Monadnock Madness: Go Mad for Metro Atlanta’s Geological Gems

Explore the wonders of monadnocks during special events in March.

Explore the wonders of monadnocks during special events in March.

Monad-what? A monadnock is a special type of mountain formed when hard blobs of lava are compressed under the Earth’s crust. Talk about feeling the pressure! Now that the softer rock around the granite clumps has been eroded away, Georgians are treated to three amazing geological oddities right in their backyard – Stone Mountain, Panola Mountain and Arabia Mountain – and that’s something worth celebrating. In fact, it’s a marvel worth going downright mad over. So, this March during Monadnock Madness, lace up your hiking boots and explore the awe-inspiring wonders of vernal pools, diamorpha – with red leaves and white blooms — and more, all atop Georgia’s geological gems.

Bring your camera and curiosity

Cherry blossoms at Stone Mountain Park on March 5

Cherry blossoms at Stone Mountain Park on March 5. Photo courtesy of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Facebook.

Throughout the month of March, Monadnock Madness brings a variety of activities to the public, including photography lessons, advanced archery classes, Reptile Day, and behind the scenes hikes all made possible through the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance in partnership with the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, Panola Mountain State Park, and Stone Mountain Memorial Association.

Catch the sunset from a monadnock

Sunset from Panola Mountain during the March 5 Monadnock Madness Triple Hike Challenge

Sunset from Panola Mountain during the March 5 Monadnock Madness Triple Hike Challenge. Photo courtesy of Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, Facebook.

The highlight of the month is the Monadnock Madness Triple Hike Challenge, which brings adventurers together to summit all three of Metro Atlanta’s monadnocks in one unforgettable day. All hikers earn a unique souvenir they can wear as a badge of honor. See photos from the March 5 event on Facebook. Upcoming Triple Hikes will take place on March 19, 20 and 31. RSVPs are required and this event always sell out.

For more details on these exciting events and to purchase tickets for the Triple Hike and/or Landscape, Micro and Wildlife Photography 101 Class, visit MonadnockMadness.com.

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.

Leaf Watch Website Tracks Best Fall Color in Georgia

Leaf Watch 2015

Leaf Watching at F.D. Roosevelt State Park

F.D. Roosevelt State Park

“When will the leaves change?” That’s the question park rangers hear most often once the calendar turns to October. Only Mother Nature knows, of course, but peak color in Georgia is usually toward the end of October or early November. The key for a vibrant autumn is warm sunny days coupled with cool – not freezing – nights.

To help leaf peepers find the best scenery, Georgia’s State Parks offer an online “Leaf Watch” travel planner, found at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/leafwatch. Beginning in October, regular updates will keep travelers posted on how fall color is progressing across Georgia’s Blue Ridge. The website is filled with top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events, and safe hiking tips. Shutterbugs are encouraged to post their favorite shots to the Georgia State Parks Facebook page and Instagram.

Georgia’s top 15 state parks for leaf watching include Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Don Carter, F.D. Roosevelt, Fort Mountain, Hard Labor Creek, Moccasin Creek, James H. (Sloppy) Floyd, Red Top Mountain, Smithgall Woods, Sweetwater Creek, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi and Vogel. For quieter getaways, visitors may want to explore parks further south, which can offer pretty autumn color as well.

Georgia’s State Parks offer a variety of accommodations where leaf peepers can stay right in the heart of autumn scenery. Park guests can choose from fully equipped cabins, modern campsites and even yurts – a “glamping” trend that is like a tent-cabin. Georgia State Parks’ most sought-after accommodations are often reserved 13 months in advance, and many campgrounds fill up on weekends. Guests are encouraged to make plans as early as possible or visit during weekdays. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-864-7275 or at GeorgiaStateParks.org/reservations.

Leaf Watching at Red Top Mountain State Park

Red Top Mountain State Park

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.

Top Five Waterfalls Near Blue Ridge

Get to know the best of Blue Ridge, 90 minutes north of Atlanta, with this series of posts featuring top five picks for hiking, waterfall watching and family fun.

Chase waterfalls with the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce’s recommendations for easy access to some of nature’s finest accomplishments.

1. Fall Branch Falls – The upper portion of Fall Branch Falls is a series of cascades that lead to a single major drop of some 30 feet, with the water plunging into a deep pool at the base of the falls. These falls, along the Benton MacKaye Trail, west of Aska Road, are a shorter, although a bit harder walk than Long Creek Falls.

2. Long Creek Falls – The most popular of the waterfalls in Fannin County is Long Creek Falls, which can be seen by hiking down a short side trail from the combined Appalachian/Benton MacKaye Trail. These falls total about 50 feet in two distinct drops. A leisurely 30 minute hike to the falls is uphill on the way in, downhill on the way out.

Benton MacKaye Trail

Discover the beauty of Blue Ridge’s Long Creek Falls. (Photo Credit: Fannin County Chamber of Commerce)

3. Sea Creek Falls – Located in the Cooper Creek Scenic Area, Sea Creek Falls are an easy walk of less than .1 mile. The first, or upper falls are a series of steep cascades ending in a brief drop. The second falls are also a series of steep cascades. When the water flow is heavy either in late winter or spring, or after a summer rain, these are a remarkable sight.

