Canton, Georgia is a city and the county seat of Cherokee County in the northern half of the state. Named after Canton (now Guangzhou) in China, it has a population of around 22,000 people, and lies 65 km north of Atlanta.
The city is situated on traditional Cherokee Indian territory, with the tribe forcibly marched west of the Mississippi River in the 1830s.
Just 200 European-American settlers lived here at the time of the American Civil War a generation later, but this didn’t stop Canton being burnt down by Unionist forces.
But out of both of these tragedies has grown a vibrant cultural hub with a unique ambience all of its own. Historic sights rub shoulders with natural ones, while the wider region has a range of attractions, not least Atlanta itself.
Here are the best things to do in and around Canton, Georgia.
1. Cherokee County Courthouse
This historic courthouse was built in 1928 of grey-white stone. Listed on the US’ National Register of Historic Places since 1981, it replaced an early structure destroyed by fire.
The current building follows the Greek Revival style of architecture, which was particularly popular at the time. It is significant for being one of the only courthouses in Georgia built of local marble, rather than brick.
In addition to its function as a historic courthouse and jail, this building is also the home of a museum to the history of Canton and Cherokee County.
2. Hickory Log Creek Reservoir
Accessible via the junction at Bluff Parkway and Fate Conn Road, Hickory Log Creek Reservoir covers more than 160 hectares and has almost 25 km of shoreline to enjoy.
Although it’s almost entirely surrounded by the city, the reservoir isn’t technically part of Canton. That said, this doesn’t mean much to the casual visitor.
The lake is of special interest to anglers since it was stocked with bream, catfish, and bass among other species.
The reservoir is also known as a favourite spot for canoers and kayakers, who are free to paddle across the waters to discover all its hidden corners.
3. Canton Theatre
Situated in downtown Canton, this theatre has been in operation on and off for more than one hundred years.
When it first opened, the theatre put on silent movies, and took on its art deco appearance after a redevelopment in the late 1930s.
Now a not-for-profit community enterprise, its auditorium hosts plays, musicals, concerts and pretty much any other form of performance you care to name.
Attracting actors from right across the region, the Canton Theatre is a much-loved part of the community. Its continued presence means residents are able to enjoy Broadway shows without the need to travel into Atlanta.
4. Etowah Water Trail
The Etowah River cuts across northern Georgia for 262 km, and splits Canton into two halves. Its water trail follows it for its entire length, which includes the section flowing through Canton.
A great way of getting onto the water without even having to leave the city’s boundaries, Etowah River Park is the location of a boat ramp.
From here you can head either towards East Cherokee Drive around 20 km away, or Boiling Park, a much more achievable 3.2 km away.
Suitable for new paddlers, the water trail shifts between entirely unspoilt woodland and rural landscapes that perfectly capture what the south is all about.
5. Marietta National Cemetery
Marietta National Cemetery is about 30 minutes south of Canton. A historic cemetery, it is part of the United States’ national cemetery system, which offers grave sites for veterans and notable Americans.
Established in 1866, it was intended that both Unionist and Confederate troops would be buried side by side as a way of reuniting the country after the civil war. However, this plan was rejected by both sides.
Instead, the plot was used primarily for Union soldiers that died during the Battle for Atlanta, with Marietta Confederate Cemetery used for those from the losing side.
Among its several interesting monuments are those dedicated to those who died in the civil war from Wisconsin, and another to the attack on Pearl Harbour during the Second World War.
6. Reformation Brewery
This growing craft brewery was born and bred in the metropolitan Atlanta region from brewers looking to produce good, authentic beers of all styles.
The taproom in Canton provides a welcoming and all-inclusive space in which to sample and enjoy their latest creations, as well as some of their long-term favourites.
These include barrel-aged imperial stouts, wine-inspired winter sours, Belgian-style tripels, and German wheat beers.
Offering something for everyone, there are also a good number of American pale ales to choose between.
7. Chattahoochee National Forest
Chattahoochee National Forest is a protected area within Georgia’s portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains, around 45 minutes north of Canton.
In total, the forest covers more than 300 square kilometres of land, meaning there’s plenty of space here to explore and enjoy the landscapes and blue-tinted trees which give the range their name.
Hikers will be happy to hear there are almost endless trails to follow within the forest’s protected zone. At the same time, animal lovers will delight in the range of species that inhabit it – from black bears to coyotes.
However, Anna Ruby Falls can be enjoyed via a paved walk of just 800 metres from the nearest car park for anyone with movement issues.
8. Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History
While combining the history of the civil war with that of the American railways might seem a little strange at first, look more deeply and you’ll understand why this museum in nearby Kennesaw exists.
History abounds here, and the museum is housed within a former cotton spinning barn. Objects large and small take visitors back to the difficulties of the civil war, and help explain exactly how and why the war came about.
The largest of all its objects is probably the steam engine called the General. This was involved in a famous event during the war known as the Great Locomotive Chase.
The chase began when the General was stolen by Unionist spies who attempted to use it to destroy the south’s railways. They were chased much of the way by Confederate forces in another engine called the Texas.
Kennesaw is about 30 minutes south of Canton.
9. Gone with the Wind Museum
Back in Marietta, another worthwhile attraction for film and literary fans is the Gone with the Wind Museum.
It is filled with delightful artifacts relating to both the book’s author, Margaret Mitchell, and the Oscar-winning film staring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
These include the honeymoon gown which Scarlett O’Hara wore after wedding Rhett Butler, as well as original artworks and scripts.
Occupying Brumby Hall, which dates to 1851, the museum is also attempting to right historic wrongs by highlighting the roles of the films African-American cast members who weren’t able to attend the premier or Oscars ceremony because of racial segregation.
10. Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site
Head 40 minutes southwest from Canton and you’ll reach Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site, on the northern bank of the Etowah River.
An important archaeological site, it was a major hub for the native American Mississippi Culture from around 1000 to 1500 AD.
One of the most intact sites of its kind in the south eastern United States, there are three main platform mounds and a further three smaller ones.
The highest, entirely man-made, rises close to 20 m over the surrounding landscape, making it as tall as a six-storey building.
The onsite museum displays many of the objects discovered here during digs, including statues, pottery, and jewellery.
11. Dixie Speedway
Think of the south, and speedway tracks will probably enter your mind before long. The Dixie Speedway in Woodstock is regularly filled with the sound of screaming supporters and roaring engines.
Races at Dixie Speedway are nothing if not dramatic. This is largely thanks to the fact the track is an oval loop made of clay, meaning vehicles drift, slip, and slide their way from start to finish.
The impressive feats of driving necessary to control the vehicles under these circumstances can be enjoyed during the weekly and national touring stock car races, and motorcycle races.
Alternatively, turn your attention to the centre of the track for monster car rallies and regular concerts. Dixie Speedway is just 20 minutes from Canton.
12. Canton Farmers Market
Even though Canton lies within easy reach of downtown Atlanta, and a whole series of cities in the metropolitan region, it is also close to rural farmland producing many of the foods enjoyed by families right across the country.
Independent grocery stores stock some of the larger Georgia brands, but to connect with the farmers and their land there can be no better place to head than Canton Farmers Market.
The vendors that pitch up here sell everything from fruits and vegetables to chocolates and baked goods. But you’ll also find locally-made chocolates, artisan soaps, live music and cooking demonstrations.
13. Centennial Olympic Park
There are some very impressive sites and attractions in Atlanta, but the one that has done more to boost the city in recent years than any other is probably this urban park.
It was constructed as a legacy project of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, and takes its name from the fact these games came exactly 100 years after their first modern version in Athens, Greece.
Made up of nine hectares right in the downtown district, be sure not to miss the Fountain of Rings. This water feature consists of 251 individually computer-controlled jets that move to music multiple times each day and jump up to ten metres into the air.
To get there, head south for around 45 minutes.
14. Tanglewood Farm
For larger creatures, downtown Atlanta’s Zoo Atlanta is the place to be. But for the chance to get up close and personal with smaller furry friends, head to Canton’s very own Tanglewood Farm.
Calling itself metropolitan Atlanta’s best miniature petting zoo, Tanglewood Farm stands in dramatic countryside.
It has more than 100 animals, which range from pygmy goats to Scottish Shetland sheep. Beyond the animals, there’s a Wild West mock-up complete with bank, jail, and trading post.
Elsewhere, Cagle’s Family Farm is a little more traditional in outlook. Dating back to 1935, it offers milking demonstrations, tractor rides, and various seasonal activities.
15. Blankets Creek Trail System
Swap the saddle of one of Tanglewood Farm’s horses for that of a mountain bike at Blankets Creek Trail System.
It is made up of seven individual trails, with three suitable for those taking their first slightly shaking turns off road.
The remaining four are made up of a combination of intermediate, advanced, and a 250-metre expert track.
In addition to testing your biking skills, the trails offer some stunning viewpoints over the Etowah River. To get there, you’ll need to head south for an easy 15 km bike (or car) ride.