Poor farming practices of the 1800s created the phenomenon called Providence Canyon, with sunset hues of pink, orange, red, and purple painting the gulley walls.
Photo: Lesli Peterson
Photo: Lesli Peterson

Venture out: 5 of Georgia’s lesser-known natural landmarks

A version of this story originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Living Intown magazine.

You’re probably familiar with some of the geographic features designated as the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia: Stone Mountain, Amicalola Falls, Tallulah Gorge and the Okefenokee Swamp. The rest rounding out the list have no less ability to inspire wonder, yet seem to go overlooked. While planning vacation travel, consider seeking out the state’s lesser-known landmarks — and others that deserve inclusion.

Providence Canyon

8930 Canyon Road, Lumpkin. 229-838-6870. 

Dubbed Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon,” this site in Providence State Park near Lumpkin in Stewart County ranks as one of the state’s wonders with good reason. It bears a startling resemblance to the bigger version in Arizona, complete with craggy canyon walls that stretch almost 150 feet high, painted in earth tones with shades of pink and white.

»RELATED: Everything to know about Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon

These walls weren’t formed by an erupting volcano or carved by a rushing river; they were exposed as the result of bad farming methods and soil erosion during the 1800s. Geologists estimate that the rocky cliffs are between 58 and 74 million years old.

About 150 miles south of Atlanta, the canyons are ideal for hikers who can follow 3 miles of trails and/or backpack before camping overnight. The nearby Florence Marina State Park on Lake Walter George also offers cottages and camping sites.

»Insider tip: Call to reserve a spot on a guided canyon tour, held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Keep an eye out for the plumleaf azalea that only blooms in the canyon.

Olivia, Bailee and Kaleb in the mud at Cave Springs, Ga., on Jan. 26.
Photo: Garland Robinson

Cave Spring and Radium Springs

Rolater Park, 13 Old Cedartown Road, Cave Spring. 706-777-0202. 

Radium Springs Park, 2501 Radium Springs Road, Albany. 229-317-4760. 

Radium Springs, the state’s largest natural spring, pours about 70,000 gallons into the Flint River near Albany. Through the 1930s, the springs were an enormously popular destination for people seeking restorative cures. At one time, a large bathing pool allowed visitors to soak in the waters tinged blue by the traces of radium they contained. While bathing is no longer permitted due to flood damage, the botanical gardens around the spring are open to the public.

»RELATED: 7 refreshing lake beaches near Atlanta

Just a 90-minute drive from Atlanta, the less-heralded Cave Spring provides an ideal antidote to the summer’s sizzling temperatures. The small town of about 1,200 residents in Floyd County is home to a natural spring that’s been funneled from a limestone cave into a 1.5-acre public swimming pool in the city’s Rolater Park. 

The pool contains no chemicals, just spring water, and is drained and cleaned weekly. Manager Nick Mclemore says he’s never taken the water’s temperature, but asserts with authority: “It’s cold. In fact, it’s frigid.”

Pool admission is free for seniors older than 65 and kids 2 and younger, and $4 for adults. The cave where the spring originates is also open to visitors for a nominal fee.

»Insider tipCave Spring freely allows visitors to bring jugs and fill them with fresh spring water — a policy that on weekends can attract lines of people with truckloads of containers.

Rock Hawk Effigy

125 Wallace Dam Road, Eatonton. 706-485-7701.

Is it manmade, natural or supernatural? Somewhere between the mystery of Stonehenge and the puzzle of a crop circle lies this pile of white rocks depicting a hawk in flight in the Oconee National Forest about 12 miles east of Eatonton. Many of the rocks that comprise the figure are quite large and believed to have been dragged into the area.

Credit for the creation often goes to the Native Americans who lived in the region until the early 1800s. Some archaeologists and geologists have estimated the hawk could date back as far as 2,000 years. The mysterious “effigy,” as it’s known, draws visitors who also enjoy hiking, biking and walking the 25 miles of the national forest’s trails and boating in the waters of Lake Oconee.

Interpretive centers offer insights on the flora and fauna, while the trails include educational stops about the effigy and the area.

»Insider tip: Climb one of the park’s viewing towers to get a bird’s eye view of the hawk and the wetlands.

Heggie’s Rock Nature Preserve near Augusta is noted for its beautiful “dish gardens” filled with crimson red diamorpha and other rare plants.
Photo: Charles Seabrook

Heggie’s Rock Preserve

Old Louisville Road, Appling. 706-873-6946. 

Headed to the coast along I-20 east this soon? Make plans to detour to Appling, about 25 miles west of Augusta, to be amazed by Heggie’s Rock. This 130-acre granite outcropping nurtures an array of flora that grows best on a stone base. The selection of colorful plants is one of the best examples in the eastern United States of this type of growth, earning it a spot on the National Natural Landmark list.

The entire site is a preserve that includes a thick forest around its base. But the main attraction is the rock that rises 70 feet above two nearby creeks that flow into the Savannah River. 

 »Insider tip:The Atlanta-based Nature Conservancy limits access to the property, offering tours of up to 30 people per group in the spring and fall. Registration is accepted only online.

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