One of the best things about living in Georgia is driving to the mountains during the fall months. One of our favorite drives is up to Dahlonega to see the leaves changing, but you can also visit one of the ten top Georgia State Parks for fall color. You can visit Georgia’s Leaf Watch to find out when peak leaf watching times are going to be this year.
Amicalola Falls State Park – Dawsonville – Just an hour north of Atlanta you’ll find the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall. A short, flat path leads to a boardwalk offering the most spectacular views. There is 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.
Black Rock Mountain State Park – Clayton At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. (Brasstown Bald is the state’s highest peak.) 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.
Cloudland Canyon State Park – Near Chattanooga – One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging trails. A favorite hike takes you down a 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.
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 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 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 to see.
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.
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. Smithgall Woods has some of the park system’s most sought-after cabins and is near wineries and Helen’s Oktoberfest.
Tallulah Gorge State Park – Near Clayton – Tallulah Gorge is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast, and you can choose from easy or difficult trails. Hike along the rim to overlooks with waterfall views, or get a permit from the park office to trek all the way to the bottom. (Permits run out early on weekend mornings.) During November, you can watch expert kayakers as they enjoy the bi-annual “whitewater releases.”
Unicoi State Park – Helen – Ziplines take you high above the forest canopy for a unique view of leaves. If you’re up for a steep hike, take the 4.8-mile Smith Creek Trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. Unicoi offers a lodge and restaurant.
Vogel State Park – Blairsville – The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering a birds-eye view of the park’s lake. For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall below the dam. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.
Safe Hiking Tips
If you plan to get out of your car for a bit, Rangers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources offer these tips for safe hiking:
- Avoid hiking alone.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Remember to let them know when you are back.
- Stay on marked trails. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.
- Never climb on waterfalls or wet rocks.
- Always carry quality rain gear, and turn back in bad weather.
- Dress in layers and avoid cotton.
- All hikers should carry a whistle (especially children), which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling.
- Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink.
- Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location.
- Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.
Which parks are you hoping to visit this year?