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Below are the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) top ten state parks for celebrating autumn’s arrival in the Peach State. Fall color typically peaks in late October for northern Georgia; however, color can be seen as early as September and as late as mid-November. Officials advise guests to make reservations as early as possible because accommodations sometimes fill up many months in advance. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-864-7275 or at GeorgiaStateParks.org. They are accepted up to 13 months in advance, so it is not too early to reserve the most popular cabins for 2013.
Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge, Dawsonville
Hike to the top of the Southeast’s tallest waterfall, or take the easy shortcut on a stroller-friendly boardwalk. Either way, you’ll get a close-up view of these tumbling waters and find out why it’s one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. Amicalola Falls’ central location makes it a good home base for exploring Dahlonega, apple orchards and pumpkin farms. A mountain-top lodge offers beautiful views from guest rooms and its restaurant. The park also offers camping and cabins, as well as the backcountry Hike Inn reached by trekking a five-mile trail.
Black Rock Mountain State Park, Clayton
At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. Roadside overlooks provide 80-mile vistas of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and four hiking trails lead leaf watchers past small waterfalls and colorful forests. Two favorites are the family-friendly 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail and the challenging 7.2-mile James Edmonds Trail. Be sure to stop by the summit visitor center for trail maps, mountain views, a gift shop and picnic tables. Park goers can choose from mountaintop cabins or modern campsites with hot showers.
Cloudland Canyon State Park, Trenton
Located on the edge of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland Canyon is one of Georgia’s most rugged and beautiful state parks. Leaf watchers can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the 1,980-foot-deep canyon from an easy rim trail, or they can take the heart-racing staircase to the bottom. Just remember: He who hikes down, must also hike back up. New mountain bike and equestrian trails travel many miles through the preserve. Rental cabins are perched near the canyon edge or nestled into the forest. Two modern campgrounds provide hot showers and space for RV and tents.
Fort Mountain State Park, Chatsworth
Hikers and mountain bikers love this park for its 27 miles of trails, ranging from an easy lake loop to the challenging Gahuti Backpacking Trail. Even the drive to this park on Hwy. 52 is filled with stunning views of fall color and rolling mountains. Be sure to explore the ancient rock wall that stands on the park’s highest point. The mysterious 855-foot-long wall is thought to have been built by early Indians as protection from more hostile Indians or for ancient ceremonies. Romantics should look for the heart-shaped stone in the old fire tower. Stay overnight in cabins with lake or forest views, or the modern campground with hot showers.
Moccasin Creek State Park, Clarkesville
Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the edge of 2,800-acre Lake Burton, with a backdrop of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Visitors can enjoy fall color while boating, hiking or simply kicking back beside a campfire. The easy 2.2-mile Hemlock Falls Trail travels through colorful hardwoods to a small waterfall. RV and tent sites are within walking distance of a bathhouse, trout hatchery and fishing docks. Lake Burton is known for the beautiful homes and boat houses which dot the shoreline.
James “Sloppy” Floyd State Park, Summerville
Despite its untidy name, this small park near Rome is well kept and sports beautiful scenery. An easy walk around the lower lake provides plenty of places to photograph fall color, while a more challenging hike links up with the 60-mile Pinhoti Trail. Be sure to see the old marble mine’s waterfall. Cabins with big porches are surrounded by hardwoods, and the campground has a playground for children. Kids will also enjoy feeding ducks at the two fishing lakes.
Smithgall Woods State Park, Helen
This gorgeous 5,664-acre park is a quiet escape from the hustle of Helen’s Octoberfest. Its best known for catch-and-release trout fishing on Dukes Creek, but visitors can also enjoy five miles of trails and nature programs. Smithgall Woods boasts some of the most sought-after cabins in Georgia’s state park system, with some perched adjacent to the stream. Overnight guests can hike less than a mile from their cabin to beautiful Dukes Creek Falls. Camping is available nearby at Unicoi State Park.
Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls
Despite its rugged landscape, leaf watchers will find it easy to explore this spectacular gorge. A rim trail leads to many overlooks with views of the river below, and a little-known paved trail follows an old railroad bed through the forest. Those wanting a workout can hike down to a suspension bridge that sways 80 feet above the rocky bottom, or even all the way to the gorge floor (permit required). The park’s campground is operated by Georgia Power, and mountaintop cabins can be found nearby at Black Rock Mountain State Park.
Unicoi State Park & Lodge, Helen
One of Georgia’s most loved state parks is just outside Alpine Helen, making it a convenient location for an autumn vacation. Choose from six trails, including a pleasant lake loop or a challenging five-mile hike to Anna Ruby Falls. On Saturdays in October, hikers can join a park ranger for a three-mile guided trek to town – a good choice for those who want to avoid Octoberfest’s parking hassles. Overnight guests can choose from a hotel-style lodge, cabins and campsites. Mountain trout is always a favorite on the lodge’s dinner buffet.
Vogel State Park, Blairsville
Located at the base of Blood Mountain, Vogel is one of our nation’s oldest state parks. It is particularly popular during fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow and gold leaves. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail. A campground has hosted generations of family vacations, and many of the rental cabins were crafted by Civilian Conservation Corps “boys” during the 1930s.
Before you go, check the DNR’s “Leaf Watch” webpage for updates on how fall color is progressing across the mountains. GeorgiaStateParks.org/leafwatch is available October through mid-November. Can’t get away to the mountains? Some parks in middle and southern Georgia put on pretty autumn displays as well. Check out F.D. Roosevelt State Park in Pine Mountain for excellent hiking trails and small waterfalls. George L. Smith State Park in Twin City has a tea-colored lake which reflects orange cypress needles in late fall.
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