Hiking in Providence Canyon in Lumpkin, Georgia. Photo by @capturecalliope
Cloudland Canyon State Park
In northwest Georgia, Cloudland Canyon State Park overlooks the deep gorge on the western edge of Lookout Mountain. Hiking trails through the dense woods range from easy to strenuous, with the most challenging taking you down a long staircase to two waterfalls cascading over layers of sandstone and shale into pools below.
Stay for a few days to immerse yourself in the great outdoors – hiking, fishing and playing disc golf. At Cloudland, you can rough it as much as you'd like. Overnight in one of the park's fully equipped cottages, quirky yurts, or pick your spot among the variety of campsites.
Pro tip: Mountain bikers can explore 30 miles of trails, which opened in recent years. If you don't have a bike, you can rent one from the park.
Fort Mountain State Park
Fort Mountain State Park offers visitors some of the best hiking trails and scenic overlooks in the region. There is a good chance you'll see black bears, but don't let that scare you. Explore more than 60 miles of trails, which wind through hardwood forest and blueberry thickets, and cross streams. Stop for a photo op along the mysterious 855-foot-long wall that is thought to have been built by early Indians.
In the summer, swim at the lakeside beach or take guided horseback rides throughout the year. Give yourself plenty of time to take in all the scenery and activities by staying overnight in the park's fully equipped cottages or campsites.
Pro tip: Head to the historic fire tower to look for the heart-shaped stone with the romantic story.
George L. Smith State Park
Grab your canoe and venture to peaceful George L. Smith State Park in southeast Georgia. Explore the blackwater lake dotted with Spanish moss-covered cypress trees. Keep a lookout for blue heron, white ibis, and other wading birds, or navigate your boat to the refurbished Parrish Mill, a combination gristmill, saw mill, historic covered bridge and dam built in 1880.
Back on dry land, explore seven miles of trails while searching for gopher tortoises, Georgia's state reptile. Extend your stay overnight in one of the park's newly renovated cabins, or camp out right on the water's edge.
Pro tip: Mill Pond Kayak leads guided paddle trips on this gorgeous pond, or you can rent a canoe from the park to explore on your own.
Indian Springs State Park
One of the nation's oldest state parks, Indian Springs State Park is famous for its mineral-rich spring water. Centrally located in Georgia just off I-75, the park is a convenient destination for a day of exploring. Wade in the creek, walk the nature trails, and bike to nearby Dauset Trails.
The park's small museum, open seasonally, highlights the history of the Creek Indians in the area, the community's history as a resort town, and the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps' work at the park during the Great Depression. Cottages and campsites may be reserved for overnight stays.
Pro tip: Bring a few bottles to collect some of the park's spring water, which some people think has healing qualities.
Providence Canyon State Park
Providence Canyon State Park is just a quick trip from Columbus, yet it feels like it's a world away. Known as Georgia's "Little Grand Canyon," layers of bright orange, pink, purple, and red combine to create a colorful tableau. Stroll along the picturesque rim for a birds-eye view of the canyon or hike down into a few of its gullies, taking care to stay behind fences and off the fragile canyon edges, which can collapse from erosion.
Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail, highlighting portions of the canyon and winding through the forest. If backcountry camping isn't your style, nearby Florence Marina State Park offers fully equipped cottages, small efficiency units, and a modern campground.
Pro tip: The first few canyons on the trail are wooded, but the trees thin by canyons four and five, revealing the striking beauty of the colorful canyon walls.
Stephen C. Foster State Park
Stephen C. Foster State Park offers a gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia's seven natural wonders. Teeming with wildlife, this 402,000-acre refuge is home to 12,000 alligators and their neighbors — bears, foxes, owls, frogs, woodstorks, ibis, and many more. Take a guided boat tour to learn all about the unique environment and its inhabitants. Just remember to keep your distance from the large reptiles, and keep your hands and feet inside the boat.
Pro tip: The park is a certified International Dark Sky Park, making it a haven for stargazers. Claim your campsite, and fall asleep beneath a blanket of the Milky Way.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
In the northeast corner of Georgia, Tallulah Gorge State Park showcases one of the most spectacular canyons in the eastern United States. Two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep, home to waterfalls, rapids, trails, and a lake with a beach, there's something for all outdoor enthusiasts at Tallulah Gorge. A must see? Hike down to the suspension bridge swaying 80 feet above the rocky bottom, providing spectacular views of the river and waterfalls.
Pro tip: If you want to hike to the gorge floor, you'll need to secure one of a limited number of permits. Check the park's Facebook page to confirm that permits are being issued on the day of your visit. Permits run out early on weekends, so plan accordingly.
Start planning your trip with the Guide to Tallulah Gorge State Park.