If honoring wellness and staying active are on your “to do” list for 2020, getting outdoors can make it fun to meet fitness goals. Crossing mountaintops and marshes, boulders and battlefields, Georgia’s State Parks offer miles upon miles of exercise trails. Historic sites help you explore the Peach State while quickly increasing your step count. Below are 20 hikes for 2020 to kickstart your active adventures. Stay overnight in a yurt, cabin or campsite to reward yourself with a toasty-warm fire at the end of the day. Start planning on GaStateParks.org/Hiking.
Amicalola Falls State Park (Dawsonville) –- Tumbling 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest cascading waterfall in Georgia, earning it the distinction as one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. Visitors can see the famed falls from a few vantage points, including the short but steep Base of Falls Trail. This 1/3-mile paved path includes heart-pumping staircases and benches where you can catch your breath. For a much easier walk and close-up view, take a stroller-friendly walkway to the middle platform where you can almost feel the spray on your face.
Cloudland Canyon State Park (Trenton) –- With views that stretch for miles, Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia’s largest and most stunning parks. Lace up your hiking boots and set off on the 5-mile West Rim Loop to explore rugged geology, deep canyons and dense forest. This connects with the popular Waterfalls Trail, a strenuous trek that includes 600 stairsteps that are not for the faint-of-heart or four-legged hikers. Those who travel down (and up!) are rewarded with two cascades that change volume according to recent rains. For an extended stay, go “glamping” in the park’s yurt village just off the West Rim Loop.
Tallulah Gorge State Park (Tallulah Falls) –- Known as one of Georgia’s most rugged parks, Tallulah Gorge stretches two miles long and nearly 1,000 feet deep, with stunning waterfalls and cliffs. While hikers can choose from 20 miles of trails, many prefer the Hurricane Falls Loop. This strenuous, 2.25-mile hike follows the rim past sweeping overlooks, then down a long staircase to a suspension bridge swaying 80 feet above the falls. Once you tackle the steep staircase out of the gorge and back to the visitor center, you’ll have achieved more than 1,000 steps. To protect fragile feet, dogs are not allowed into the canyon.
Big City Escapes
Sweetwater Creek State Park (Lithia Springs) -– Located just minutes from downtown Atlanta, this is a sweet escape from the city. The mile-long Red Trail takes you to the park’s main highlight: the ruins of a five-story textile mill burned during the Civil War. Today it’s seen in films such as “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.” For nature lovers, the highlight is hiking along the 400-foot-wide creek’s rapids, some up to class IV. The park is extremely popular on weekends with hikers and dog walkers exploring up to 15 miles of trails, so weekday visits make for a quieter escape.
Red Top Mountain State Park (Acworth) –- Head to Red Top Mountain for an afternoon of hiking, swimming and fishing on Lake Allatoona. The park sports 15 miles of trails ranging from easy to moderate. For the best lake views, take the 3.8-mile Iron Hill Loop popular with dog walkers and bikers. The path is wide and mostly flat, meandering along the shore and offering glimpses into the park’s iron mining history. Be sure to stop by the new visitor center first for trail maps, energy snacks and souvenirs.
Panola Mountain State Park (Stockbridge) -– Located just 15 minutes from Atlanta, Panola Mountain protects a unique ecosystem growing on its granite monadnock. In late winter, diamorpha turn bright red in anticipation of the tiny white blooms to come in spring. For the best views from atop the mountain, book a 3.3-mile ranger-led hike. For a great workout, run or bike on the paved PATH Foundation trail beginning in the park and winding more than 30 miles past lakes, rock outcrops, Arabia Mountain and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
Kolomoki Mounds State Park (Blakely) -– Kolomoki protects the oldest and largest Woodland Indian site in the Southeast, including eight ancient earthen mounds. Activities include hiking on five miles of trails, fishing and boating, touring the Native American museum, and even climbing to the top of a temple mound. The 2.5-mile Spruce Pine Trail, part of Georgia’s Southern Rivers Birding Trail, offers views of lakes Yahola and Kolomoki and wildlife observation platforms. Keep an eye out for White-tailed Deer, Gopher Tortoises, Wild Turkeys, Blue Herons and Red-headed Woodpeckers.
Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site (Darien) –- A 1.5-mile walk through a former rice plantation tells the story of the Lowcountry’s way of life in the 1800s. After the Civil War and end of slavery, the estate was eventually transformed into a dairy farm. Today, you can hike across the fields, along the marsh and among several historic buildings, stopping for a guided tour of a furnished antebellum home. Spanish moss and majestic Live Oaks add to the beautiful scenery.
Pickett’s Mill Battlefield Historic Site (Dallas) –- Connect with nature in this largely untouched 800-acre site protecting one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefield in the nation. Six miles of trails (including roads once traveled by soldiers), undisturbed earthworks and an 1800s cabin provide hikers and their four-legged companions a range of scenery. Make sure to explore the site’s museum first to best understand the significance of this property. Depending on the season, you might spot Pink Ladyslipper, Three Birds Orchid or Georgia Aster blooming along the trail.
Wormsloe State Historic Site (Savannah) — Make sure your phone is fully charged before you visit one of Savannah’s most Instagrammed attractions. Enter through a distinctive archway and travel a mile-long avenue lined with Live Oaks and Spanish Moss to the oldest tabby ruins in Georgia. Here you’ll learn about Wormsloe, the 1700s colonial estate of Noble Jones. The 3-mile Battery Trail will take you past the ruins, through maritime forest and along salt marsh where you can look for fiddler crabs at low tide. Bring binoculars to spot Great Blue Herons, Cattle Egrets, Red-wing Blackbirds and other coastal species.
Chattahoochee Bend State Park (Newnan) – This park is located in a graceful, quiet curve of the Chattahoochee River. Combine the Riverside and Bend trails to travel 11 miles, stopping to climb a small observation tower with river views. You’ll also cross grassy clearings with chances to spot deer and other wildlife. For a short trek, take the one-mile Flatrock Trail, home to wildflowers, mosses and a rare species of lichen. To truly appreciate the Chattahoochee River, sign up for one of the ranger-led trips that includes hiking upstream and paddling back downstream.
James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park (Summerville) –- This park’s Marble Mine Trail is one of Georgia’s hidden and historic gems. Travel less than a mile past the upper lake and ascend Taylor Ridge. You’ll be rewarded with views of a small waterfall cascading into a blue-green pool, as well as the entrance to an abandoned marble mine. At one time, the mine yielded a beautiful variety of colors, including black with white flecks. Long-distance hikers may continue to the 339-mile Pinhoti Trail which crosses Alabama and Georgia.
Laura S. Walker State Park (Waycross) – Just north of the mysterious Okefenokee Swamp, Laura S. Walker is filled with intriguing creatures and plants. The 2.5-mile Big Creek Nature Trail leads to an elevated boardwalk where you can scout a tributary of the Satilla River, looking for alligators, frogs and turtles. Continuing further, lucky hikers might spot Georgia’s state reptile, the Gopher Tortoise.
Magnolia Springs State Park (Millen) -– Beautiful Magnolia Springs State Park is known for its crystal-clear springs flowing 7 million gallons per day. Take an easy walk on the half-mile Woodpecker Trail to a boardwalk over the beautiful blue spring. Keep an eye out for a variety of fish, Wood Storks, Pileated Woodpeckers, alligators and even “fuzzy” turtles with harmless algae growing on their shells. History buffs will want to continue on the Fort Lawton Trail to a museum featuring items excavated from the former Civil War prison.
Watson Mill Bridge State Park (Comer) -– Watson Mill Bridge is home to the longest covered bridge in Georgia, built in 1885. Beautiful, dense forest allows hikers, bikers and horseback riders to enjoy shade along several miles of trails. Popular choices are the 2.5-mile Powerhouse Ruins Loop or 1.5-mile Beaver Creek Loop. During summer months, don some “cut offs” and cool off in the rocky shoals just below the bridge.
Black Rock Mountain State Park (Clayton) -– As the highest state park in Georgia, Black Rock Mountain offers some of the most inspiring views in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Spend a day or two on the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail to explore laurel-filled coves, small waterfalls, the summit of Lookoff Mountain and stunning vistas of Wolffork Valley. You’ll certainly get a workout, gaining 1,600 feet in elevation throughout the hike. Backpackers can reserve sites in advance and should be prepared to use provided “bear boxes” to store their food.
Don Carter State Park (Gainesville) – Sitting on a narrow, northern section of Lake Lanier, this park offers a peaceful escape from the normally busy waterway. Several hiking loops combine to offer more than 14 miles of adventure. A favorite with hikers and equestrians is Dog Creek Loop with a rocky stream, boulders and abundant beech trees that turn golden in autumn. During spring, keep an eye out for Pink Lady’s Slipper. For even more solitude, check out the Pink and Blue loops with great lake views.
Fort Mountain State Park (Chatsworth) -– For an all-day adventure, set out on the 8.5-mile Gahuti Trail that highlights the best of this beautiful park. The trailhead begins near popular Cool Springs Overlook with sweeping mountain vistas. Share your best shots on Instagram and continue a side trail to a historic fire tower. An ancient rock wall, thought to have been built around 500 A.D., will give you a mystery to ponder while completing this rugged hike.
F.D. Roosevelt State Park (Pine Mountain) -– At 9,049 acres, F.D. Roosevelt is Georgia’s largest state park. The well-maintained Pine Mountain Trail system includes 42 miles of adventure filled with lofty views, waterfalls and mixed hardwood forest. Hikers can choose from six shorter loops along the trail, including the popular 6.7-mile Wolfden Loop. Backpacking sites should be reserved well in advance, and history fans should make a side trip to Dowdell’s Knob to find a sculpture of the park’s presidential namesake.
Vogel State Park (Blairsville) – One of Georgia’s most beloved state parks is a mecca for hikers, especially when autumn leaves blanket the landscape. Those with plenty of stamina can set off on the difficult Coosa Backcountry Loop. Over 14 miles, they will climb and descend more than a mile in elevation, crossing three ridgelines with outstanding vistas. Part of the trail leaves the park’s boundaries and enters Chattahoochee National Forest, so hikers should wear bright clothing during hunting season.
Catch up on R&R
Take advantage of an extended stay to explore multiple trails and experiences while visiting Georgia State Parks. While pitching a tent at one of the parks is a popular overnight option, the parks also harbor secret camping and glamping spots and unique accommodations known only to those willing to travel off the beaten path. Yurt glamping, paddle-in camping, remote backpacking and cozy cabins offer a range of ways to stay in state parks all week long. Find your favorite accommodation at GaStateParks.org/Reservations or by calling 1-800-864-7275.