National Park Service Sites in Georgia Not to Miss

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore | Photo courtesy of Sarah Dodge, Georgia Conservancy

You may have experienced the unspoiled beauty of Georgia’s Cumberland Island National Seashore. You might also have hiked or paddled your way down the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. But did you know that Georgia plays host to several other fascinating sites managed by the National Park Service?

Here’s a quick rundown of lesser-known National Park Service locations in Georgia. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday in 2016, use this guide to start planning your own Georgia national parks vacation on ExploreGeorgia.org.

National Historic Sites

Andersonville. Copyright: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com.

Andersonville. Copyright: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com.

Andersonville National Historic Site near Americus – Tour the historic Civil War prison site and Andersonville National Cemetery, where veterans are still being buried. The on-site National Prisoner of War Museum pays tribute to prisoners of all American wars.

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains – Tour the Carter boyhood farm, the Plains High School Museum and Visitors Center, the Plains train depot and other points of interest in the 39th president’s hometown.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta – Tour King’s birth home, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church and the King Center, where Dr. King and Coretta Scott King were laid to rest.

National Heritage Areas

Arabia Mountain. Copyright: Stacy Funderburke

Explore the natural wonders of Arabia Mountain. Copyright: Stacy Funderburke

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area east of Atlanta – Explore granite “mountains” (actually monadnocks), wetlands and forests, a nearby monastery and numerous other historic structures and exhibits. Plan to spend at least a day learning about the cultures that have populated the area, hiking or biking trails, and discovering the natural and cultural secrets that make this region truly amazing.

Augusta Canal National Heritage Area in Augusta – What once played a role in both the Civil War and Augusta’s once-booming textile trade is now a recreational corridor with easy access for paddlers and a tow path that can be used for hiking, biking and fishing. Take a guided boat tour to learn more about the importance of the Augusta Canal in the area’s history.

National Trails

Springer Mountain

Springer Mountain

Appalachian National Scenic Trail has its southern terminus at Springer Mountain within the Chattahoochee National Forest. Even if you never leave the state of Georgia, the “AT” will lead past waterfalls, through deep, green forests and to the peaks of some of the state’s tallest mountains.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, starting at the New Echota State Historic Site in Calhoun, the Trail of Tears commemorates the forced removal of members of the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma beginning in 1838. Historic sites along the way include the homes of wealthy Cherokee leaders and the assembly points and gravesites that bear witness to the tragic mass relocation.

National Historic Monuments

Fort Frederica on St. Simons Island – Learn about the battle between Spain and Great Britain for contested lands between Florida and Georgia. Explore the museum, visitor’s center and archaeological site to learn more about this 18th century outpost.

Fort Pulaski. Photo copyright: Jason Tench. Source: Shutterstock.com

Fort Pulaski. Photo copyright: Jason Tench. Source: Shutterstock.com

Fort Pulaski National Historic Monument on Cockspur Island between Savannah and Tybee Island –  See the earthen forts that became obsolete during the Civil War, the moat that once protected the fort, the damage from Union bombardment, the Cockspur Island Lighthouse and interesting exhibits detailing the island’s history.

Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon – See huge burial mounds constructed by the Mississippian culture around 1000 A.D. Explore the exhibits, hike the trails and learn about a place that’s been occupied continuously for 17,000 years.

National Military Parks

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in Fort Oglethorpe – See markers and monuments that tell the story of the Battle of Chickamauga, and learn why the Confederate’s eventual loss here foretold the end of the Civil War.

At the top of Kennesaw Mountain

At the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in Marietta – Explore three battlefields with interpretive trails, a visitor center, preserved earthworks and a memorable view from the top of Kennesaw Mountain.

