8 ways to enjoy Georgia state parks in cold weather and early sunsets

It’s cold outside but that doesn’t mean the outdoors have to be off-limits. If you’re looking for sunlight and fresh air, Georgia’s parks are always a great option, even in the winter. The state parks remain open with some modifications due to the pandemic.

“We know being in nature is comforting, so most State Parks and Historic Sites remain open. Trails, boat ramps, fishing docks, campsites, cabins and golf courses remain open, allowing you to enjoy being outside,” according to the parks’ website. “Historic site museums and trails/grounds are open to the public.  Some social distancing restrictions may apply.  State Park visitor centers are open during regular operating hours. However, we need everyone’s help in social distancing and following guidelines.

" We are fortunate to have a large State Park System covering more than 84,000 acres, so we recommend exploring lesser-known or close-to-home parks and historic Sites.

Depending on the chill factor and driving conditions, these 11 activities form the perfect plan for enjoying the Georgia mountains and lakes in the days of cold weather and early sunsets:

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Practice archery. Panola Mountain State Park (2620 Highway 155 SW, Stockbridge. 770-389-7801) partners with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to offer an archery range and 3D archery trail. Not only is it open sunrise to sunset all year, but it also has the option to purchase an annual pass, so you can be a fair-weather archery friend, too.

Catch a sunset. Instead of lamenting how early it gets dark in the winter, rejoice that you can see the sunset and still be home for bed by eight. The weather report handily pinpoints the sunset time each day, so figure it out and plan to be on a peak with a view at just the right time. If you're a hiking newbie, try a car ride sunset watch party. Rabun County's Black Rock Mountain State Park (3085 Black Rock Mountain Parkway, Mountain City, Georgia. 706-746-2141) provides several overlooks where you can enjoy the sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains from a toasty vehicle.

Rollerblade. Forget the ice skates this Saturday. Panola Mountain (2620 Highway 155 SW, Stockbridge. 770-389-7801) has a paved trail ideal for rollerblading, and it's just 15 minutes or so from Atlanta's city center. You still get the Georgia mountain vibe, too, since the state park includes a 100-acre granite outcrop that's like a mini-Stone Mountain with its own intriguing ecosystem.

Cozy up in a cottage. If you don't want to roll out of bed to head for the Georgia mountains, how about waking up already in the park? Red Top Mountain State Park (50 Lodge Road SE, Acworth. 770-975-0055) is just one example of a state park that offers one- or two-bedroom cottages you can rent year-round.

Let a ranger be your guide. There are numerous ranger-led hikes at Georgia state parks even in the chilly months. They know you'll be reluctant to leave the remote and your cuffing companions, so they make the offerings extra-special. One example: the Nov. 16 Candlelight Hike to the Mill at Sweetwater Creek State Park (1750 Mount Vernon Road, Lithia Springs. 770-732-5871).

Make s'mores. The lure of s'mores is not just a summer thing, not anymore. Use the campfire treat idea to get motivated to get out in nature on chilly mornings. You can book a picnic shelter any time of year at Red Top Mountain State Park (50 Lodge Road SE, Acworth. 770-975-0055), for example, and they include grills awaiting your graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars.

Have a breakfast campfire (singing optional). Not the sweets type? Round up the gang on a wintry morning for a grill-out breakfast and a view of Lake Allatoona at those same Red Top Mountain picnic shelters.

Chill in a yurt. In the cold months, there’s not as much competition for the luxury Georgia state park yurts. Barrow County’s Fort Yargo State Park (210 South Broad Street, Winder. 770-867-3489) is a good place to rent one and have a wintry camping experience, with electricity inside, a fire ring outside, and glorious scenery all around.