15 Georgia State Parks for Autumn Color

Rich reds, vibrant oranges and golden yellows make autumn color in Georgia beautiful. This fall, be sure to visit Georgia’s top 15 state parks for leaf watching. For quieter getaways, visitors can explore parks further south, which can offer pretty autumn color as well.

Amicalola Falls State Park – Dawsonville
Just an hour north of Atlanta you’ll find the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall.  The falls can be enjoyed from both easy and difficult trails. A short, flat path leads to a boardwalk offering the most spectacular views. There’s also an easy-to-reach overlook at the top. For a tougher challenge, start from the bottom of the falls and hike up the steep staircase. Amicalola Falls gets very busy on pretty October weekends. Pumpkin farms and apple orchards are nearby.

Autumn Color at Amicalola Fall State Park

West Ridge Trail, Amicalola Falls | Photo courtesy of Georgia State Parks

Black Rock Mountain State Park – Clayton
At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. Roadside overlooks and the summit Visitor Center offer sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail is a good choice for a short, moderate hike. For an all-day challenge, take the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail. If driving Hwy. 441 north to the park, stop by Tallulah Gorge State Park and quirky Goats on the Roof.

Cloudland Canyon State Park – Near Chattanooga
One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails. A favorite hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls. (Remember, you have to hike back up, but it’s worth it.) The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon. “Glamping” yurts are located off this trail.

Don Carter State Park – Lake Lanier
Georgia’s newest state park opened in 2013 on Lake Lanier, protecting a beautiful hardwood forest and many miles of shoreline. If you have a boat, this would be a great park to enjoy fall color from the water. A short, paved (and quite hilly) trail is open to bikes and foot traffic. Another trail is open to hikers only.

Autumn Color at Black Rock Mountain State Park

Black Rock Mountain | Photo courtesy of Georgia State Parks

F. D. Roosevelt State Park – Pine Mountain
Many people are surprised to find hardwood forests and rolling mountains south of Atlanta. The 6.7-mile Wolf Den Loop is a favorite section of the longer Pine Mountain Trail. For a touch of history, drive to Dowdell’s Knob to see a life-size bronze sculpture of President F.D. Roosevelt and great views of the forested valley. Ga. Hwy. 190 is a pretty driving route.

Fort Mountain State Park – Chatsworth
This park is best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, plus a variety of trails. For the easiest walk, take the 1.2-mile loop around the park’s pretty, green lake. For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail.  Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore. Hwy. 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks worth stopping for.

Hard Labor Creek State Park – Rutledge
Kayak tours of this park’s lake let you enjoy autumn color from a different perspective. Sign up for a ranger-led paddle or rent a canoe to explore on your own. Mountain bikers can explore 10 miles of trails ranging from beginner to experienced. This park is easily reached from I-20 exit 105.

Autumn Color at Sweetwater Creek State Park

Sweetwater Creek | Photo courtesy of Georgia State Parks

James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park – Summerville
This park near Rome is a good choice for families with young children. An easy walk circles a fishing lake, and kids enjoy feeding fish from the boardwalk. Older children will like the Marble Mine Trail which leads to a small waterfall with a pretty blue-green tint. Serious hikers can explore the nearby 330-mile Pinhoti Trail.

Moccasin Creek State Park – Lake Burton
Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a gorgeous deep-green lake.  Guests can choose from the 2-mile Hemlock Falls Trail or 1-mile Non-Game Trail with a wildlife observation tower. Hwy. 197 is a particularly pretty road, passing Mark of the Potter and other popular attractions.

Red Top Mountain State Park – Lake Allatoona
Just 40 minutes north of Atlanta you’ll find a variety of trails with nice fall color. The easy, flat 4-mile Iron Hill Loop is open to bikes and foot traffic, offering great views of the lake and forest. Another good choice for lake views is the 5.5-mile Homestead Trail. Families with young children will like the paved walking path behind the park office. Be sure to explore the log cabin and blacksmith shed.

Smithgall Woods State Park – Helen
Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, this is the perfect spot for fly fishing while enjoying fall color. Day visitors can picnic near the creek, and overnight guests can hike a private trail to Dukes Creek Falls. A 1.6-mile loop climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mt. Yonah once most leaves are off the trees. This park is near many wineries and Helen’s Oktoberfest.

Sweetwater Creek State Park – Lithia Springs
Just west of Atlanta you’ll find 9 miles of hiking trails, a beautiful creek and small lake. For an easy walk, take the popular 1-mile Red Trail which follows the creek to the ruins of an old mill. For more of a workout, continue past the mill to the Blue Trail, where you’ll climb steep bluffs for outstanding creek views. Sign up for a guided hike to learn more about this park’s Civil War history. A new yurt village opens September 2015.