National Cultural Heritage Corridor

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The Gullah/Geechee culture, originating with West African slaves brought to coastal North and South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida, can be seen in unique communities that this cultural heritage corridor is meant to preserve. Keep your eyes open as you travel the Georgia Coast for remnants of this distinct and colorful culture.

laing-webJoe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, a nationwide RV rental company. He has been on the road working within the travel industry for over 20 years, camping across the United States, from coast-to-coast, and makes a point to stop at national landmarks along the way.

Bike from Athens to Macon on the Antebellum Trail

Biking in Georgia

Savor spectacular scenery while biking the Antebellum Trail in Georgia.

One of Georgia’s newest bicycle trails travels through some of Georgia’s most historic communities on the Antebellum Trail. Cyclists can ride along sun-dappled country roads, past grand antebellum homes and quaint downtowns at just the right pace to take in the rich history of the old South. The Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route winds through seven historic communities that escaped Sherman’s march of fire and destruction through Georgia.

From Athens to Macon, the communities of Watkinsville, Madison, Eatonton, Milledgeville and Gray make up a collection of Georgia’s most beautiful towns and impressive architecture.

Fuel up for a long ride at Mama's Boy in Athens. Photo courtesy Mama's Boy, Facebook.

Fuel up for a long ride at Mama’s Boy in Athens. Photo courtesy Mama’s Boy, Facebook.

When exploring the Antebellum Trail by bicycle, you will experience an abundance of unique history, much tied to the American Civil War as well as Georgia’s Native American heritage. For fuel, finger-lickin’ good Southern cuisine just like Grandma made can be found in many locations along the path.

The cities of Athens and Macon, the largest along the route, anchor the trail at the north and south ends. In Athens, home of the University of Georgia, you will find one of the most vibrant biking, music and culinary destinations in the state. Bike lanes, wide shoulders, bike riders and considerate motorists are in abundance in the city limits. A stop at Mama’s Boy, outfitted with bike racks that cater to cyclists, is a must do for breakfast, brunch or lunch. Sit and stay to savor options from the “Southern fun” menu, such as chocolate cake for breakfast or Georgia peach French toast for lunch.

Traveling south, the next community on your way is the “Artland of Georgia,” Watkinsville. This friendly town has a thriving artists’ community known for its small-town charm. Make time to stop at The Eagle Tavern Museum, a stagecoach stop and tavern built in 1801.

Bike through beautiful Madison, Ga., on the Antebellum Trail.

Bike through beautiful Madison, Ga., on the Antebellum Trail.

As you continue to ride south, catch a glimpse of the Clydesdales running along the rolling countryside to Madison. A picturesque community and host to Bike Ride Across Georgia’s Spring Tune Up (April 15-17, 2016), this Southern gem survived General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” and is the second largest National Register Historic District in Georgia.

Carrying on over the scenic countryside, through a section of the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll arrive at the beautiful town center of Eatonton, the hometown of authors Joel Chandler Harris and Alice Walker. As you pass the residential district, featuring more than 100 antebellum and Victorian era structures, keep your eyes open as you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Sylvia the ghost at Panola Hall.

See the South on the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia

See the South on the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia

Now you are ready for the most challenging terrain leading in and out of Milledgeville, but it will be worth the sweat. The First Lady of Georgia, Milledgeville, was the Capital of Georgia during the Civil War. The town’s stately antebellum architecture, Civil War history, vibrant town center, nightlife, college culture and restaurants are welcome sights for cyclists. Park your bike at the Welcome Center and rest your legs as you hop aboard a guided trolley tour through town.

As you roll further south, follow the path of the Union soldiers during the March to the Sea down the streets of historic Old Clinton. You can tour the one-room school house museum and a Methodist cemetery, where many notable Georgians are buried. Gray, established in 1908 as the county seat of Jones, has antique and collectible shops, as well as local eating spots and a hotel. Enjoy the peaceful, easy feeling of these two countryside communities.

Sample soul food favorites at H&H in Macon.

Sample soul food favorites at H&H in Macon. Photo courtesy H&H, Facebook.

