GEORGIA is a natural and breathtakingly beautiful playground, with a coastline, mountains, waterfalls and a 430-mile river running through it. Here are the best parks to get out and play in the Peach State.
1. Tallulah Gorge — Clayton, GA
In Northeast Georgia, you’re deep in mountain country, with lots of waterfalls, steep hikes, and leafy trees to help you keep your cool in the sticky southern summers. This park is one of Seven Wonders of Georgia (two more are featured in this article), and you may recognize it from the classic movie Deliverance. It has 6 waterfalls — the largest, Hurricane Falls, can be heard long before you lay eyes on it. You can take a trail down to the suspension bridge over Hurricane Falls, but if you want to go further down to the Tallulah River Basin you need a permit. There is an RV and campground area near the park entrance if you want to set up and stay a day or two. Don’t miss eating in this area. Tallulah Gorge is in the farm-to-table capital of Georgia. Five chefs voted Best Chefs of America have restaurants near the park, including Fromage, Fortify and Chophouse.
2. Providence Canyon — Lumpkin, GA
This is Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, and is another Seven Wonders of the state. The 16 red clay canyons are the result of erosion caused by poor farming practices long before farmers understood cover crops and crop rotation. There are 10 miles of trails and just a few backcountry campsites. It’s quiet in these parts if you want to sleep directly under the stars, but watch what you say while on the canyon floor — voices carry.
3. Amicalola Falls — Dawsonville, GA
The third of the Seven Wonders of Georgia is the 729-foot Amicalola Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia. There is a mountain lodge on the mountain top, if you want to be a little fancy, and simpler camping and cottage options at the base. The park is particularly popular in the autumn when the leaves change, so book ahead if that’s when you’re going. The park is a particularly good place for bikers (of the Harley Davidson variety) thanks to the winding roads and beautiful scenery.
4. Cloudland Canyon — Rising Fawn, GA
Cloudland Canyon is known for its caves and its waterfalls. Hikers should try out the challenging 600-step double waterfall hike that is worth it for the view, and the coordinated night hikes on which the history of the canyon are taught. There are several cool camping options: quirky yurts, a group lodge for bigger parties, and dog-friendly cottages. The park hosts activities like Star Party where you can see the night sky with telescopes, fall hayrides, and the Sitton’s Gulch hike. Check the website for schedule.
Cave tours fill up fast so plan ahead and make your reservation in advance to get in on one. If you’re up for it, the most popular hang gliding academy in the U.S. is across the street from Cloudland Canyon.
5. Crooked River — St. Mary’s, GA
Crooked River is a coastal park near the Florida border — be on the lookout for regional wildlife like alligators, turtles, and even armadillos! The coastal moss-covered trees are like something out of Gone With The Wind. There’s a bait shop, nearby boat rentals, and a boat launch for fisherman. Southern Georgia is flat compared to the mountainous northern region and it makes the 4 miles of trails more doable for almost any fitness level. There’s also free mini golf. If you want to see wild horses, hop the nearby ferry to Cumberland Island.
6. Chattahoochee Bend — Newnan, GA
Just about an hour outside of Atlanta, you play in the river that runs through the almost the entire state of Georgia, the Chattahoochee River. Several parks give the public access to the river, and Chattahoochee Bend is one of the best. If you’re down to bring a bike there’s some great mountain biking trails. There’s also 12 miles of hiking, but most people come to rent a kayak or canoe and get on the water. You can even go fishing. It’s a large park with plenty of camping options: paddle-in campsites, group accommodations and RV’s. Most of the food options around are chain restaurants — you might want to pack a cooler.
7. Fort Mountain — Chatsworth, GA
Grab your binoculars. The draw at this park — one of the largest in the state — is the view, but you have to get to the peak of the ancient, 885-foot long rock wall for the best ones. It’s very popular with the seasoned hiking crowd. When you’re at the highest points you can see as far as the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can spot birds of prey flying over or a few deer jumping around below. There’s a sandy swimming beach to cool off, a waterfall, well maintained hiking trails, camping, dog-friendly rental cottages, and equestrian paths. After you’ve worked up an appetite stop by Edna’s on Hwy 411 for some Georgia classics like fried chicken and corn nuggets.