Autumn Color at Tallulah Gorge State Park

Tallulah Gorge | Photo courtesy of Georgia State Parks

Tallulah Gorge State Park – Near Clayton
Tallulah is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast, and you can choose from easy or difficult trails. Hike along the rim to several overlooks with waterfall views, or get a permit from the park office to trek all the way to the bottom.  During November, you can watch expert kayakers as they enjoy the bi-annual “whitewater releases.” Be sure to see the park’s film because it includes heart-racing footage of kayakers and news clips from Wallenda’s famous tightrope walk across the gorge.

Unicoi State Park – Helen
Avoid Oktoberfest crowds in Helen by hiking a pretty 3-mile trail which leads from the park into town. You can enjoy lunch and window shopping before hiking back to the trailhead. Mountain bikers can zip past fall color on the park’s challenging 7.5-mile bike loop. If you’re up for a steep hike, take the 4.8-mile Smith Creek Trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. (To avoid having to hike back, leave a second car at the falls.)

Vogel State Park – Blairsville
The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake. For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.

Kim Hatcher

Kim Hatcher has handled media relations for Georgia’s State Parks and Historic Sites since 1993. She grew up in Smyrna, Ga., and earned her journalism degree from the University of Georgia. She and her husband enjoy camping, hiking, paddling and exploring the great outdoors. Kim works with reporters and travel writers, manages the park system’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and serves as a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Paddle and Jam on the Yellow River

Yellow River Jam 2015

The stage is set for a new music festival on Oct. 3, 2015. Yellow River Jam fills the senses with a unique combination of outdoor adventuring on the Yellow River, live musical performances, football fans and local treats.

Georgia Conservancy kicks off the festivities with a 7-mile paddle down a mellow stretch of the Yellow River. Guides and locals point out wildlife and historic sites along this slow, sandy-bottom section of the river that makes a laid-back trip for families and new paddlers. Pack a picnic to enjoy at one of the scenic stops on the way. Music fills the air as paddlers approach Porterdale’s Yellow River Park. The park is a picturesque place to enjoy the live bands, local foods and brews.

Paddling the Yellow River in Porterdale, Georgia

Paddling the Yellow River in Porterdale, Georgia

Floating to Yellow River Jam in a canoe or kayak isn’t the only way to get there. Paddle, bike, or drive to Yellow River Park and be greeted with the sounds of music from the riverside stage. Bring your blankets and jam the day away with a variety of local bands including Sweet Harmony, Tedo Stone, and others.

Bring the whole family and enjoy the friendly atmosphere of historic Porterdale. Don’t worry about missing the Georgia-Alabama game! Gather with fans at the Company Store Deli and watch on the big screen, while the kids take on a round of disc golf in the park. The festival also includes a diverse selection of craft beers, as well as an assortment of restaurants and vendors to serve up delicious local fare for hungry paddlers and music lovers.

Register with Georgia Conservancy to participate in the Yellow River Paddle portion of the festival: http://georgiaconservancy.xorbia.com/yellowriver.

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.

Warm Up with Pressure Cooker Chili

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, pots and pans, and small appliances, I’m pretty much like a kid on her birthday. I get all excited at the prospect of playing with a bright, shiny, new toy! Unfortunately, the excitement is often short-lived once my new toy is unwrapped. My garage is a testament to all of the kitchen “toys” I just had to have until I realized that either (A) I could cut faster than the SuperChopperDicerMincer gadget, (B) that shiny doesn’t necessarily mean quality, or (C) it failed to deliver what it promised. So, imagine my sheer delight at my newest kitchen toy: an electric pressure cooker.

White Oak Pastures ground beef

White Oak Pastures ground beef

Why am I so excited? Because I can come home from a long day at work, take my White Oak Pastures ground beef and dried beans and turn them into a healthy and delicious pot of chili, top to bottom, in under an hour.

More importantly, I can cook everything in the same pot! I brown my ground beef in the pressure cooker, add dried beans, diced tomatoes, herbs and spices, and then just set the timer on the pressure cooker. What’s even better is knowing that once it has finished cooking it will automatically switch over to its warming setting so that dinner is hot and ready whenever I’m ready for it.

Try my ChuckWagon Chili recipe. It’s always delicious, whether you use a pressure cooker or not.