The southernmost point of the Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route concludes at the Visitors Center in Macon. Nearly 22 miles from Gray, Macon is known for its soulful music history and also offers opportunities to explore Native American, African American and Civil War heritages. Refuel at H&H Soul Food, an Allman Brothers Band favorite. They serve up plates of delicious smothered fried chicken; after all, you earned it.

The 170-mile Antebellum Trail Bicycle Route can be covered all at once or divided into shorter segments. Follow the 50-mile, three-day itinerary for the northern section of the trail, or the 130-mile, four-day itinerary for the southern section. More information on planning a bicycling tour of Georgia’s Antebellum Trail is available at www.bikeantebellum.com, including turn-by-turn directions from Georgia Bicycle Adventures.

Or drive the vehicle; we won’t tell anyone.

bonnie-webBonnie Simmons is the social media voice, website whiz and project coordinator for the Milledgeville-Baldwin CVB. Bonnie fell in love with the communities along Georgia’s Antebellum Trail while she attended Georgia College in Milledgeville and worked at the downtown staple establishment, The Brick. Now married and chasing a toddler, she appreciates the area’s family-friendly adventures, from walking at the Oconee River Greenway and touring the Uncle Remus Museum to attending all the local farmers markets.

An Antebellum Christmas in Milledgeville

Ever wonder how Georgians celebrated the holidays before and during the Civil War? Milledgeville, Ga., brings that world to life with the Old Governor’s Mansion. Make a weekend of it with a stay at the Antebellum Inn and dinner at a restaurant in an old bank building.

The Christmas tree in the rotunda of the Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville

The Christmas tree in the rotunda of the Old Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville.

Southern Holiday Traditions Tour at the Old Governor’s Mansion. Antebellum Christmas transforms the mansion into a Christmas wonderland. Take a step back in time and see how the elite of Georgia celebrated this holiday. Tours are held on the hour, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. until Dec 23. Candlelight tours also take place December 17 at 6 and 7 p.m.

Three fun facts to get you excited about visiting:

  • The rotunda Christmas tree is decorated according to Charles Dickens’ short story “A Christmas Tree,” with 1,500 candles and 1,600 lights. Additionally, 2,800 crystal icicles and ornaments made from natural materials found in the yard or around the house deck the Tannenbaum.
  • Decorations throughout the home are made with large amounts of live greenery, fresh fruits and other materials that would have been available within the household or around the grounds. Fruits, including the newly introduced exotic pineapple, were used in the decorations show the wealth of the family.
  • The children’s room includes a gum drop tree and a traditional tree, but also a ribbon cob web. Usually on Christmas eve, the children and their parents would “web” the room with various colors of ribbon. On Christmas morning, the children would be assigned a color and follow the ribbon through the maze to find their presents left by Santa.
The Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville features period-style Christmas decorations

The Antebellum Inn in Milledgeville features period-style Christmas decorations.

Christmas at Antebellum Inn Bed & Breakfast. Christmas décor in the common area and elaborate outdoor decorations ring in the season. You’ll feel history come alive in the 1890 inn, featuring period-style rooms with Wi-Fi, luxurious linens and private baths. Breakfast includes farm-fresh eggs, bacon, sausage, jams and fruit. Don’t miss the famous raspberry French toast and homemade quiches, as well.

A romantic dinner at Aubri Lane's in Milledgeville

Reserve a table in the bank vault for a romantic dinner at Aubri Lane’s in Milledgeville.

Dine at Aubri Lane’s. Located in downtown Milledgeville, the family will enjoy a delicious contemporary Southern dinner in a truly unique setting. Aubri Lane’s sits inside what was once the 1884 Milledgeville Banking Company. It’s suitable for the entire family; don’t miss the crispy calamari, which was named by Explore Georgia as one of the 100 Plates Locals Love. If you happen to escape to Milledgeville for a date night, then be sure to make reservations for a private dinner inside the bank-vault-turned-wine-cellar.

LesliLesli is the Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Civil War Wednesday: Gilgal Church

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia

Confederate earthworks at the Gilgal Church site in Kennesaw, Georgia. Photo by Michael Shaffer.

Major General Patrick Cleburne

Major General Patrick Cleburne. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Witnessing the death of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk atop Pine Mountain on June 14, 1864, General Joseph E. Johnston ordered the removal of all troops from the exposed salient the following day. Establishing the Gilgal Church Line, a position the Confederates would hold for 48 hours, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s Division occupied the center of the line near the church. The troops worked quickly to tear away logs and other materials from the house of worship to use in fortifying their earthworks.

Attacking on June 15, the lead elements of the Federal XX Corps included Major General Daniel Butterfield’s Third Division: soldiers from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The assailants struggled to dislodge Cleburne’s stubborn defense. A colonel from Indiana joining the advance noted his men faced “…a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, coming from what proved to be the enemy’s great line of earthworks….”[1] Colonel Benjamin Harrison, a future U.S. president who led the 70th Indiana Infantry, numbered among the Northern soldiers engaged in the fighting.

Major General Daniel Butterfield

Major General Daniel Butterfield. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Realizing their inability to take Cleburne’s position, the Federals fell back. The following day, as fighting occurred near the church, Major General John Schofield moved to the right of Butterfield and managed to turn the Southern flank. He brought up his artillery and placed enfilading fire along the Confederate line. This made the position too hot to maintain and forced Johnston to retract his lines. Major General William Hardee’s Corps fell back to the Mud Creek Line for two days and then occupied the defenses along the Kennesaw Mountain Line. Of the fighting at Gilgal Church, one Federal soldier remembered, “I have visited the battle grounds of ‘Stone River’ and ‘Chicamauga’ [sic] neither of which exhibits near the ‘Scars of Battle’ as does the battle ground of ‘Golgotha.’[2] (Several period accounts contain references to Gilgal as Golgotha.)

Located on Kennesaw Due West Road in Kennesaw, the Gilgal Church site contains remains of original Confederate earthworks, with a rebuilt section of a defensive position. Entering and exiting the small parking section remains difficult, so use caution when visiting this Atlanta Campaign spot in Cobb County.

[1] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 38, pt.2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 384.

[2] Charles Harding Cox, “Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Letters of Charles Harding Cox,” Indiana Magazine of History 68, no. 3 (September 1972): 204, accessed November 30, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/viewFile/9663/13038.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Exploring Georgia’s National Battlefields

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park preserves the history of the Civil War battles for Chickamauga & Chattanooga, as well as 12,000 years of Indian presence in the area. The park features a self-guided driving tour of the battlefield, archeaological sites, stunning monuments, and a variety of trails. In fact, there are more than 50 miles of trails designated for hiking or horseback riding throughout the park.

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot. Photo by Candy Cook.

Exploring the park by foot is a great way to experience the open fields and shaded paths that lead to creek crossings, historical tablets, memorials and scenic vistas. The National Park Service leads guided interpreted hikes and offers informational resources for visitors to combine trails into fun learning experiences.

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, not far from Atlanta, offers 18 miles of interpretive trails exploring various historical sites and natural features on nearly 3,000 acres. A 35-minute movie and expanded museum overview the military campaign, civilian life, and other aspects of the time. The trails at Kennesaw offer a variety of terrain from rolling hills to wooded climbs with boulders and rock outcroppings. Many trails intersect and are often combined by hikers customizing their experience. The mile-long Kennesaw Mountain Trail leads visitors to a distant view of Atlanta from the top of the mountain.

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

The hike is extended by continuing on the Little Kennesaw Mountain Trail, which leads to a lower elevation peak and enchanting rock gardens with large boulders.

candycookCandy is Georgia’s official Outdoor Explorer and the author of the blog “Happy Trails Wild Tales.” Click here for more Outdoor content from Candy.