Four Georgia Trails to Explore this Winter/Spring

By Candy Cook

Bear Creek Trail

Bear Creek Trail

Sometimes, the season can make a destination amazing! These four places are extra special when spring is just on the horizon.

Sope Creek CRNRA

Metro Atlanta’s Sope Creek trail system offers easy to intermediate trails for hiking and mountain biking visitors. One of the many trail networks of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the Sope Creek trails feature tranquil moments alongside Sibley Pond, a gravel loop for mountain bike beginners, and the historic ruins of a paper mill. The old paper mill ruins are the reason I recommend hiking in winter and spring. Visiting while winter has the vegetation in check allows for better views and exploration of these impressive ruins.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Ocmulgee National Monument

Now is the perfect time to visit the site of the largest archaeological dig in US history. “All things are connected,” at this memorial to the relationship between people and nature. Macon’s mild winter keeps bugs at bay for visitors traversing fields, exploring wetlands and enjoying a sacred view from atop the Great Temple Mound. Enhance your visit by watching the short educational film before setting off on your adventure.

Bear Creek Trail to Gennett Poplar

Hike or mountain bike to one of the largest poplar trees in Georgia. The giant, old-growth Gennett Poplar is certainly a Georgia gem that shouldn’t be missed. The Bear Creek Loop follows the creek closely, for a time, making several fun crossings for mountain bikers. This trail system, in North Georgia’s mountains, includes a junction with the Pinhoti Trail and offers several options for longer outings.

Water Trails of the Okefenokee Swamp

Get a head start on summer by joining the Park Paddler Outdoor Activity Club at Stephen C Foster State Park! Explore 15 miles of mysterious Okefenokee waterways and the Trembling Earth Nature Trail before the summer heat sets in. I’ll warn you that gliding a canoe or kayak through the legendary blackwater will only make you thirsty for more.

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.

10 Finger Licking Good Georgia Barbecue Festivals

By Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Station

Photo courtesy of Atlantic Station

The temperatures are rising and so is the smoke! This year festival gates will open across Georgia for annual these barbecue infused festivals in 2015:

  1. Crowds will gather at Atlantic Station in Atlanta on February 28th for a day offering unlimited tastings of 60 beers and 40 bourbons while noshing on whole hogs of barbecue. Tickets for the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival are on sale now.
  2. In Tifton on March 6th and 7th, the Rhythm & Ribs BBQ Festival will take over Fulwood Park. Organizers promise a BBQ competition, children’s games, arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, and entertainment.
  3. Upson County is home to the Smoke on the Water BBQ Festival on April 3rd and 4th in Thomaston. Set on Bickley’s Lake, the event promises a weekend full of fun for your entire family.
  4. The Bikes, Blues, & BBQ Festival at Douglas Municipal – Gene Chambers Airport in Douglas is set for April 10th and 11th in 2015. The annual event will include a BBQ competition, popular blues bands, motorcycle show and poker run, car show, aircraft displays, arts and crafts vendors, and more.
  5. May 1st and 2nd the Barnesville Battle of the Bones Festival takes over the streets of downtown Barnesville with an event is sanctioned by the Florida BBQ Association that is also an automatic qualifier for the Jack Daniels Invitational a.k.a. The Super Bowl of BBQ World Championships.
  6. Atlanta Bar-B-Que Festival is set for August 14th and 15th at the Atlantic Station special events area in Atlanta. The type of festival you better get to early before all the food runs out, the event will feature many of the city’s top barbecue restaurants as well as a “bourbon experience.”
  7. Each year, crowds gather in downtown Kennesaw each year for their Pigs & Peaches BBQ Festival. The event features a barbecue competition, tastings, free children’s activities, live concerts alongside arts, crafts and general merchandise vendors.
  8. Head up to the mountains for the annual Blue Ridge Blues and BBQ Festival, scheduled for early autumn in downtown Blue Ridge. This event is the perfect excuse to get away from home and see the fall foliage.
  9. One of my favorite events, The Great Miller Lite Chili and BBQ Cook-Off happens the first weekend in October each year at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers. Benefitting Camp Twin Lakes, the festival is a music and food extravaganza celebrating quirky team competitions.
  10. Professional and amateur BBQ teams will be cooking to compete for some big prize money and bragging rights at the Cornelia Apple Blossom BBQ Festival happening April 17 -18, 2015.

EileenEileen 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.

Three Places to Celebrate Chinese New Year in Atlanta

By Kate Parham Kordsmeier

Photo courtesy of Makan

Photo courtesy of Makan

This Thursday (February 19, 2015) marks the turn of the Chinese calendar, or as we here in the States know it: a day filled with dumplings, noodles and dancing dragons. It’s Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year), and if you’re looking for a fun way to commemorate the occasion, be sure to check out these three Atlanta spots for a celebration to remember:

  • Makan: This Decatur gem, a Chinese-Korean hotspot beloved for their pork belly buns, will not only host an eight-course feast on Wednesday, New Year’s Eve, (think housemade noodles symbolizing long life, dumplings representing wealth and seafood galore), but they’re also offering a dumpling and wonton cooking class on Thursday, followed by a family-style dinner complete with a whole duck and whole fish to share. Get your tickets ($50/person) here.
  • Mandarin Oriental Atlanta: Head to this famed Buckhead hotel on Thursday to usher in the year of the goat—expect festive décor, authentic Chinese specialties (don’t miss the whole roasted Peking duck and the barbecue pork), live dance and drum performances and a huge giveaway (a trip for two to China with two business class tickets on Cathay Pacific to Shanghai and three nights at Mandarin Oriental Pudong, Shanghai). Tickets are $65 each and available when you call (404) 995 7500 or email
  • Tin Drum: With a dozen locations throughout Atlanta, this local chain is paying homage to China’s traditional festival with two limited-time dishes: crispy orange chicken spiked with ginger and spicy Mongolian steak with crispy onion strings. Every Friday during the celebration, diners can get these dishes along with a fountain drink for just $6.

KateKate is Georgia’s official Culinary Explorer and a freelance food and travel writer for more than 100 publications. Click here to read more culinary content from Kate

Top 3 Things to do in Madison, Georgia

By Susan Rodman

Photo courtesy of Madison, Georgia CVB

Photo courtesy of Madison, Georgia CVB

Madison, Georgia always feels like a genteel southern lady to me. The tree-lined streets shading local shops and restaurants invite you to wander. The active town square is perfect for a picnic, maybe a festival or just somewhere to meet the locals. These three activities are well-worth the hour drive from Atlanta, and if you’d like to stay the night, Explore Georgia has some hotel discounts in Madison too.

Time Travel: The stately antebellum mansions, spared by General William Tecumseh Sherman during the Civil War, give us a glimpse of what life was really like for the aristocratic southern planter.  There are walking tours where you can view the homes from the sidewalk, or visit in May for the annual Tour of Homes & Gardens. Explore Georgia has a special group rate for the 2015 event.

Ride Into the Sunset: Southern Cross Guest Ranch is the weekend house you’ve always dreamed about. Numerous activities are available on this country lane, but it’s the horseback riding that takes center stage. All riding levels are welcome, and experienced riders can choose to go off on their own after a brief introduction to the trails. Even better, the trail horses are saddled only when being ridden and rotated among the herd, so there is plenty of time for the horses to just be horses.

Go Hollywood: Ricky D’s, located in the historic town of Madison, is a retro cinema, diner, wine bar and museum all rolled into one. Grab a hot dog and frozen custard from the pick up window, or sip a glass of merlot with Elvis at Backstage, the wine bar. The retro cinema shows indie films and you are welcome to enjoy your meal as you watch.

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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Top FREE Things to Do in Alpharetta

1With options such as exploring the city’s parks and trails to browsing the downtown shops, you don’t have to break the budget to have an awesome time in Alpharetta, Georgia!

  1. Pack a picnic and walk the Big Creek Greenway. If you are looking for an outdoor adventure, look no further than Alpharetta’s 12 foot wide paved path for biking, walking or roller blading. There are five access points to the trail and after you have conquered the Greenway, Alpharetta has 12 other trails to explore.2
  2. Attend one of Alpharetta’s countless free events. Alpharetta may be known for its new foodie game but the events in the city are what give it the hometown feel that visitors keep coming back for. The Awesome Alpharetta calendar of events stays full of festivals, races and other happenings throughout the year. Almost every event has free admission and entertainment. 
  3. Visit the Walk of Memories. The only one of its kind in Georgia, this memorial pays tribute to U.S. veterans, family and friends through a walkway of nearly 8,000 bricks inscribed with the names of Georgians who have served our country. Monuments along the walkway spotlight several conflicts, including WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
  4. Arboretums and parks. Alpharetta’s three arboretums at Cogburn Road Park, Webb Bridge Park and Wills Park are living museums of trees that can be used for education, research and enjoyment. 3
  5. Browse the downtown Alpharetta shops. Great for window shopping or purchasing gifts, downtown Alpharetta offers a variety of funky retailers, antique stores and art galleries that you’ll only find in Alpharetta. If you are an art lover, you will want to visit the area the last full weekend of every month from May-September for Art in the Park. Local artists set up shop along the street and create custom art pieces for browsers and shoppers to enjoy.
  6. Play Disc Golf at Wills Park. Grab friends and participate in an 18-hole course that is set up all throughout the park. The park also features baseball fields, picnic pavilions, walking trails and Wacky World playground.4
  7. Take a history walk. Alpharetta’s extensive history can be discovered by picking up a complimentary history walk brochure at the Alpharetta Welcome Center. The self-guided tour gives you details on 17 historical markers that are located throughout the downtown Alpharetta area.
  8. Geocaching in Alpharetta will help you find treasures in and around our city. Visit and search Alpharetta zip codes (30004, 30005, 30009, 30002) to find a complete list of all the caches around town. Plug in the coordinates into your GPS device and start hunting!


CaitlynFlorida native turned Georgian, Caitlyn Blizzard is the Director of Communications at the Alpharetta Convention and Visitors Bureau and loves advocating all things fun and unique in Awesome Alpharetta. She enjoys exploring metro Atlanta attractions and restaurants and spending time outside with her miniature schnauzer, Winstyn.