- By Phil W. Hudson
As the leaves begin to change to the colors of autumn and the air begins to cool, lots of Atlantans will look to escape their hustle-and-bustle for the natural beauty of Georgia’s mountain parks and hiking trails.
Georgia’s mountain parks typically peak in late October; however, color can be seen as early as September and throughout much of November. Some of the most popular parks for leaf watching include Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Fort Mountain, Tallulah Gorge and Vogel, according to Georgia State Parks.
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Since lots of intowners freeze in fear at the thought of having to hike on anything other than the Atlanta Beltline, we’ve compiled a list of some hiking trails that are must-dos this fall when venturing beyond the Perimeter.
If you’re not a fan of doing it yourself, park rangers have planned numerous events around the state throughout autumn, including guided hikes and paddles, fall festivals, Halloween hayrides and campground trick-or-treating. A list of events can be found at GaStateParks.org.
Byron Reece Trail
The Byron Reece Trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest connects with the Appalachian Trail to create a nearly 2-mile hike to the summit of Blood Mountain. For hikers that aren’t afraid of a little elevation (4,459 feet) and want to brag to their friends about hiking the Appalachian Trail, Byron Reece Trail is a good place to start if you’re looking for a moderate challenge.
Blue Ridge Ranger District, 2042 Ga. 515 W., Blairsville. 706-745-6928, www.fs.usda.gov/conf.
Indian Seats Trail
This 4-mile loop delivers one of the best views of the North Georgia Mountains. The Indian Seats are a natural rock formation at the summit of Sawnee Mountain, which connects to the Blue Ridge Mountain Range, in the 963-acre Sawnee Mountain Preserve. For hikers that don’t want to deal with much of an elevation change, Sawnee Mountain caps off at 1,946 feet, so it’s not as daunting as Blood Mountain.
Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitor Center, 4075 Spot Road, Cumming.770-781-2217, sawneemountain.org.
Smith Creek Trail
If you’re around Helen, this 4.8-mile trail in the Chattahoochee National Forest is one you’ll want to check out since it leads to Anna Ruby Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of Georgia. This trail is one of the easiest ones on our list, so beginners may want to start their journey into the world of hiking here.
1788 Ga. 356, Helen. 706-878-2201, www.unicoistatepark.org.
This 5.5-mile trail is one for experts due to the amount of climbing, but is totally worth it if you’re into Native American art and history. The trail ends at Track Rock Gap, which hosts ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) that were made by Creek and Cherokee people more than 1,000 years ago.
Brasstown Bald Visitor Information Center, 2941 Ga. 180 Spur, Hiawassee. 706-896-2556, www.fs.usda.gov/conf.
West Rim Loop Trail
This 4.8-mile loop offers some of the most scenic overlooks in the state. Situated in Cloudland Canyon State Park, the West Rim Loop Trail is of moderate difficulty but you won’t regret the trek once you take in the deep canyon’s rims and lofty overlooks. Make sure you bring proper footwear because the West Rim Loop Trail has a steep descent to the canyon floor. Cloudland Canyon is also one of many places that offer camping in a yurt.
122 Cloudland Canyon Park Road, Rising Fawn. 706-657-4050, gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon.