Florida might as well be called Flat-rida. Seriously, this subtropical corner of the southeastern United States may be known for its endless UV and balmy winter temps, but it’s as void of relief as a buttermilk-blueberry pancake. The highest point is Britton Hill in the far northern part of the Florida Panhandle, a thigh-busting, lung-wheezing 105 meters above sea level (watch out Mount Everest!). End sarcasm.
But never fear budding mountaineers. This guide will focus in seven mountains close to Florida. They’re the peaks that await within striking distance of the state line, most within a day or two’s drive of the famous theme parks of Orlando and the shimmering beaches of Clearwater.
You’ve got the great state of Georgia to thank for most of the mountains close to Florida. The northern portion of the territory crumples up into Appalachia with the iconic Blue Ridge, hosting ski towns, hiking centers, and even the bucket-list Parkway. But there are other options, in both Tennessee and Alabama. Let’s take a look…
Arabia Mountain, Georgia
Arabia Mountain is the closest of all the mountains close to Florida on this list. It pokes its head above the horizon on the southeast side of Atlanta, scoring nearly 300 meters above The Gate City and the sweeping forests of scraggly pine and oak trees that encircle the metropolis. Driving, you can usually reach it from Jacksonville in about five hours flat, going straight up Interstate 75.
Arabia Mountain isn’t the soaring, snow-capped sort of summit you see in the Himalayas and whatnot. It’s actually little more than an exposed ridge of granite stone covered in historic quarry sites and dotted with mirror-like ponds and lakes. The defining feature of the peak is the presence of sculpted monadnocks, which are carved and eroded blocks of stone that jut above the ground.
Today, Arabia Mountain is a part of the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, an extensive area of protected woodland that’s filled with rare lichen and plant life. It’s also been covered in managed cycling trails that are maintained by the PATH Foundation, letting you whiz over the rocky ridges on two wheels whenever the adrenaline glands need a good exercise.
Stone Mountain, Georgia
Stone Mountain is another monadnock mountain (a granite protrusion), and one of the most striking examples of those south of the Georgian Blue Ridge. It sits close to the middle of DeKalb County on the eastern fringes of the big city of Atlanta, where it bobbles up like a balloon to a total height of 514 meters above sea level. The drive up from the Sunshine State should take in the region of 5.1 hours.
A part of the Stone Mountain Park, a visit here isn’t just about sampling the great outdoors. It’s also a trip back in history. Not the most savory history, either. Dark moments like the reformation of the Klu Klux Klan back in 1915 have taken place here, and the site has been the focus of intense debate in recent years surrounding the possible removal of a Confederate memorial relief that’s carved straight into the site of the peak.
The aptly named Walk Up Trail can take you to the top of the Stone Mountain. It’s under two miles and gets steep at points, although the reward is a 360-degree panorama of central Georgia. There are also oodles of family attractions in the vicinity, like a cable car, a forest-ringed lake with vintage riverboats, and an historic recreation of an old 1900s town stead.
John’s Mountain, Georgia
John’s Mountain is tucked into the very far northwestern edge of the Empire State of the South. That puts it about 6.5 hours’ drive north of Jacksonville and a touch less from Tallahassee. The peak itself is, geologically speaking, a part of the southern Appalachian chain, and it’s a great option for folks looking to taste the wild wooded hills and waterfall-carved valleys of the region without having to drive any further.
Boasting the dubious record of being the 666th highest summit in Georgia, the mountain is a part of the seemingly endless Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. It’s got a few walking trails that weave through the woods to link up scenic picnic spots and little towns like Villanow. The best of them include the East Armuchee Creek and the Dry Creek Equestrian Trailhead, which transforms into a snowshoe path in the winter months.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
It might take over eight hours to swap the sun-shimmering beaches of Jacksonville for the hazy Great Smokies of North Carolina and Tennessee, but this corner of iconic Appalachia is certainly one for the most dedicated adventurers on the hunt for mountains close to Florida. The peaks here clock up top stations of over 2,000 meters, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and play host to fabled walking routes like sections of the Appalachian Trail.
The best way into the region from the Sunshine State is up Interstate 26 after Spartanburg and then west from the buzzy mountain town of Asheville. That brings you into the remoter southern corner of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in NC, where you can do multi-day treks to score the lookout point of Clingmans Dome or walk the woods down to Cliff Branch Falls.
Families might prefer to skirt around the Smokies via Interstate 40 north of Ashville, crossing the state line into Tennessee. That takes a little longer from Florida but does mean you hit the fun-filled resorts of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, home to Ripley’s Believe it or Nots, skyline gondolas, and even the Wild West mecca of Dollywood!
Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia
It might be a miniature peak at just over 500 meters but there are few mountains in the state of Georgia that are as steeped in history as old Kennesaw. Famed around the USA as the place where the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain raged in 1864, it saw one of the most pivotal moments in the Atlanta Campaign of the American Civil War.
Today, it’s frequented by both military history buffs and outdoors enthusiasts. The first come to explore the national battlefield park, which chronicles the hard-fought skirmishes of the conflict in which more than 4,000 soldiers lost their lives or fell to injury. Those looking for something more in the way of adventure are probably better off hitting the adjoining Little Kennesaw Mountain, a wilder part of the reserve, where walking trails weave through untouched woodlands.
Getting here from Florida should take in the region of five or six hours on the main interstates heading north. There’s dedicated parking on site, and even a visitor’s center that has a movie about the park and its incredible Civil War history.
The Blue Ridge, Georgia/North Carolina
The Blue Ridge is one of the best-known sections of the mighty Appalachian chain that sweeps through the eastern United States, going all the way from Maryland up north to Tennessee in the south. The part we think you should focus on if you’re looking for mountains close to Florida is the part that pokes into Georgia, as that’s only about six hours in the car from the state line near Tallahassee.
Prepare to be wowed by rows and rows of undulating peaks that stretch to the horizon, unfolding in sylvan valleys of hemlock, oak, hornbeam, and beech, all inhabited by elusive creatures like black bears, elk, wild boars, and coyotes. Ways to explore include the bucket-list-busting Appalachian Trail or the Blue Ridge Parkway, a scenic drive that takes you north into NC.
The southern end of the Blue Ridge chain – that’s the closest part of all to Florida – hosts some pretty nice places to get that fix of mountain air. Check out Helen, a Bavarian-inspired town with gabled beer halls and gingerbread shops. Or, head to little Mountain City, where you can seek out treehouses and log cabins in the forests.
Cheaha Mountain, Alabama
The lone mountain on this list of the mountains close to Florida to make its home in Alabama, Cheaha is actually the highest point of all in that state. It clocks up a total altitude of 440 meters, which might not seem like much but is four times what you can get to in the crepe-flat Sunshine State.
Technically a part of the Appalachian chain, this peak in the southerly Talladega Mountains is covered from head to foot in thick forest. There are trails that go to the top, where you’ll find the so-called Bunker Tower, a curious structure that looks a little like a medieval castle but was actually built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in 1943.
Cheaha Mountain is the epicenter of the Cheaha State Park. It sits roughly midway up the state from the southern line that borders the Florida Panhandle, which means you’re looking at about five or six hours in the car when arriving from Panama City Beach, and a touch more than that if you’re coming up from Orlando or Jacksonville.
Mountains close to Florida – a conclusion
You’re not going to get any mountains in the Sunshine State. Sorry folks. The land down south is more about tasty orange juices, looping rollercoasters, and beaches so white you’ll need to rub your eyes to see them. But there are mountains close to Florida. Well…relatively close, since we’re talking about five or six hours in the car from the state line to the summits, which mainly pop up in Georgia, in Tennessee, and in Alabama.