4. Amicalola Falls – About 21 miles from Ellijay on Hwy 52 is a spectacular 729-foot falls, the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. Also, a strenuous 8.5-mile approach trail leads from the park to Springer Mountain, the start of the famous Appalachian Trail.

5. Helton Creek Falls – There are two falls on Helton Creek near Blairsville. A short trail descends to the first waterfall then climbs to the second larger waterfall. Beware – the rocks are slippery. From Blue Ridge, take Hwy 515 north to Blairsville. In Blairsville, take US 19/129 south about 11 miles. Turn left onto Helton Creek Road, the first road past the entrance to Vogel State Park. Go 2.2 miles; the road turns to gravel. There will be a small parking lot on the right in a curve, and the trail is marked.

Insider tip:
Visit the Self-guided Tours page on www.BlueRidgeMountains.com for complete descriptions and driving directions.

If you go:
From lake-view with a mountain vista and room for 20 to cabins hidden away and built only for two (hot tub included!) find links to cabin rental companies at www.BlueRidgeMountains.com.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Top Five Hikes in Blue Ridge

Get to know the best of Blue Ridge, 90 minutes north of Atlanta, with this series of posts featuring top five picks for hiking, waterfall watching and family fun.

A hiker’s paradise, Blue Ridge offers several major trail systems, including access to the Appalachian Trail which extends for more than 2,000 miles to Maine through many of the states on the Eastern Seaboard. Pursue these paths for outdoor explorations on one of the many trails in a system of over 300 miles, including short trails suitable for beginning hikers.

Aska Trails

Hike Blue Ridge’s Aska Trail System. (Photo Credit: Fannin County Chamber of Commerce)

1. Three Forks to Long Creek Falls – The hike to Long Creek Falls is a great way to experience the Appalachian Trail. This adventure includes a scenic 5.3-mile drive into the forest following Noontootla Creek to the Three Forks area where you will begin your two-mile round-trip hike following Long Creek to a beautiful cascading waterfall with two drops totaling 50 feet. Take a picnic to enjoy at the falls.

2. Swinging Bridge Trail – Another awesome excursion requires rambling the Benton MacKaye Trail south from Hwy 60 for three miles to be rewarded with sweeping views of the pristine Toccoa River flowing beneath a structure known simply as the “Swinging Bridge.” The longest suspension bridge east of the Mississippi, the passage was built by the USDA Forest Service and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club in the mid-1970s.

3. Hike to the Appalachian Trail terminus – One of the greatest outdoor adventures in the world, the Appalachian Trail, begins in Fannin County at the top of Springer Mountain.

4. Aska Trails – This is a popular 17-mile trail system near Blue Ridge, with hikes that intersect and loop ranging from one- to 5.5-miles.

5. Benton MacKaye Trail to Fall Branch Falls – A short distance away and part of the larger Benton MacKaye Trail, Fall Branch Falls is a double waterfall with mountain laurel and rhododendron growing along the trail and creek bank. The hike to the falls is about 30 minutes round-trip.

Insider tip:
Visit the Self-guided Tours page on www.BlueRidgeMountains.com for complete descriptions and driving directions.

If you go:
From lake-view with a mountain vista and room for 20 to cabins hidden away and built only for two (hot tub included!) find links to cabin rental companies at www.BlueRidgeMountains.com.

katieMom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.

Fantastic Fort Mountain

Fort Mountain ViewA scenic drive through Georgia’s Historic High Country leads us to a little slice of heaven on Fort Mountain. This state park, hidden in the hills of Chatsworth, is quickly becoming one of my favorite getaways. In addition to the incredible views from overlooks, Fort Mountain State Park boasts one of the most challenging Muddy Spokes mountain biking trails and the 8-mile Gahuti Trail connecting secluded backcountry campsites.CandyCook_ftMtnGahudiTrail

The hiking trails of Fort Mountain range from easy to strenuous. For really amazing views, take a stroll down the easy, paved Cool Springs Trail or hike to an overlook deck on a combination of the West Overlook-Stone Tower Trails. More experienced hikers will appreciate backpacking on the more difficult Gahuti Trail. Gahuti is a beautiful, yet strenuous hike often used by hikers preparing for the Appalachian Trail.

Mountain bikers of all ages and experience levels enjoy taking on 27 miles of thrill riding at the park. Multi-use Lake Loop Trail offers an easy warm-up shared with hikers, while the Gold Mine and Cool Springs Loops cater to more advanced riders looking for a fun roller coaster ride through the forest. Finally, one of the last Muddy Spokes trails a mountain biker completes, the East/West Loop offers a wild and rocky ride for the experts. CandyCook_FtMountainSwim

A Fort Mountain escape isn’t complete without a refreshing dip in the cool mountain lake, a round of mini golf, and perfecting s’mores as the moonlight shines through those magnificent Georgia pines. Pack up the tent and run away to Fort Mountain this weekend!

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.