ChuckWagon Chili by Chef Jennifer Hill Booker

ChuckWagon Chili by Chef Jennifer Hill Booker

Recipe by Chef Jennifer Hill Booker
Yields 6 servings

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
3 lbs. ground chuck
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano (crumbled)
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
1-14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
1-14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
19 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 green bell peppers, diced

1. In a large stockpot, heat the oil on medium heat.
2. Add the onions and bell peppers, stirring occasionally, until they are softened. Add the garlic and carrots, and cook for an additional minute.
3. Add the ground chuck and cook it over moderate heat until browned.
4. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, and red pepper flakes, and cook an additional minute.
5. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans, broth and the vinegar; bring the mixture to a rolling boil.
6. Reduce the chili to a simmer, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes stirring occasionally.
7. Adjust to taste with salt and pepper.

jennifer-hill-booker-1436890751-thumb-230-230-438-151-820-444-90Jennifer is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and the author of “Your Resident Gourmet,” full of innovative recipes, cooking trends and fun kitchen gadgets. Click here for more content from Jennifer.

3 Reasons to Visit Georgia’s Farms in October

Conestoga wagons at The Rock Ranch

Conestoga wagons at The Rock Ranch

Want to get out of the city for a day or a weekend? Georgia’s farms provide the perfect excuse to have an in-state staycation this autumn.

The weather is cooler and so are the overnight accommodations. Book a late autumn stay at White Oak Pastures in Bluffton and enjoy a country retreat surrounded by sheep, chickens, cows and geese. Their cabin and guesthouse retreats give you the perfect base to explore Georgia Grown Trail 37, the state’s premier agritourism path that includes farms, dairies, vineyards, wineries and farm tours.

Everyone loves picking apples. Even if you say you don’t, you probably are a fan of their end products like cider, pies and caramel apples. The Apple Festival in Ellijay is the perfect excuse to head up to the hills and indulge in apple picking, apple tasting, cider swilling and pie eating. Click here to find apple picking destination recommendations from Smart Travel Explorer Sue Rodman.

They have more than just food and animals. In addition to being a working farmThe Rock Ranch in The Rock is also a family-friendly attraction featuring zip lines, a rock climbing wall, petting zoo, carousel and much more. Plus, each autumn weekend they host themed festival-like events, including Lumberjack Day and the Hot Air Balloon Rally. Add to your experience by spending the night in one of The Rock Ranch’s Farm Stays or camping in a Conestoga Wagon.

Crane Creek Vineyard

Crane Creek Vineyard. Photo courtesy of georgiawine.com.

Need another excuse to visit a Georgia farm? It’s harvest time at local wineries! Enjoy the sweet smell of the grape harvest season while tasting your way from winery to winery this autumn.

eileen-1437426635-thumb-230-230-10-58-1000-783-90Eileen 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.

Your State Parks Day and Ice Cream Social at Panola Mountain

Your State Parks Day at Panola Mountain State ParkJoin over three-hundred volunteers and help improve local greenspaces during one of the largest volunteer events in Metro Atlanta. To celebrate Your State Parks Day and National Public Lands Day several impactful volunteer events have been scheduled including planting native wildflowers, cleaning up riverbanks and removing harmful invasive plants from sensitive habitat.

Volunteers can help in two beautiful locations. At Panola Mountain State Park volunteers will plant native wildflowers and help restore native habitat. Afterwards, they will be treated to a picnic lunch and commemorative tee-shirt courtesy of the Friends of Georgia State Parks. They can also enjoy yard games and ice cream. Becky Kelley, Director of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites said, “Volunteers have enormous impact on the health and well-being of parks and bring these unique places into the hearts of the community.” At Wade-Walker Park a massive cleanup will be followed by a family fun day. Both locations will work on volunteer projects from 9 AM to noon and celebrate from noon to 2 PM.

This event was created through a new coalition of nonprofits including the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Park Pride and the YMCA of Metro Atlanta. However, the seeds for this volunteer bonanza were planted when Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced a public-private partnership aimed at recruiting one million volunteers for public lands. “Magnificent landscapes and our strong volunteer ethic are part of what make America so special and unique,” Secretary Jewell said.

Group and individual RSVPs are still being accepted and everyone is encouraged to give back during this national day of service! Register for Panola Mountain State Park here or Wade-Walker Park here.

Follow the event live on Facebook and Twitter with hashtags #Yvolunteer and #MoveMountains!

If you can’t make it to Panola Mountain State Park or Wade-Walker Park, you’re sure to find a Your State Parks Day event near you!

Kimberly EstepWhen not putting her savvy communication skills to use at the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Kimberly Estep can most often be found wandering over hiking trails with her two dogs.  Most of all, Kimberly loves sharing her knowledge of the hidden gems of Georgia with anyone who will listen.