. Holiday parade with 11 a.m. Dec. 9, Historic Downtown Dahlonega.

Holiday Boat Parade, Lake Lanier. Festival of lights on the water with decorated boat; parade begins at 5 p.m. Dec. 9, north of Port Royale and floats toward Aqualand Marina for judges’ review before heading to Margaritaville for music and awards. Rain out day Dec. 10. Entry fees $75-$200.

Annual Christmas Parade, Helen. Fire trucks, horses, dirt-buggies, floats, candy, Santa, 2 p.m. Dec. 9, Downtown Helen.

Christmas at the Inn, Toccoa. Festive dulcimer music, hot apple cider and teacakes, 19th century stagecoach inn decorated with greenery and handmade ornaments, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 9 & 10, Traveler’s Rest Historic Site, 4339 Riverdale Rd., 706-886-2256.

Holiday Jamboree on the Mountain, Clarkesville. Live music, nature crafts, Santa visits, hayrides, Mellinger Center/campground, 3-5 p.m. Dec. 9, Black Rock Mountain State Park, 3805 Black Rock Mountain Pkwy. $5 parking., 706-746-2141.

Happy Holiday Hike, Helen. Naturalist-led hike to covered bridge to learn some fun holiday lore, plus hot cocoa and cookies at the visitor’s center, 10 a.m.-noon Dec. 14, Smithgall Woods State Park, 61 Tsalaki Trl. $5 parking., 706-878-4308 ext. 7.

Hops & Holly Wreath Making, Gainesville. Make evergreen wreath, sip a brew, 2-3:30 p.m. Dec. 16, Gainesville Garden of the Atlanta Botanical Garden, 1911 Sweet Bay Dr. $50, $45 members. 404-888-4760.

Holiday Camp, Tallulah Falls. Grades 1-5 join rangers on hikes, activities and crafts, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Dec. 18-20, Tallullah Gorge State Park, Jane Hurt Yarn Pkwy. $125 per child. Register in advance. 706-754-7981.


New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day

A girls dressed in warm clothing and sock cap, standing by a splitrail fence overlooking a mountain range. 2023 Polar Bear plunge photo of two girls dressed in blue, getting ready to jump off the dock into Lake Lanier.






New Year’s Eve Festivities, Buford. Margaritaville at Lanier Islands, 7650 Lanier Islands Pkwy. Information not available by Lakeside deadline. See website for details.

10th Annual Dropping of the Edelweiss, Helen. Hors d’oeuvres, party favors, entertainment, dancing, midnight toast and edelweiss drop, 8 p.m. Dec. 31, Helen Festhalle, 1074 Edelweiss Strasse. $30 adults, $15 children ages 6-12, free to children younger than 6.

Polar Bear Plunge & Paddle, Gainesville. Jump into the New Year by jumping into Lake Lanier. Guided paddle at 9 a.m., plunge at 11 a.m., s’mores and hot chocolate. January 1, 2024. Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Rd. $30 plunge or paddle, $40 for both.  Register online.

New Year’s Day Half Marathon/5K, Cumming. 8:50/9 a.m. Jan. 1, North Forsyth High School, 3645 Coal Mtn. Road. $24.

First Day Hike: Dog Creek, Gainesville. Ranger-led moderately strenuous 2-mile hike along Dog Creek, 2-3 p.m. Jan. 1, Don Carter State Park, 5000 N. Browning Bridge Rd. No pets, dress for weather, wear closed-toe shoes. Meet at visitor’s center. Register in advance. $5 parking., 678-450-7726.

First Day Hike: Falls to Farm, Sautee Nacoochee. 11-mile one-way hike from Anna Ruby Falls to Hardman Farm Historic Site to explore the vast estate of the farm’s historic Nichol’s family; supported hike includes shuttle from farm to Anna Ruby Falls, 4 support stops, post hike meal, tour of Hardman Farm and commemorative t-shirt, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 1, Hardman Farm Historic Site, 143 Hwy. 17. Limited to 50 hikers. Register in advance. $40. FallstoFarmFirstDayHike2023.

First Day Hike: Amicalola Falls, Dawsonville. Hike Appalachian Approach Trail to Reflection Pond and return on Creek Trail, 9:30 -11 a.m. & noon-1:30 p.m. Jan. 1, Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge, 418 Amicalola Falls Rd. $5 parking. 706-355-1500,

First Day Hike: Bridge Overlook, Mountain City. Watch sunrise from overlook after .25-mile hike, enjoy coffee ad hot chocolate by the fire afterward, 7-8:30 a.m. Jan. 1, Black Rock Mountain State Park, 3-85 Black Rock Mountain Pkwy. $5 parking., 706-746-2141.

First Day Hike: Elachee, Gainesville. Guided hike on 4-mile Bridge Loop in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Jan. 1, Elachee Nature Science Center, 2125 Elachee Dr. Register in advance. 25 hiker limit. For ages 10 and older. Free., 770-535-1976.

First Day Hike: Duke’s Creek, Helen. 2.5 mile hike from visitor’s center to Duke’s Creek waterfall with half-way stop at primitive cabin fire ring, 1-3 p.m. Jan. 1, Smithgall Woods State Park, 61 Tsalaki Trl. $5 parking., 706-878-3087.

First Day Hike: Bear Hair Gap, Blairsville. 4.1 mile guided hike on Bear Hair Gap Trail on lower ridge of Blood Mountain, follows some steep slopes, 9 a.m.-noon Jan. 1, Vogel State Park, 405 Vogel State Park Rd. For ages 8 and older. $5 parking. 706-745-2628,

First Day Hike: Inspiration Loop and Sunset Burden Burn, Tallulah Falls. Guided 1.5 mile loop hike to highest point in gorge to see the sunset, enjoy s-mores, hot cocoa around campfire; pencil and paper provided to list things that burdened you in 2023 and throw them into the fire, 4-6 p.m. Jan. 1, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Jane Hurt Yarn Pkwy. $7, $5 parking., 706-754-7981.