Where to see gorgeous fall colors at their peak close to Atlanta

Now is your chance to see dramatic fall color as foliage is peaking now through next week throughout Georgia.

Peak color — reds, yellows, oranges are sweeping the state from the Georgia mountains to areas south of Atlanta — are sweeping the state.

To help leaf peepers find the best scenery, Georgia's State Parks offers an online "Leaf Watch" travel planner, found at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/leafwatch.

Starting Oct. 1, Leafwatch tracks bursts of color throughout the state, focusing on 13 state parks. The site offers color updates from park rangers, recommendations for day hiking trips, calendar listings and availability for lodging for last-minute getaways. On the website, you can even learn why leaves change color (it has to do chemical processes in the plant as the weather cools and season changes).

Whether traveling to the Appalachian Mountains for hiking, or heading south for paddling, Leaf Watch will keep an eye on the changing foliage.

Check out the photos of gorgeous foliage at https://www.facebook.com/events/408639226000775/

Traditionally, some of the most popular spots for leaf watching include Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Tallulah Gorge and Unicoi State Park.

The leaf watch website, which has been offered every fall for the past several years, will be updated on a weekly basis, most likely in the middle of the week so foliage seekers can make their weekend plans accordingly.

But now is the time, here are five state parks peaking right now, based on reports from Leaf Watch:

Cloudland Canyon State Park - near Chattanooga

Peak of fall color now. Be sure to visit the Overlook Trail from the main parking area when you stop by. The view of the western side of the canyon from the overlooks is a beautiful patchwork of fall color. The West Rim Trail would also be a great choice if you are looking for a hike. So far the color has progressed as far as both waterfalls. The lowest elevations are just starting to change so if you happen to miss the colors at the top of the canyon, you can always catch the colors on the Sitton’s Gulch trail at the bottom which should peak next week.

One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails. A favorite hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls. The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon. Rental yurts are located off this trail.


Fort Mountain State Park — Chatsworth

The leaves here are looking absolutely gorgeous right now. There is still a little bit of green mixed in, but we’ve got a wide range of colors showing all over the park — reds, yellows, oranges. Park rangers expect this weekend and next weekend to be the peak times for the leaf season.

This park is best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, plus a variety of trails. For the easiest walk, take the 1.2-mile loop around the park’s pretty, green lake. For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail. Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore. Hwy. 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks that are worth stopping for.


Sweetwater Creek State Park - Lithia Springs

Considerable changes are being seen in the leaves now. The most noticeable reds are from the Sourwood trees and the Sumacs as well and more subtly, the Red Maples. The Tulip trees (Tulip Poplars) are yellowing as well as the gorgeous Umbrella Magnolias along Jack’s Branch on the White Trail. The best short hike to see the glory of Fall is the Red Trail which takes you to the five story Civil War era New Manchester mill ruins and the half mile of whitewater rapids (up to class IV) of Sweetwater Creek. This is a great time to see the gorgeous juxtaposition of leaves ( greens and yellows and reds) with a brilliant blue sky in the background.

Just west of Atlanta you’ll find 9 miles of hiking trails, a beautiful creek and small lake. For an easy walk, take the popular 1-mile Red Trail which follows the creek to the ruins of an old mill. For more of a workout, continue past the mill to the Blue Trail, where you’ll climb steep bluffs for outstanding creek views. Sign up for a guided hike to learn more about this park’s Civil War history.


F.D. Roosevelt State Park - Pine Mountain

What you see here: Leaf colors of bright yellow, rich red, and burnished orange speckle the 9,000-acre park landscape. The oak /hickory canopy over Highway 190, atop Pine Mountain Ridge, is showing pale to bright yellow hues. Many people are surprised to find hardwood forests and rolling mountains south of Atlanta. The 6.7-mile Wolf Den Loop is a favorite section of the longer Pine Mountain Trail. For a touch of history, drive to Dowdell’s Knob to see a lifesize bronze sculpture of President F.D. Roosevelt and great views of the forested valley. Ga. Hwy. 190 is a pretty driving route.


Red Top Mountain State Park – Lake Allatoona

Vibrant and rich colors are coming out in full force this week. Everywhere you turn, there are golden yellows and fiery reds. Hickories are displaying a beautiful bright yellow, visible from almost anywhere in the park. Their rich golden leaves are really ushering in the fall coloration. They provide a beautiful scenic view, particularly on the winding roads within the park. To see the best vantage point of hickory, take a stroll on Sweetgum or Homestead trail, where they grow in large numbers. Sumac leaves are particularly striking, displaying a rich red (look for them close to the ground, they are shorter). The most beautiful colors recently have been from the mountain maples, which are turning almost fluorescent shades of yellow and pink. There are several in the parking lot of the park office, but even more along Sweetgum and Whitetail Trails. They will lose their leaves quickly, so come enjoy the color while you can. Sourwood is also displaying a rich, vibrant red, similar to its common associate, blackgum who’s leaves are also a rich red. Sassafras leaves are also turning, but their color depends on where you encounter the tree. We have seen them with rich reds, golden yellows, and even bright pink leaves. Look for them on Iron Hill, particularly when the trail is closer to the water.

Just 40 minutes north of Atlanta you’ll find a variety of trails with nice fall color. The easy, flat 4-mile Iron Hill Loop is open to bikes and foot traffic, offering great views of the lake and forest. Another good choice for lake views is the 5.5-mile Homestead Trail. Families with young children will like the paved walking path behind the park office. Be sure to explore the log cabin and blacksmith shed.