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.

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.

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.

Cumberland Island National Seashore Trails Project

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore | Photo courtesy of Andre Turner, Georgia Conservancy

Cumberland Island is one of Georgia’s most iconic precious places and its protection as a National Seashore in 1972 is a shining achievement of the Georgia Conservancy, which was then a five-year old conservation organization. As historic and current advocates for Cumberland Island, we are excited to share that REI, is supporting the stewardship of Cumberland Island National Seashore by allowing YOU the chance to vote on the funding of a Georgia Conservancy-led backcountry trail restoration project.

Here’s the catch, each Every Trail Connects dollar is allocated though a public voting contest! REI will give away $500,000 total, $5 per vote, up to $75,000 per trail. One vote per person per day per device, no purchase necessary, no email required.

By voting every day for Cumberland Island on all of your connected devices, you are telling REI and the world that our state’s only National Seashore is worthy of a world-class trail system.

Vote today and every day at www.rei.com/trails!

Every Trail Connects is a funding campaign hosted by REI in support of 10 iconic trail systems across the county. We’re honored that the Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Project was the only southeast trail project selected by our friends at REI.

The Georgia Conservancy and REI chose the Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Project due to its critical ecological importance as both designated wilderness and a biosphere to a plethora of species which are also in dire need of attention. Many visitors have found it difficult to navigate the backcountry trails and report getting lost, thus necessitating a large scale restoration projects to improve access for the general public.

Through the Cumberland Island Trail Restoration Project 100% of Cumberland Island National Seashore’s trail system will be open, clear and easily navigable by October 2016. This will be done by improving trail access and creating maps, signage and kiosks for Georgia’s pristine barrier island.

Cumberland Island

Cumberland Island | Photo courtesy of Phuc Dao, Georgia Conservancy

Over the last 8 years, the Georgia Conservancy has worked with the NPS to host multiple service weekends, and more recently, the Cumberland Island Alternative Spring Break program.

In 2014, Georgia Conservancy led more than 250 volunteers on the island for its Alternative Spring Break Program. The Georgia Conservancy also hosts service trips to Cumberland Island of approximately 75 people during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Participants clear debris from forest trails, pick up trash that washed onto the island’s beaches and help maintain the historic structures that are managed by the National Park Service.

The Georgia Conservancy has long been at the forefront of the effort to protect Cumberland Island and these projects are just a continuation of our historic support of the island. In the early 1970s, we lobbied in support of the creation of Cumberland Island National Seashore – the largest National Seashore in the United States, and in the early 1980s advocated for a majority of the island to be designated as Federal Wilderness.

Today marks a huge day in that long and storied history of Georgia’s only National Seashore. And today, you can help write the next chapter in its history. By becoming an active internet advocate for Cumberland’s stewardship, you can ensure that generations of adventure seekers (you included) can experience the harrowing and hallowed trails that crisscross this island.

How can you support Cumberland Island?

Bookmark the link to our Every Trail Connects HQ: www.gaconservancy.org/etc and on August 14 vote to support a restored backcountry trail system on

Cumberland Island! We’re counting on our supporters to vote as soon as the campaign begins. Vote daily. Vote on every device.

Please share “Every Trail Connects” with your friends, family and coworkers through social media, email or more! Our Every Trail Connects HQ has great photos, sample text and stories about people’s experiences on Cumberland Island.

We’re aiming to take advantage of all platforms available to encourage everyone to #VoteCumberland.

We are launching a storytelling project called “Cumberland Connects” and inviting the public to share a personal story with us about Cumberland Island. We know that “every trail connects” so how has Cumberland connected with to you? Please share with us your most vivid and inspiring Cumberland stories. To complement your story, we’re also asking if you’d share your favorite picture of Cumberland and also a picture of yourself on Cumberland. If we all vote and advocate for Cumberland Island, we can ensure restoration projects that will make one of Georgia’s most beautiful trail systems accessible to all!

Brian Foster

Brian Foster is the Communications Director for the Georgia Conservancy, a citizen of Atlanta and a proud native of Rome, Georgia. (Bio photo courtesy of Sarah Dodge.)

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.