Athens, Georgia, is best known as home to the University of Georgia, but some would say its most beloved resident is a 70-foot-tall white oak that has legal ownership of itself. The now named Tree That Owns Itself was reportedly loved so much by its owner, Col. William H. Jackson, that when he died in 1832 he deeded the tree, along with the eight feet surrounding its base, to itself in his will. The majestic oak that stands at the corner of South Finley and Dearing streets in downtown Athens is actually known as the Son of the Tree That Owns Itself, as it was planted using an acorn from the Tree That Owns Itself after the original tree fell during a windstorm in 1942.
Drive time from Chattanooga: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Other claims to fame:
> The State Botanical Garden of Georgia's 313 acres include multiple themed display gardens and five miles of nature trails representative of the habitats in the region. The Children's Garden is an interactive delight for all ages, and birders will have ample species to spot at the garden, which is designated as an Audubon Society Important Bird Area. Free admission.
> Athens' many trails provide easy access to outdoor recreation. Bike or walk the Firefly Trail, accessible from Broad Street in downtown Athens. From the Firefly you can connect to Sandy Creek Park via the 3.5-mile North Oconee Greenway, part of the Oconee Rivers Greenway linear park system composed of eight miles of paved, multi-use trails and 5.1 miles of natural surface, hiking-only trails. Sandy Creek Park also features 16 miles of trails (no bikes allowed), a swimming beach and seasonal canoe, kayak and paddleboard rentals.
> Downtown Athens is known for its eclectic mix of restaurants, shops and live music venues where such bands as R.E.M., The B-52s and Widespread Panic got their start. Have brunch at Mama's Boy, known for its biscuits and a great place near Dudley Park to stop for a bite while biking or walking the Firefly Trail.
Places to stay:
> Stay in one of five primitive campsites on the Oconee River in Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, where you can participate in water-based activities such as paddling, swimming and fishing, as well as land-based adventuring including hiking, biking and horseback riding. Sites are first-come, first-served and include picnic tables and vault toilets.
> Named after a log fort built in 1792 to protect European settlers from the Cherokee and Creek tribes of Native Americans, Fort Yargo State Park features cabins, yurts and camping alongside a 260-acre lake with a large swimming beach, as well as a fishing dock, 18 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, and a disc golf course.
> A short walk from downtown, the Graduate Athens boasts its own bar and music venue, The Foundry, where guests get in free Tuesday-Saturday. The Graduate also offers free Wi-Fi and rental bikes if you want to check out the Firefly Trail or Oconee Rivers Greenway.