Swainsboro’s Pine Tree Festival & Mill Pond Kayak Adventure

The parade at the Pine Tree Festival is quite a sight. Photo credit: Pine Tree Festival.

The parade at the Pine Tree Festival is quite a sight. Photo credit: Pine Tree Festival.

Swainsboro’s Pine Tree Festival & Southern Timber Expo continues its reign as Georgia’s longest running festival with outdoor adventures, live music and family-friendly events. My affinity for Georgia’s pines and the history of our connection with this natural resource brought me to Swainsboro for this classic Southern tradition.

Shrimp and grits at Berni's on West Main in Swainsboro. Photo by Candy Cook.

Shrimp and grits at Berni’s on West Main in Swainsboro. Photo by Candy Cook.

Mouthwatering meals at Berni’s on West Main go hand in hand with the The Rhythm & Pines Live Music Festival to kick off the weekend. Locally owned and centrally located, Berni’s serves up delicious Southern classics like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, steak and wild alligator tail in a welcoming atmosphere with excellent service. Stages with live entertainment are within walking distance around downtown Swainsboro.

FMX Motocross Stunts. Photo credit: Pine Tree Festival.

FMX Motocross Stunts. Photo credit: Pine Tree Festival.

Downtown streets are closed to traffic and offer easy access to the Grand Parade followed by thrilling freestyle motocross stunts performed by Team FMX and an exciting lumberjack challenge. Festival-goers enjoy a great classic car and truck show, splash zone, kids activities, and beauty pageants all weekend. Everyone is encouraged to participate in a 5k, tennis tournament, and bike ride in the days before the big event.

Kayaking in George L Smith State Park with Mill Pond Kayak. Photo by Candy Cook

Kayaking in George L Smith State Park with Mill Pond Kayak. Photo by Candy Cook

There’s no better place to stay and explore than George L Smith State Park. Campsites at the park include full-service hookups right on the edge of Mill Pond, or a primitive hike-in experience. Experience the true beauty of the cypress and tupelo stands on the water with a tour from Mill Pond Kayak. This extraordinary journey leads visitors along 10 miles of beautiful blackwater trails you don’t want to miss.

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

Ways to Save on Indoor Fun in Georgia

Georgia has had a pretty cool spring, but we all know the hot weather is coming. If it gets too warm to play outside, there are plenty of places around the state to beat the heat by heading indoors. However, admission fees can add up. Here are some strategies to save money on indoor fun.

Tellus Science Museum's Fossil Gallery in Cartersville

Discover how life on Earth began in the Tellus Science Museum’s Fossil Gallery in Cartersville.

Get a Bank of America Card: The Bank of America Museums on Us program is your free ticket to museums, science centers, botanical gardens and more. There are four participants in Georgia, and more than 150 nationwide. In Georgia, you can visit the Atlanta History Center, Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, and SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah. How does it work? Show your Bank of American credit or debit card at the entrance to any participating institution on the first weekend of every month for free admission for the cardholder.

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta

Visit the Website: Go to the attraction’s website and look for a tab on specials or online deals. If there isn’t a specific tab, look under the pricing information. Sky Zone is a trampoline park with locations throughout Georgia. A quick search on their website returned a buy 10 visits for the price of eight, as well as several buy one, get one free deals. Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Marietta has a Wild Wednesday special for adults 18 and up with half off activities and free arcade games.

Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin, Georgia.

Sign up for Free Programs: There are several industries that court kids during their summer break. Bowling lanes such as Stars and Strikes in Sandy Springs and Shamrock Bowling Center in Dublin offer two free games of bowling each day during the summer months for school-aged children. Parents can purchase a family pass for the adults that let them bowl with the kids, making it a family affair.

SueSue Rodman is Georgia’s official Smart Travel Explorer and the editor and publisher of the award-winning family travel blog Field Trips with Sue. Click here for more Smart Travel content from Sue.

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Discover May Flowers in North Georgia’s Fairyland

Rock City's Rhododendron Trail

Rock City’s Rhododendron Trail

Atop Lookout Mountain, high in North Georgia where the mountains touch Tennessee, a drive around town reveals street names like Cinderella Road, Red Riding Hood Trail, Pied Piper Street and Tinkerbell Lane. When you’re here, you’re in Fairyland.

Now known as Rock City Gardens, the town that is also an attraction celebrates its heritage and its flowers each year during the Southern Blooms Festival (May 14-15, 2016), an event celebrating Rock City’s founding gardener, Frieda Utermoehlen Carter. It was her vision that helped make Rock City into the attraction it is today.

In addition to seeing the flowers, the festival offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy live harp music, take a historical walking tour though the gardens, savor delicious Southern cuisine, make your own Fairy Garden, get a makeover from a Southern belle and see seven states.

Fireworks Gomphrena

Before you go, be sure to check out this 360-degree tour.

Can’t make it on May 14-15? On May 21, Rock City celebrates its 84th Founder’s Day complete with 84-cent German chocolate fudge.

Fun fact: Lookout Mountain Fairyland Club is the birthplace of miniature golf in the United States. The first course was called Tom Thumb Golf.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen Falkenberg-Hull is Georgia’s official Festival Explorer and the editor of Occupy My Family, the Atlanta area’s most comprehensive resource for family fun. Click here for more Festival content from Eileen.

5 Dreamy Wedding Destinations at Lake Oconee

Planning a wedding in Georgia, or envisioning your perfect wedding day? Check out these romantic options loaded with Southern beauty and charm on the shores of Lake Oconee.

The Sandy Creek Barn at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee offers rustic romance for Georgia weddings.

The Sandy Creek Barn at the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee offers rustic romance for Georgia weddings.

The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds Lake Oconee

If you would love a destination wedding but worry about the travel for guests, this venue is the perfect compromise. Your guests will swoon over this luxurious resort, complete with onsite spa, golf, tennis, boating and more. This venue has several settings for ceremonies and receptions, including a barn, lakeside lawn and ballroom.

The carriage at the entrance to the Carriage House at Harbor Club adds charm to the beautiful venue.

The carriage at the entrance to the Carriage House at Harbor Club adds charm to the beautiful venue.

Harbor Club, The Carriage House

With a rustic and romantic flare, the Carriage House is the perfect location for an outdoor ceremony. Add a tent to maximize space and offer a little safety net in case of rain. The renovated horse stables provide covered seating or a nice space for cocktail hour. No need for a photo booth, because your guests will want to take photos near the beautiful carriage located at the venue’s entrance!

Beautiful wedding ceremony sites abound on the Corry House's expansive grounds.

Beautiful wedding ceremony sites abound on the Corry House’s expansive grounds.

The Corry House

With six ceremony site options at the Corry House, you are bound to find a spot that suits your “I Do’s.” The famous house sits on 500 acres and can sleep 20, which is popular for many wedding parties. The air-conditioned barn is often used for receptions and can hold up to 200 guests for the perfect shabby chic wedding.

Wedding parties love the opportunity to stay at the Goodwin Manor B&B.

Wedding parties love the opportunity to stay at the Goodwin Manor B&B.

Goodwin Manor

This bed and breakfast is the perfect place for a Southern wedding! It can hold up to 300 guests, but is also a great option for a small, intimate ceremony. Many brides use the house, which sleeps up to 12 and is furnished with beautiful antiques, for family and the wedding party. It has three popular ceremony options — one indoor and two outdoor — and space for a reception tent.

Throw a perfectly romantic party for your wedding at the Washington Grass Inn.

Throw a perfectly romantic party for your wedding at the Washington Grass Inn.

The Washington Grass Inn

This bed and breakfast will make all your whimsical wedding dreams come true! Hold your ceremony in the Circle of Trees for a romantic forest setting, and then throw the perfect party in the Cottonboll room that seats up to 225 guests. One of the most popular aspects of this venue are the bathrooms! Your guests will be thrilled to find the most adorably rustic bathrooms located just a few feet from the reception area. The parking onsite is particularly impressive, too.

Visit visitlakeoconee.com for more details on Lake Oconee wedding venues and places to stay for your out-of-town guests.

hannah-webHannah Ian is a contributing writer for Visit Lake Oconee from Athens, Georgia. She enjoys beauty and lifestyle blogging alongside the perfect cup of coffee. 

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.