Back To School – Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Near Colleges

Owen Smith

Summer is winding down and students are flocking back to their college campuses to complete another successful (and stressful) academic semester. With 64 state parks and historic sites, Georgia is an awesome state to go to school because there is a state park near all our college campuses. We compiled a list of the best outdoor spots to visit, no matter where you go to school this semester.



University of Georgia

Located about an hour and a half outside of Atlanta in Athens, Georgia, University of Georgia is known for college football, local music, and over 800 student organizations. But if you’re looking to get away from the bars of Athens or the insanity of game day, there’s some beautiful state parks just down the road.


  • Fort Yargo – 30 minutes away. This park is one of the most popular state parks in Georgia. A 260-acre lake offers a large swimming beach, fishing docks and boat ramps. Mountain bikers and hikers can test their endurance on 20.5 miles of trails. A disc golf course takes players through a challenging course through the woods. Don’t have the equipment for these fun activities? Fort Yargo State Park offers boat, mountain bike and disc rentals.
  • Watson Mill Bridge – 30 minutes away. Watson Mill Bridge contains the longest covered bridge in the state, spanning 229 feet across the South Fork River. The bridge makes this a great place to try out that new camera your parents bought you for high school graduation. If you need to cool off, bring your bathing suit and try the sliding rock.
  • Hard Labor Creek – 40 minutes away. Don’t let the name scare you away. This state park has tons to do. Rent a paddle boat on the 274-acre Lake Rutledge, take a walk on the 20 miles of tranquil trails, or grab a few friends and spend the night at a campsite or a newly renovated cabin.

Georgia Tech, Georgia State, Emory

These very different universities are all located inside the perimeter, making them a great place to enjoy all the exciting activities and events Atlanta has to offer. However, there will come a time in your academic career where you just need to get away from all the people and distractions. Luckily Atlanta is known as the “city in the trees” for good reason. There are some great state parks within a 45-minute drive from these schools.

  • Panola Mountain – 30 minutes away. Panola Mountain is a hidden gem just one exit outside the perimeter off I-20. It features a granite mountain geologically like Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain. But unlike Stone Mountain or Arabia Mountain, this is a more unique ecosystem because the mountain is protected. The only way to access it is by guided hike, which are offered most weekends. If you can’t get your act together to make a guided hike, the park has 7 miles of paved trails, 2 miles of hiking trails and plenty of room to spread out a blanket on the grass by Alexander Lake. Even on nice days, it’s easy to find a spot near the water to read a book, do some homework or listen to music.
  • Sweetwater Creek – 30 minutes away. One of the busiest parks in the state, and for good reason. Sweetwater Creek State Park features stunning ruins from an old textile mill, beautiful rapids, and 15 miles of trails. This is a great place to do some hiking near Atlanta, and the White Trail was voted as one of the top 5 trails at Georgia State Parks by our social media followers. Our suggestion? Come on the weekdays. The weekends receive crowds of people, and at times it can feel like the Beltline 2.0 at its peak. 
  • Red Top Mountain – 45 minutes away. Mountains just a short drive from campus? Yes, please. This park is loaded with things to do. It has 15 miles of great trails bordering the 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona. It also has one of the best gravel bike trails in Georgia, the 4-mile Iron Hill Trail.  If you want to stay the night, Red Top Mountain has 20 cottages, 93 campsites, and a yurt for you and your friends to have a relaxing evening in the mountains.

Georgia College and State University

Georgia’s only public liberal arts school offers intimate classes and a great on-campus social scene. But when the on-campus scene gets a little too familiar, it will feel great to explore the nearby state parks by this south Georgia academic Institution. Amazingly, Georgia College and State University is within an hour’s drive to two parks with Instagram-worthy waterfalls.

  • Hamburg – What’s great about Hamburg State Park is how quiet it is. It sits on the 225-acre Hamburg Lake, which is open for canoes, kayaks, and Jon boats below 10 horsepower. You can rent a boat from the park office. Hamburg features an old gristmill, where the rangers on staff provide tours throughout the week. Alongside the gristmill is a beautiful waterfall, great for relaxing and taking Instagram pictures. Be sure to check out the stars if you stay for the night. This is one of the more remote parks in Georgia, and that makes it great for looking at the stars and the Milky Way.
  • High Falls – It surprises visitors that one of the most stunning waterfalls in the Georgia State Parks system is south of Atlanta. While you can’t play in the falls, it provides plenty of locations to picnic, hammock, or relax in a chair while enjoying the views and listening to the roar of the falls. To get a bit of exercise, hike the 4.5 miles of trails or rent a kayak and take it out on the 650-acre lake.

University of North Georgia

Part of the appeal of the north Georgia is how close it is to amazing outdoor opportunities. Located at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are 22 trails within 32 miles of Dahlonega. We encourage you to get outside anywhere. That said, here are a couple of the best state parks and historic sites within a 30-minute drive.

