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.

Find Your Park at Georgia’s National Parks


Find Your Park at Florence Marina SP

Florence Marina State Park | Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Natural Resources

This year, the National Park Service celebrates its 99th birthday. Since its start in 1916, the Service has grown to include 403 parks across the 50 states. Georgia is home to 14 of those properties and many of them are celebrating the anniversary with Find Your Park events including:

Butterfly Bio Blitz (August 22) – From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., guests are invited to Ocmulgee National Monument help count as many butterflies as possible with their camera/smartphone. Participants will receive a free t-shirt, backpack, water bottle and much more. In addition to the hunt, children can paint a butterfly jewelry box or sun catcher to take home with them.

While you’re in town, be sure to visit The Allman Brothers Band Museum, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Hay House.

“Find Your Park” Centennial Bike Ride (August 28-30) – Grab your bike and get ready to ride… or not. It’s totally up to you and there are options for everyone during this family-friendly Find Your Park experience. Registration, route maps and the itinerary for the ride are available online at findyourparkride.org. Activities are also offered for non-cycling family and friends of participating cyclists who would like to visit the parks, camp overnight at Florence Marina State Park or Lake Blackshear Resort and ride the SAM Shortline train.

If you’re heading to the event through Columbus, look into their whitewater rafting experiences. If you’re driving through Albany, take your family to see visit the Flint RiverQuarium

Fort Pulaski Candlelantern Tours (December 18 & 29) – At six times each evening, Fort Pulaski National Monument will commemorate the 154th anniversary of the Confederate Nog Party of 1861 with the family-friendly candlelantern tours. The event includes hot cider, cookies, music, caroling and historic weapons firings.

Want to experience more Savannah history? Take a Savannah Haunted History Tour, visit the Savannah History Museum and stay in a historic hotel like the River Street Inn.

Stay tuned to FindYourPark.org and ExploreGeorgia.org for additional Find Your Park activities throughout the autumn and winter.

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.

Hiking Tallulah Gorge for Canyon Climbers Club

Canyon Climbers Club, set forth by Georgia State Parks, challenges hikers to conquer four scenic trails in a quest to earn a commemorative t-shirt. Tallulah Gorge State Park is a great starting point for beginning the quest. The Canyon Climbers hike at Tallulah follows along the North rim, before descending into the gorge on plunging staircases. Hikers begin the journey with a short walk from the Interpretive Center to a couple overlooks that offer amazing views of L’Eau d’Or Waterfall. This is the perfect opportunity to snap some before hike photos, because what comes next is the descent into the gorge.Canyon Climbers Club

The trail keeps hikers in a cool, damp shade for most of the hike. It’s made up entirely of stairs and platforms until visitors reach the slightly bouncy suspension bridge. The bridge spans the gorge and hikers have the options to either turn back, continue down 200 more stairs to view Hurricane Falls, or climb the 300+ steps to hike the south rim. Before heading back up to check out the interpretive center, we munched a picnic on a bench we found hidden beneath the north side of the bridge. Climbing the 300 steps out of the gorge is the most strenuous part of this adventure. But, there are plenty of benches to stop and take breaks if needed.Tallulah Gorge

The interpretive center at Tallulah Gorge is a must see and a great place to cool down after the hike. A self-guided tour of the building is designed to resemble the gorge, with ramps that lead visitors to different floors of the building and a rocky model of the gorge floor on the lower level. You will need to visit the interpretive center after your hike to either purchase a Canyon Climbers membership card or have your current card marked for completion of the hike.Tallulah Interpretive Center

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.