Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Photo by @discoveriesphotography

Dungeness ruins on Cumberland Island, Georgia. Photo by @discoveriesphotography

Amazing Things to Do at National Parks in Georgia

The National Park System is called "America's best idea," with thousands of protected acres of different types of landscapes. But it also includes historic landmarks, recreation areas, and other culturally significant sites. From Atlanta to St. Simons Island, Georgia has 11 national parks, three national heritage areas, two national trails and many other special places managed by the National Park Service. Not only can you find extraordinary scenery, you can track the country’s history from prehistoric settlements to the civil rights movement by exploring these eight national park sites in Georgia.

The National Park Service is increasing access and services in a phased approach across all units of the National Park System. Before visiting a park, check the park website to determine its operating status. Updates about the overall NPS response to COVID-19, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon, Georgia. Photo by @cute.thulhu

Explore a prehistoric American Indian site in Macon

Photo by @cute.thulhu

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon traces 17,000 years of human inhabitants. Set on the Ocmulgee River a short drive from downtown, the 702-acre park has eight miles of walking trails, and the visitor center has an informative museum with more than 2,000 artifacts. Go inside the continent’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge with its original 1,000-year-old floor, and climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound. The site also has a former colonial trading post. The Ocmulgee Lantern Light Tours and the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration are two of the best events held there.

Visit Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island, Georgia. Photo by @jessica-3.little.trees

See the archeological remains of colonists on St. Simons

Photo by @jessica-3.little.trees

Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island was built in 1736 as a buffer between Spanish Florida and British South Carolina. James Oglethorpe’s troops defended the island from the Spanish, and the fort was later disbanded. Some remnants of the structure exist today, including pieces of wall built of tabby, which is a mixture of shell, sand, and water. Archaeologists now work at the site to discover what life was like during this period of colonial history, and visitors can see some of the objects found on the site in the visitor center museum.

Visit Fort Frederica National Monument

Dorchester Academy in Midway, Georgia. Photo by @exploreliberty

Learn about Gullah Geechee cultures on the coast

Photo by @exploreliberty

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor spans between Georgia and South Carolina, educating visitors on the African people that settled in the Sea Islands, creating their own Creole-style language, cuisine, and culture. Explore several sites in Georgia that are part of the corridor:

  • In Savannah, the Pin Point Heritage Museum is set inside a former crab and oyster factory founded by freed slaves. Exhibits focus on the Pin Point area and the main employer.
  • The Geechee Kunda Museum in Riceboro focuses on the arts and crafts of the Gullah Geechees dating back to the 1700s. It is set in a community formerly home to a rice and indigo plantation, and it hosts community events with local artisans and performers.
  • Dorchester Academy in Midway was the site of a school for freed slaves after the Civil War. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. even came here to plan the 1963 march in Birmingham.
  • Sapelo Island is home to Hog Hammock, a Geechee community of descendants of enslaved West African people on the island’s plantation. The area has historic homes and buildings as well as tours.
  • Similarly, Cumberland Island had a community of freed slaves on the northern end of the island, establishing landmarks like the First African Baptist Church.
  • Harris Neck is now a wildlife refuge, but it was previously a cotton plantation. After abolition, freed slaves purchased parcels of land, living as subsistence farmers and watermen.

Visit the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area in Lithonia, Georgia. Photo by @markchandlerphotography

Explore a historic community in Lithonia

Photo by @markchandlerphotography

Arabia Mountain is one of Georgia’s incredible "monadnocks," or massive outcroppings of granite, but the hiking trails and wildlife are just part of the draw of the sprawling 40,000-acre national heritage area. It also includes Flat Rock, one of the oldest African American communities in Georgia, established in the 1800s. The Flat Rock Archives serves as a museum and genealogical resource about the early families that inhabited the community. Guided tours, including the historic cemetery, are available.

Visit Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by @capturedbymel

Hear Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s voice in Atlanta

Photo by @capturedbymel

Travelers come from all over the world to Atlanta to see the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, which encompasses his birth home, historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and tomb. The National Park Service-managed site has a museum with artifacts, including the wagon that carried his casket on a funeral march through Atlanta on April 9, 1968. At the King Center across the street, visitors can see the Grammy Award he won for Best Spoken Word and the hotel key from the Lorraine Motel, where the leader of the modern civil rights movement was assassinated.

Visit Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

Kayaking the Augusta Canal in Augusta, Georgia. Photo by @k_wadford

Tour an industrial power canal in Augusta

Photo by @k_wadford

The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area is a feat of engineering, harnessing the power of the Savannah River for power since 1845. The energy from the canal led to the creation of textile mills and manufacturing operations in the area. In addition to the museum at the Discovery Center, which focuses on the history of the canal, there are boat tours of the nearly 12-mile heritage area and trails for hiking, running, and biking. Canoers and kayakers can enjoy paddling the canal, as well.

Visit Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

Mountain Crossings on the Appalachian Trail in Blairsville, Georgia. Photo by @charislogia

See an Appalachian Trail anomaly in Blairsville

Photo by @charislogia

If you don’t want to make the entire 14-state trek from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail, or even to traverse the starting point at Springer Mountain, you can still "hike the AT." The Appalachian National Scenic Trail cuts through Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap in Blairsville, a store selling hiking essentials and hiker hostel in a building constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937. It’s the only place the Appalachian Trail passes through a human-made structure in all of its 2,193 miles.

Visit Mountain Crossings on the Appalachian Trail

Find out how a U.S. President grew up in Plains

Learn about the only president born in Georgia at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains. It encompasses multiple locations, including his boyhood home, the high school he and his wife Rosalynn attended, and the former train depot that served as his campaign headquarters. All have artifacts and exhibits related to his extraordinary life and rise from peanut farmer to Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Visit Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Published: July 2020
Written by: Caroline Eubanks