  • Unicoi State Park and Lodge - 30 minutes. What is unique about this park is its diverse options of activities. They have both short and long hikes to the dramatic Anna Ruby Falls, along with 8 miles of mountain bike trails, zip lines and ropes courses. So, if you’re bored at Unicoi, you’d be the first. It’s also a short drive to downtown Helen, which is a great spot to watch people floating on inner tubes or to enjoy the unique architecture of this alpine town.
  • Amicalola Falls – 30 minutes. Named after the 729-foot waterfall inside the park, Amicalola Falls is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the Southeast. This park has a lodge and restaurant with breath-taking views, which is a great option if you need a romantic spot for a date. However, if your date is more into adventure, the park offers tomahawk throwing, guided hikes, archery rentals, and lots of other activities. Warning: this park can get crowded at the waterfall viewing area on the weekends.
  • Dahlonega Gold Museum – 2 minutes. If you have a spare hour, take the time to visit the Dahlonega Gold Museum. It’s filled with history of the area and how this mountain town   flourished as the home of America’s first major gold rush. The museum is housed in a courthouse built in 1836 on the main square in Dahlonega. Check the park website regularly, as they have an escape room they run periodically based around the history of the location.

Georgia Southern University

Home of the Eagles, this school of is the pride of Statesboro. It’s a quaint town with lots of local attractions and nightlife. This area features some of the best lowland kayaking and canoeing opportunities in the state. 

  • George L. Smith – 30 minutes. Paddling through the cypress trees at this south Georgia park will take you to another world. The dark water comes from tannic acid seeping out of the decomposing cypress tree leaves. This creates a mirror effect of the cypress trees, making you feel like you’re in an other-worldly fun house. It’s an awesome park to visit in the fall when the cypress trees turn orange, plus the bugs aren’t so bad during that time of year.
  • Jack Hill – 40 minutes. This park is known for its golf. The 18-hole Brazell’s Creek Golf Course is a unique course, with the front nine being the typical, tree-lined golf course with challenging holes. A 10-minute golf cart ride separates the front nine to the back nine, and you’ll emerge from a 1,500-yard wooden bridge inside dense swamp onto a massive, windswept links-style course. If regular golf isn’t your thing, maybe you’ll want to dip your toe into Foot Golf. Guests are encouraged to try this unique version of golf, where players kick a soccer ball down the golf course into large, soccer ball-sized cups. There are 10 cottages, and many of them are newly renovated, with views of the course from the back porch.
  • Magnolia Springs – 45 minutes away. Quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful. This park used to be a Civil War prison called Camp Lawton. Today it is no longer a prison but a getaway for students in the throes of academic warfare. Named after its clear blue springs, there are 1,000 acres of forest and 5 miles of trails. Rent a boat to take out on the calm lake or enjoy a picnic at one of the many spots dotting the shores of both the lake and the springs.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)

In 2021, National Geographic listed Savannah as one of the 100 most beautiful places in the world. Now, picture one of the great cities of the world coupled with one of the top art schools in the country. SCAD is a college student’s dream. If you need some inspiration for that next great painting, be sure to check out a couple of these parks and historic sites filled with live oaks and Spanish moss within a 45-minute drive of downtown Savannah.

  • Skidaway Island – 30 minutes. It can be difficult to find good hiking in south Georgia. Luckily, Skidaway Island State Park has soft sandy trails meandering through hauntingly beautiful maritime forest. An observation tower stands resolutely on the two-mile Big Ferry trail, and visitors are encouraged to climb atop it and look out on the marshes of the nearby barrier islands. Stay the night at one of the best campgrounds in the state or stay in a camper cabin. Be warned, the camper cabins are only a step up from camping. While they have a screened porch, air conditioning, bathroom, shower, and kitchen, you’ll need to bring your own linens, towels, dishes and cooking utensils.
  • Wormsloe Historic Site – 15 minutes. When you arrive, you’ll see why this might be the most photographed places in Georgia. Live oaks with Spanish moss hang down along a mile-long dirt road, making this a striking backdrop for portraits. What many people don’t realize is this historic site also has 3 miles of great hiking trails. One thing to keep in mind is this site closes at 5 pm, so you’ll need to be off the trails by 4:45 p.m.
  • Fort McAllister – 45 minutes. Impress your history professor by visiting the earthworks of Fort McAllister. You can explore these undulating grounds that still have cannons, barracks, and a hot shot furnace just like they would have in 1864 where Sherman ended his March to the Sea. Along with the dramatic fort, there is a fishing pier, over 4 miles of hiking trails, and a Civil War museum. This is a great way to see what life would have been like at a fort during the war.