Thanksgiving and Black Friday Hikes

Sweetwater Creek State Park in the fall

Sweetwater Creek State Park in the fall. Photo by Candy Cook

Get outside over the Thanksgiving holidays to enjoy the fall weather and take in the scenery at Georgia’s parks and trails. Below are a few easy-to-get-to spots for Thanksgiving and day after Thanksgiving hikes.

Sweetwater Creek State Park

Nine miles of hiking trails wind through the woods near the rapids of Sweetwater Creek. The 2-mile out-and-back History Hike winds near the banks of Sweetwater Creek for a mile before reaching the impressive New Manchester Mill ruins. The hike is easy, with some gradual climbs and many beautiful views. Energetic trailblazers extend this hike by continuing along the white trail at the intersection near the ruins. The white trail adds several miles of more challenging, rocky terrain before turning away from the creek and leading hikers back to the visitor center.

Red Top Mountain State Park Sweet Gum Loop

Red Top Mountain offers 15 miles of hiking and biking trails with an additional paved, ADA-accessible trail. The scenic trails lead visitors through the woods over moderate terrain to view historic and natural sites. Sweet Gum Loop is perfect for families. This relatively easy 3.5-mile hike through the woods connects with the paved Lakeside Trail, featuring lake views for a short distance. Explore more of the lakeshore on the 5.5-mile Homestead Trail, or bring mountain bikes to ride nearly 4 miles on Iron Hill.

Island Ford rock outcrop

Rocks at Island Ford. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chattahoochee River NRA Island Ford Loop

The Island Ford Unit of Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area features a 3-mile loop beginning with a long walk near the banks of the river. The trail passes several interesting rock outcrops that make fun photo ops. Keep the hike easy by making the return trip along this riverside stretch of trail, or extend the hike by gradually climbing into the forest along the loop.

High Falls State Park

High Falls State Park. Photo by Candy Cook

High Falls State Park

The Falls Trail begins with a short walk to a sweeping view of the falls tumbling over rock outcroppings in the Towaliga River. Following the loop for just over a mile takes hikers from the falls through the forest, where the trail climbs in elevation. Hikers looking for more also visit the history trail on the other side of the river. The history trail offers two more miles of hiking and includes the remains of an old hydroelectric power plant.

Little Ocmulgee State Park

Little Ocmulgee’s Oak Ridge Trail offers a fascinating look at the threatened longleaf pine ecosystem. The relatively flat sandhill terrain makes this an easy 2-mile hike with virtually no elevation change. A boardwalk about halfway into the loop leads visitors onto the blackwater streams for tranquil, mesmerizing walk among tupelo and bay trees.

Biking on the Silver Comet Trail

Biking on the Silver Comet Trail. Photo by Candy Cook

Paved trails in every Georgia region

From the Silver Comet to the Atlanta BeltLine, Georgia features paved multi-use trails in every region. These paths make up some of the longest, easiest stretches of trail in the state, catering to pedestrians and bikers. Many of these paved trails offer wooded areas, landscape views, and unique sights along the way.

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.

Exploring Georgia’s National Battlefields

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

Cannon at Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. Photo by Candy Cook.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park preserves the history of the Civil War battles for Chickamauga & Chattanooga, as well as 12,000 years of Indian presence in the area. The park features a self-guided driving tour of the battlefield, archeaological sites, stunning monuments, and a variety of trails. In fact, there are more than 50 miles of trails designated for hiking or horseback riding throughout the park.

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot

Exploring Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park by foot. Photo by Candy Cook.

Exploring the park by foot is a great way to experience the open fields and shaded paths that lead to creek crossings, historical tablets, memorials and scenic vistas. The National Park Service leads guided interpreted hikes and offers informational resources for visitors to combine trails into fun learning experiences.

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, not far from Atlanta, offers 18 miles of interpretive trails exploring various historical sites and natural features on nearly 3,000 acres. A 35-minute movie and expanded museum overview the military campaign, civilian life, and other aspects of the time. The trails at Kennesaw offer a variety of terrain from rolling hills to wooded climbs with boulders and rock outcroppings. Many trails intersect and are often combined by hikers customizing their experience. The mile-long Kennesaw Mountain Trail leads visitors to a distant view of Atlanta from the top of the mountain.

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain

The view from Little Kennesaw Mountain. Photo by Candy Cook.

The hike is extended by continuing on the Little Kennesaw Mountain Trail, which leads to a lower elevation peak and enchanting rock gardens with large boulders.

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.

4 Awesome Geocaching Challenges in Georgia

Geocaching is a fun adventure game played by using high-tech devices to hunt treasures called geocaches. These caches, hidden in some of the most interesting places around Georgia, contain a variety of items such as trading cards, trinkets, and traveling coins. The game is exciting fun for outdoor enthusiasts and families looking to liven up hikes and explore new destinations.

Georgia State Parks has hidden nearly 50 caches in spectacular parks all over the state. There are treasures to find while viewing waterfalls in the mountains, hiking canyons and forest, or hitting the beach. Geocachers are encouraged to earn souvenir geo-coins for finding 15, 30, and 40 state parks geocaches. Grab a Geo-Challenge Passport from participating parks such as Amicalola Falls, Cloudland Canyon, or Skidaway Island state parks.

