Georgia is well-known for its off-the-grid outdoors adventures. The state is home to 11 national parks, 50 state parks and some of the country’s most epic hiking trails. From pristine waterfall hikes to Civil War battlegrounds to the forested foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, we’ve rounded up seven of the best national parks in Georgia.
Where are the best national parks in Georgia?
When it comes to the great outdoors, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is usually most people’s first port of call. It’s the most-visited national park in the state, with roughly three million visitors every year. The park encompasses 48 meandering miles of river that span four metro Atlanta counties, which makes it a popular spot for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and floating.
Landscapes range from hidden bamboo forests to 19th-century mills. Ramblers can choose from a number of winding, wooden trails suited to a range of fitness levels and experience. Highlights include the Cochran Shoals, a three-mile loop across grassy riverbanks and wetlands, and the slightly trickier East Palisades, which ascends through forest and trails along the rocky dramatic bluffs. Cyclists are well catered for too, with seven miles of dedicated tracks within the Cochran Shoals and Palisades units.
Set 100 miles south of Atlanta, Ocmulgee Mounds National Park might be the state’s newest national park, but its history dates back 14,000 years. This prehistoric American Indian site stretches across 702 acres of fields, forest and wetlands along the Walnut Creek and Ocmulgee River. Earth Lodge, the park’s star attraction, was likely constructed around 1015 AD. The Great Temple Mound dates back to 900-1100 AD.
During the third weekend in September, visitors can also partake in the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration, where more than 200 dancers, storytellers and craftsmen come together to share the history and culture of the park.
You don’t need to be an outdoorsy type to have heard of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The wild and wooded trail spans 14 states – and it starts (or ends) in Georgia. It’s also the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. The 2180-mile (3,500km) public footpath stretches between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katharine in Maine. The first section of the trail opened in 1923 . It’s a real haven for hikers. The parklands boast breathtaking wildlife, including moose, black bears, loons and deer.
Unlike most of Georgia’s national parks, this trail’s high altitude makes for cooler hiking temperatures. Set high in the mountains, the trail reaches elevation of 4,461 feet at Blood Mountain, which mmakes it 3.5 times taller than the Empire State Building.
Located east of downtown Atlanta, this park encompasses the civil rights champion’s birth home, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and King’s final resting place at the King Center. The D.R.E.A.M Gallery showcases images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and President Jimmy Carter that depict the close bond between the two families and tells the story of the creation of the park. Visitors can also stroll around the I Have A Dream Peace Garden, an artistic interpretation of King’s life and ideals. The garden’s feature 185 varieties of roses and it’s one of five major World Peace Rose Gardens established around the world.
This offshore national park is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island. Stretched across 26,415 acres of marsh, mud flats and tidal creeks, it’s packed with striking landscapes, from secluded beaches to maritime forests. This wild and craggy island is renowned for its (really wild) wildlife, such as turtles, wild turkeys, armadillos and wild horses. There’s 17-miles worth of secluded, sandy beaches to explore, as well as the ruins of Dungeness, Plum Orchard and Greyfield Inn too. To get here, you’ll need to hop on a 45-minute ferry from St. Mary’s, a historic town between Jacksonville, Florida and Brunswick. If you want to make more of a day of it, you can stay at one of the island’s campgrounds.
This 2,965-acre national park preserves a Civil War battleground from the Atlanta Campaign. This campaign played a significant role in the outcome of the Civil War. It saw some of the war’s most intense fighting too. There are now three monuments and four stone markers for those who fell.
It’s not just for history buffs though, ramblers can choose from a handful of trails that wind across the lush and green landscape dotted with farms. The mountain is the main show-stealer here though.
7. Chickamauga and Chattanooga
Shared with Tennesse, this national park marks the site where Union and Confederate soldiers fought for control over Chattanooga, then known as the Gateway to the Deep South. As well as history, there is over 50 miles of hiking trails winding across the battlefield. The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center includes extensive exhibits, the Fuller Gun Collection, an orientation film.