They’re all great. But each of Georgia’s state parks and historic sites distinguishes itself in some special way. This list showcases the most winning features of some of Georgia’s most adored parks and historic sites. Visit any on the list and you’ll find much to discover and even more to love.
Best waterfall Amicalola Falls State Park’s eponymous waters tumble 729 feet, nearly five times the height of Niagara Falls. View the main attraction from a flat 1,250-foot path or join the Canyon Climbers Club and climb steep staircases. Hike 8.5 miles to Springer Mountain, the southern tip of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, or tackle the five-mile trail to the Len Foote Hike Inn, Georgia’s only backcountry inn.
Best View At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain State Park is Georgia’s highest state park. It boasts spectacular vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and on a clear day from the Tennessee Rock Overlook trail—one of the park’s four hiking trails—it’s possible to see North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Campsites and mountaintop cottages encourage visitors to linger, smell the wildflowers and experience outstanding sunrises and sunsets.
Best Family-Friendly Cave Tour On the western edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon State Park straddles a deep gorge cut by Sitton Gulch Creek. Guided tours provide an under-worldly adventure with muddy opportunities to crawl, stoop and climb in a wild cave. Hike four trails, including the two-mile Waterfalls Trail that climbs a 40-degree slope on a combination of paved and gravel surfaces plus 1,200 stairsteps. Sleep in a hemlock grove, walk-in tent sites or cottages near the canyon edge.
Best Saltwater Fishing Fishermen frequent Crooked River State Park on the southern tip of Georgia’s coast to catch flounder, red drum, speckled trout, bass, yellowtail, shrimp, crab and other species. Try your luck from the dock, river or intracoastal waterway. Or join the Park Paddlers Club and kayak or canoe. Birding, geocaching and biking are also popular pastimes.
Best Indian Mounds Considered one of the nation’s most significant Native American archaeological digs—though only 9 percent has been excavated—Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site protects six earthen mounds, a plaza, village site, borrow pits and defensive ditch. The 54-acre site northwest of Atlanta was home to thousands from 1000 to 1550 and is today the most extensive Mississippian cultural site in the Southeast.
Best Unexpected Mountain Vista You may be surprised to find rolling mountains 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, but F.D. Roosevelt State Park offers superb views plus 42 miles of hiking trails on its 9,049 acres. Georgia’s largest state park bears the name of the nation’s longest-serving president, who sought comfort in Warm Springs and built his Little White House nearby. After learning of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt visited Dowdell’s Knob, where a life-size statue of the president now awaits hikers and picnickers.
Best Stop for Civil War History The Union navy first assaulted Fort McAllister on July 1, 1862. It would not fall until 1864, at the end of Sherman’s March to the Sea. Head to this site on the Ogeechee River south of Savannah to see one of the best-preserved earthwork fortifications of the Confederacy and explore the fort’s cannons, barracks and museum.
Best Re-creation of 18th-Century Life Step into the Fort King George Historic Site and you’ll swear someone set your flux capacitor to 1721, the year the fort was built along the banks of the Altamaha River. It served as the southernmost outpost of the British Empire in North America until abandoned in 1736. General James Oglethorpe then brought Scottish Highlanders to the site that eventually became the center of lumber exports until 1925. It now boasts a nature trail, several buildings and a museum.
Best Unsolved Mystery Spotting the 855-foot-long stone wall that meanders across the top of Fort Mountain State Park, you may wonder who built it and why. Some speculate it was constructed by Native Americans for ancient ceremonies or as fortification. Located in northwest Georgia near the Cohutta Wilderness, this park’s 66 miles of trails reward hikers, bikers and horseback riders with breathtaking vistas.
Best Upscale Camping Overnight visitors to Fort Yargo State Park, located between Atlanta and Athens, can opt for fully equipped cottages, cozy campsites or lakeside yurts—20-foot round canvas-and-wood structures with pine floors, furniture and electricity. Clustered on a peninsula that juts into the 260-acre Marbury Creek Reservoir, each yurt comes with a canoe, which may be rented for a small fee. Disc golf, 18 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, plus a log fort circa 1792 are key attractions.
Best Return to Simpler Times South Georgia’s rich agricultural history comes to life at General Coffee State Park, where Heritage Farm houses a cane mill, tobacco barn and corn crib, as well as goats, sheep, chickens, pigs and donkeys. Spy rare and endangered plants along a nature trail and wetland boardwalk through a cypress swamp. Then settle in at a campsite, cottage or a 19th-century cabin that’s ideal for romantic getaways.
Best Pinball Paddling Join the Park Paddlers Club and kayak or canoe ten miles of water trails in southern Georgia’s secluded George L. Smith State Park, which requires maneuvering through dense strands of cypress and tupelo trees. With lakeside camping and cozy cottages, the park is best known for the refurbished Parrish Mill and Pond, a combination gristmill, saw mill, covered bridge and dam built in 1880.
Best Interstate “Rest Stop” Named for its tumbling waters on the Towaliga River, High Falls State Park is such a beautiful, untouched place that it’s hard to believe it sits just off I-75 northwest of Macon. An industrial center in the early 1800s, High Falls was abandoned after it was bypassed by a railroad. Today you can fish in the lake, cool off in the swimming pool or explore the ghost town.
Best Spring Water Indian Springs State Park houses a water source revered for centuries by the Creek Indians as a place of healing. The fresh springwater has a strong sulfur aroma, but if left to sit overnight is reputedly as tasty and refreshing as any of the fancy bottled stuff. One of the nation’s oldest state parks, it’s located near I-75 in middle Georgia.
Best Getaway for Toddlers Surrounded by rural countryside and the Chattahoochee National Forest, the playground at northwest Georgia’s James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park is a favorite with children, who also enjoy feeding ducks from the lake’s boardwalk, riding in a rented pedal boat, and watching for bluebirds.
Best Reality Check on Tara Hoopskirts and grand columned palaces are Hollywood’s preferred images of the agrarian South of yesteryear, but Jarrell Plantation Historic Site provides a more realistic glimpse of 19th-century-Georgia plantation life. For more than 140 years, a single family owned this cotton plantation located 18 miles north of Macon, and the pine house built in 1847 is typical of the era. In 1860, 39 slaves farmed the 600-acre plantation; after the Civil War, former slaves farmed nearly 1,000 acres.
Best Bass Fishing Near Augusta on the 72,000-acre Clarks Hill Lake—one of the largest lakes in the Southeast—Mistletoe State Park boasts some of the nation’s best bass fishing. Boat ramps and fishing docks provide easy access, though in the summer you might head to the sandy beach instead. Explore miles of shaded nature trails on foot, or join the Muddy Spokes Club and bike instead.
Best Telling of Cherokee History One of the country’s most significant Cherokee sites, North Georgia’s New Echota Historic Site was where the tragic Trail of Tears officially began. Established as the Cherokee capital in 1825 and home to the first Indian-language newspaper, New Echota was the site of the treaty signing that ultimately relinquished native lands east of the Mississippi and began Cherokee removal to the west. Today, 12 original and reconstructed buildings from the era remain.
Best Long-Distance Biking Trail Panola Mountain State Park’s 12-mile paved Rockdale River and Arabia Mountain PATH Trail passes two fishing lakes, grassy fields, shaded woods and rock outcrops. Pedal it and join the Muddy Spokes Club. In addition to abundant wildlife, Panola Mountain shelters rare plants of the Piedmont region, delicate ecological features that earned it designation as a National Natural Landmark. Trek independently on three miles of trails or join guided hikes into restricted-access areas.
Best Imitation of the Southwest Dubbed Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area has unnatural origins. The legacy of a farming fiasco, its massive gullies up to 150 feet deep were caused by erosion from poor farming practices in the 1800s. But making lemonade from lemons, the canyon’s watercolor hues yield some enchanting photos. Located in southwestern Georgia, the park offers three miles of hiking trails and a seven-mile backcountry trail.
Best Mountain Biking for Beginners Head to Red Top Mountain State Park, where a four-mile, gravel-topped trail cuts through the forest 45 minutes north of Atlanta. This relatively easy route, which offers pretty views of Lake Allatoona and is also open to hikers, is a great place to test your skills before attempting steeper challenges. The 12,000-acre lake is popular for swimming, water-skiing and fishing.
Best Place to Spy a Bald Eagle Just six miles off I-75 in southern Georgia, Reed Bingham State Park is home to nesting bald eagles as well as gopher tortoises, spotted turtles, American alligators and, during winter, thousands of black vultures and turkey vultures. A three-mile nature trail winds through habitat boasting 80 percent of coastal plain plant species, a spectacular display of biodiversity.
Best Swimming Beach Lounge on soft sand overlooking blue waters and thick trees across the 26,650-acre lake at Richard B. Russell State Park in northeast Georgia. Relax near the water’s edge or swim inside the designated area. Boating and fishing are popular pastimes, as are disc golf, beach volleyball and strolling the nature trail.
