ATLANTA — Every October, Georgia’s mountains turn to a vibrant blanket of red and gold as the leaves change. To help “leaf peepers” find the best spots for fall color, Georgia’s State Parks will offer an online Leaf Watch travel planner in October and November, found at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/LeafWatch.
Leaf Watch lists top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events and hikes. Shutterbugs are encouraged to share their favorite shots on the Georgia State Parks Facebook page and Instagram, tagging #GaLeafWatch and #GaStateParks. Rangers will post updates on how fall color is progressing.
Some of Georgia’s top state parks for leaf watching include those in the mountains, such as Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Fort Mountain, Tallulah Gorge and Vogel. While F.D. Roosevelt is south of Atlanta, its higher elevation means autumn colors are often vibrant. For late-season getaways, visitors may want to explore parks further south, such as George L. Smith.
The southern Georgia parks can offer pretty color after the last mountain leaves have fallen.
Georgia State Parks offer a variety of accommodations where leaf peepers can stay. Guests are encouraged to make plans as early as possible or visit during weekdays. Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-864-7275 or at GeorgiaStateParks.org/reservations.
Park rangers have planned numerous events throughout October, including guided hikes and paddles, fall festivals, and Halloween hayrides and campground trick-or-treating. A list of events can be found at GeorgiaStateParks.org/events.
Ten Top state parks for fall color
Amicalola Falls, Dawsonville — An hour north of Atlanta you’ll find the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall. A short, flat path leads to a boardwalk offering the spectacular views. There’s also an easy-to-reach overlook at the top. For a tougher challenge, start from the bottom of the falls and hike up the steep staircase.
Black Rock Mountain, Clayton — At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. (Brasstown Bald is the state’s highest peak.) Roadside overlooks and the summit visitor center offer sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail offers a short, moderate hike. For an all-day challenge, take the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail.
Cloudland Canyon, near Chattanooga — One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging trails. One hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls. (Remember, you have to hike back up, but it’s worth it.) The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon.
F.D. Roosevelt, Pine Mountain — 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 life-size bronze sculpture of President F.D. Roosevelt and views of the forested valley.
Fort Mountain, Chatsworth — 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 green lake. For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail. Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore.
Moccasin Creek, Lake Burton — Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a deep-green lake. Guests can choose from the 2-mile Hemlock Falls Trail or 1-mile Non-Game Trail with a wildlife observation tower.
Smithgall Woods, Helen — Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, this is a spot for fly fishing while enjoying fall color. Day visitors can picnic near the creek, and overnight guests can hike a private trail to Dukes Creek Falls. A 1.6-mile loop climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mt. Yonah once most leaves are off the trees. Smithgall Woods has some of the park system’s most sought-after cabins and is near wineries and Helen’s Oktoberfest.
Tallulah Gorge, near Clayton — Tallulah is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast, and you can choose from easy or difficult trails. Hike along the rim to several overlooks with waterfall views, or get a permit from the park office to trek all the way to the bottom. During November, you can watch kayakers as they enjoy the bi-annual “whitewater releases.” Be sure to see the park’s film because it includes heart-racing footage of kayakers and news clips from Karl Wallenda’s famous tightrope walk across the gorge.
Unicoi, Helen — New ziplines take you high above the forest canopy for a unique view of leaves. If you’re up for a steep hike, take the 4.8-mile Smith Creek Trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. Unicoi offers a lodge and restaurant.
Vogel, Blairsville — The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake. For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.