When you think about top hiking destinations, the southern state of Georgia might not be the first place that comes to mind. Sure, there’s no towering mountains here and only a small stretch of land runs along the coast, but there is some hidden beauty here that Georgians have been keeping all to themselves.
The southern Appalachians and Blue Ridge Mountains run through Northern Georgia, and there are an impressive number of waterfalls along accessible trails for all skill levels. There’s much more to the Peach State than just Atlanta, so get outside and see the wild natural beauty that surrounds it! These are a few of the best parks and trails to hike in Georgia.
Red Top Mountain State Park
This state park is also close to Atlanta and the highlight for most visitors is Lake Altoona. After going for a hike here, spend some time swimming in the cove to cool off from the hot and muggy summer temperatures.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
If you’re traveling from Atlanta, like most visitors to the state are, the closest and best hiking area nearby is Sweetwater Creek State Park. It’s less than an hour’s drive from the city but feels like a world away. The trails run along the flowing creek, which is peaceful and perfect for sitting alongside to enjoy a picnic lunch. One of the most interesting things about hiking here is the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, which is fenced in for safety but can be easily viewed from the trails and learned about from the trail signs.
Stone Mountain Park
Another popular and nearby hiking spot for people in Atlanta is Stone Mountain. There are 15 miles of hiking trails in Stone Mountain Park, but the most popular route is the walk-up trail, which goes one mile to the top of the mountain. It is steep, but doesn’t take too long to climb. The views from the top give hikers an amazing view of the Atlanta skyline and surrounding suburbs. There are lots of other theme park attractions and shopping and dining opportunities to check out here too.
Amicalola Falls State Park
Go a little further beyond the city to experience one of the most impressive parts of the Chattahoochee National Forest. This is the tallest waterfall in Georgia, towering above at 729 feet and considered to be one of the state’s seven natural wonders. You’ll see lots of oak, pine, and hickory trees along the rolling hills of the trails. For a challenge, set out on the Hike Inn Trail, which is 10 miles round trip and has a moderate level of difficulty. You’ll likely see flowers here during all seasons of the year, and there’s a rustic inn at the top where you can stop for a snack or stay overnight to make a weekend out of it.
Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve
You might feel like you’ve stepped onto the moon or another planet when you visit the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve, but rest assured that you’re still in Georgia. It’s easy to climb to the top of this other-worldly rock outcropping after weaving in and out of some wooded trails. This is a wonderful place to hike if you like to carve out your own path rather than sticking to a designated trail. There is a lot of space here to wander aimlessly to your heart’s content; however, the total area isn’t so large that you’ll get lost. The park’s visitor center arranges interesting guided tours to help you learn more about the area, and leashed dogs are welcome everywhere.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
Tallulah Falls is the highlight of this state park and a beautiful choice for both beginner and expert hikers. The gorge is two miles long and about 1,000 feet deep. You can get a permit to hike to the gorge floor, but only 100 permits are available per day and not during water releases. You can also camp at the park and go rock climbing at certain times of year when the Peregrine Falcons aren’t nesting. Lots of guided hikes are offered here too.
Anna Ruby Falls Trail
Another must-see waterfall in Georgia is Anna Ruby Falls, which is near another great hiking destination known as Unicoi State Park in the northern part of the state. This is a very easy 0.8-mile out-and-back paved trail, so a great pick for non-hikers who want to see one of the state’s beautiful waterfalls. Check out the nearby Alpine village of Helen while you’re in the area.
Skidaway Island State Park
Skidaway Island has a moderately difficult trail that spans about 4.6 miles and is a wonderful place for wildlife lovers to visit. It’s in the Savannah/Tybee Island area on the eastern shore and known for being a home for egrets, crabs, deer, and other native species.
Raven Cliff Falls Trail
Also in the Chattahoochee National Forest, hikers should make a point to trek the Raven Cliffs Falls Trail to see the falls. These falls cascade down 400 feet off a dramatic cliff. This particular trail is about five miles round-trip and follows Dodd Creek. The trail is pretty easy with a few small hills and lots of forest on both sides.
Chattahoochee Bend State Park
Head west to hike the Chattahoochee Bend River Trail, which runs an easy six miles round trip. You’ll hike along the river and to the top of an observation tower to get a better view. Come here for a peaceful time in the forest and generally slimmer crowds.
East and West Palisades Trails
Another set of trails close to the Atlanta area are in the East Palisades and West Palisades. The East Palisades trail runs about 3.4 miles along the Chattahoochee River and climbs to a scenic overlook past a bamboo forest. The Bob Callan Trail in West Palisades is about 3.6 miles and is a great pick in Metro Atlanta.
Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island
Okay, so this is technically more of a beach than a trail, but it’s an amazing place to go for a hike in the Georgia coastal islands. Take a hike along the north end of Jekyll Island to experience a fascinating environment that looks more like a tree graveyard than a beach. You can plan to stay in the Jekyll Island Campground, which is walking distance from the beach, or just stop by the Clam Creek Picnic Area if you’re just visiting for the day. There are multiple access points to the beach from the road, and you can park along the road in designated areas. Watch the stand-up paddleboarders do their thing on the water as you breathe in the ocean air and take a moment to remember that you’re still in Georgia.
Smithgall Woods State Park
This mountainous park in Helen, Georgia, is perfect for fishing, hiking or a weekend getaway. The property offers 28 miles of hiking and biking trails to explore and enjoy a picnic lunch. Dukes Creek, which runs through Smithgall Woods, is one of Georgia’s premier trout streams and a favorite for catch and release fishing. Make your visit to the park a long weekend and stay in the park’s six cozy mountain cottages with quaint accommodations, rocking chairs on the porch and private hot tubs.