Best Brush with Greatness There’s no Oval Office, but 70 miles southeast of Atlanta sits F.D. Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site, built in 1932 before he was inaugurated as president in 1933. Roosevelt first came to Warm Springs in 1924, hoping to treat his polio by swimming in the 88-degree springwaters. The town itself ultimately provided some relief and inspiration. Many New Deal programs are said to be based on his experiences here.
Best Train Ride into History A ride on the SAM Shortline Excursion Train offers a fun journey through historic southwest Georgia. Air-conditioned 1949 vintage cars stop in quaint towns filled with attractions, restaurants and shopping. Itineraries vary, but stops include Georgia Veterans State Park and Military Museum, the Rural Telephone Museum, Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village, President Carter’s boyhood farm and more.
Best Bowling Invite your family, friends or coworkers to join you on Sapelo Island Reserve, because Reynolds Mansion is available only to groups of 16 to 29. The unique mansion, brimming with turn-of-the-century ambiance, features a bowling lane, Circus Room, billiards, library and 13 bedrooms. The 11-mile-long barrier island is accessible only by boat. Guided tours showcase the African American community of Hog Hammock, University of Georgia Marine Institute and a restored 1820 lighthouse.
Best Birding Located near historic Savannah on the intracoastal waterway, Skidaway Island State Park is a birders haven. Its tidal estuaries, salt marshes, salt flats, tidal rivers and maritime forests attract a wide variety of songbirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Stroll to the viewing tower to look for feathered wildlife as well as fiddler crabs, alligators and deer.
Best Catch-and-Release Trout Fishing Hikers and bikers adore Smithgall Woods State Park’s five miles of trails and 18 miles of roads, but anglers prefer to keep their feet wet. Dukes Creek, one of North Georgia’s premier trout streams, has been ranked among the 100 best streams in the country by Trout Unlimited and was christened “the holiest of holies in Georgia trout-catching circles” by Southern Living.
Best Place to Spot an Alligator Stephen C. Foster State Park is the southernmost entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders and a National Wildlife Refuge. Explore the black waters by canoe, kayak or guided pontoon boat trips. Watch for black bears, raccoons, deer, herons, ibis, turtles and at least 12,000 alligators lurking near cypress trees and other foliage.
Best Urban Escape Just 15 miles west of Atlanta lie 2,549 acres of unspoiled wilderness: Sweetwater Creek State Park, known for its Civil War–era textile mill, whitewater rapids and 215-acre reservoir that’s popular with anglers. The award-winning visitor center is a particular source of pride; the LEED Platinum–certified structure is one of the “greenest” buildings in the country. Learn about sustainability, alternative energy, conservation and recycling, then scramble up the rocky bluffs for a beautiful view.
Best Hike By Moonlight Skip the sunglasses at Tallulah Gorge State Park and hike northeast Georgia’s two-mile-long, 1,000-foot-deep Tallulah Gorge by the light of the full moon instead. Guided 1.5-mile night hikes follow the North Rim Trail and descend 1,099 staircase steps to a suspension bridge swaying over Hurricane Falls. By daylight, more than 20 miles of trails challenge mountain bikers and protected species found in the gorge—such as monkey-face orchid and green salamander—beckon to photographers.
Best Walk-In Access Stroll three miles from the alpine village of Helen to Unicoi State Park, one of Georgia’s most beloved state parks. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the park offers high-intensity mountain biking and hiking trails. Lower-key options include walking the easy lake loop, as well as fishing and bird-watching.
Best Camping Georgia’s second-oldest state park, Vogel State Park is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Lovely cottages, campsites for tents and RVs, and primitive backpacking sites provide a terrific range of accommodations. Much of the park was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression, and an on-site museum tells the story.
Best Covered Bridge Home to the longest original-site covered bridge in the state, Watson Mill Bridge State Park is an ideal spot for a leisurely picnic. The bridge spans 229 feet across the South Fork River and was built in 1885. Hiking, biking and horseback riding trails crisscross the river shores and dense forest east of Athens.
Best Driveway “Resplendent” is the word that comes to mind as you drive through the stone archway and underneath a row of ancient live oaks dripping with Spanish moss at the entrance to Wormsloe Historic Site. Located just eight miles southeast of Savannah, Wormsloe’s tabby ruins are the area’s oldest standing structures. Costumed interpreters, a museum and a short film help bring the 18th century to life.