Columbus RiverWalk

Columbus RiverWalk

Explore Columbus with the RiverWalk GeoTour, which includes over 30 geocaches to find between hiking, rafting, and ziplining around town. Six unique series lead visitors to Columbus’ historical sites, incredible views, and various attractions. Complete each series to collect trading cards and custom geo-coin souvenirs.

Columbus GeoTour Souvenirs

Collect trading cards and custom geo-coin souvenirs when you complete portions of the Columbus GeoTour.

Peachtree City’s GeoTour highlights historic landmarks and reveals hidden spots to enjoy nature along the 90 miles of paved cart paths. Each cache holds trinkets and trading cards featuring fun facts about the location. With just under 20 caches to find, the tour can be completed in a day or weekend trip. Stay at the Wyndham Peachtree Hotel and borrow a golf cart for the adventure.

Jackson County geocache

Find surprises at each destination on the Jackson County Geocaching Heritage Trail. Photo by Candy Cook.

The Jackson County Geocaching Heritage Trail celebrates history and countryside with 30 creative caches. The unique treasures on this tour add puzzles and games to the thrill of the hunt. Explore local attractions and landmarks collecting stamps for the official tour passport.

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.

5 Native American Sites Not to Miss in Georgia

Fort Mountain View

Fort Mountain View. Photo by Candy Cook

Fort Mountain

Visit the mysterious wall believed to have been built by Woodlands-era Indians between 500 BC and 500 AD. Fort Mountain, in Chatsworth, is named for the ancient rock wall that stretches 855 feet across the highest point of the mountain. The wall seems to indicate fortification against hostile groups or possible ceremonial rituals. Fort Mountain is one of several stops along Georgia’s Cheiftains Trail, a driving tour of several sites related to North Georgia’s Native American heritage.

Track Rock Gap

Track Rock Gap, in Chattahoochee National Forest, preserves a significant site of rock art created by Creek and Cherokee people. Visitors can view a small sampling of boulders featuring petroglyphs at the Track Rock Gap Archeological Site. It’s worth a visit, but make plans to extend your visit with other activities as the site is small. A trailhead for the 11-mile Arkaquah Trail is located just across the street. You can reach the Track Rock Gap site by taking US 129 to Blairsville, the US 76 east about 5 miles. Turn right on Trackrock Gap Road until you reach the small parking lot.

Ocmulgee National Monument. Photo by Candy Cook.

Ocmulgee National Monument. Photo by Candy Cook.

Ocmulgee National Monument

Located in Macon, this National Park Service monument exhibits artifacts from several Native American cultures, including the Paleo-Indians, who arrived during the ice age period; the Woodland culture, which began horticulture in Middle Georgia; and the Mississippians, who built mounds for their elite. The site includes an educational video, temple mound, and hiking trails that tour the grounds.

Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site 

These sites, managed by Georgia State Parks, both offer a look at the cultures and lives of the mound-building Native Americans. Etowah, located in Cartersville, exhibits artifacts in the visitor center and protects six earthen mounds complete with a village site. A nature trail that follows the Etowah River features a fish trap and highlights medicinal uses for native plants.

Kolomoki Mounds State Park

Located in Blakely, Kolomoki Mounds State Park protects the largest Woodland Indian site in the Southeast. The park features the oldest great temple mound, burial mounds, and ceremonial mounds. A unique museum is built around an excavated mound where visitors learn about the culture surrounding this historic site. The park also features scenic trails and camping, among other recreational activities.

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.

Hike these Mountains for Spectacular Fall Color Views

Sawnee Mountain in Cumming, Ga.

Sawnee Mountain in Cumming, Ga. Photo by Candy Cook

Sawnee Mountain, Cumming, Ga.

The relatively easy 3.5-mile Indian Seats Trail rises in elevation to offer a fantastic view from the historically sacred Cherokee Indian Seats. Sawnee Mountain Preserve also includes a playground-picnic area and issues rock climbing permits for adventure-seekers.

Springer Mountain, Ellijay, Ga.

A bronze plaque marks the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail at the summit of Springer Mountain. A network of trails makes Springer a popular choice for fall hiking. Backpackers include the view in seasonal section hikes of the Appalachian Trail, day hikers explore the area along an 8-mile approach trail beginning at Amicalola Falls State Park, and time-restricted visitors use a convenient one-mile path to reach the summit.

Pine Mountain in Cartersville

Pine Mountain in Cartersville. Photo by Candy Cook

Pine Mountain, Cartersville, Ga.

The Pine Mountain West Loop is conveniently located right off of I-75 at exit 288. The rugged 2-mile hike includes interesting rock formations along the way and a spectacular view overlooking Lake Allatoona. The East Loop is nearly twice the distance and allows mountain biking on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Brasstown Bald in Blairsville

Brasstown Bald in Blairsville. Photo by Candy Cook

Brasstown Bald, Hiawassee, Ga.

An observation tower at the highest point in Georgia offers a gorgeous view of the North Georgia Mountains. Visitors have the option of taking a shuttle from the parking lot or clambering up a steep half-mile trail to reach the tower. Either way, it’s a view that can’t be missed!

Little Kennesaw Mountain, Kennesaw, Ga.

The lesser elevation of the two Kennesaw Mountains, Little Kennesaw offers a more rugged experience along the network of trails winding around Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. Combine the Little Kennesaw Mountain Trail with the Pigeon Hill Trail for a fun, out-and-back hike totaling about 2.25 miles.

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.