ATLANTA — For many people, the perfect autumn weekend includes cozy campfires, gooey s’mores and fiery-hued forests. To help leaf peepers plan their fall escapes, Georgia’s State Parks have launched "Leaf Watch 2010" to track fall color as it moves across the Peach State and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Whether heading north for hiking and waterfalls or south for canoeing and camping, "Leaf Watch 2010" offers advice on where to find the best color at Georgia’s state parks. Found at www.GeorgiaStateParks.org/leafwatch throughout October and November, travelers can get updates on fall color, learn safe hiking tips and make reservations for the many campsites, cottages and lodge rooms offered at Georgia’s state parks.
New this year is a partnership with Georgia Forestry Commission and a webcam at Black Rock Mountain State Park near Clayton. Expert foresters will advise travelers about overall color, specific tree species and even the weather’s effect on leaf watching. The webcam will provide a glimpse of color progressing across the Blue Ridge Mountains.
"Fortunately, there are no ‘bad’ years for fall foliage in Georgia," said Ken Masten, Gainesville district manager for the Georgia Forestry Commission. "With moderating temperatures and sufficient rainfall in the next weeks, sunny and cool fall days should set the stage for the best showing of autumn color."
Typically, Georgia’s mountain parks 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 Amicalola Falls, Black Rock Mountain, Cloudland Canyon, Fort Mountain, Moccasin Creek, Smithgall Woods, Tallulah Gorge, Unicoi and Vogel. Since some of these parks are crowded on the prettiest weekends, visitors may want to explore lesser-known parks, which can be equally pretty. Providence Canyon State Park, also called Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, has hiking trails that highlight sweetgums and sassafras. Hardwoods and mossy rock gardens can be found on the 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail at F.D. Roosevelt State Park in near Columbus.
"We are excited to partner with Georgia Forestry Commission this year," said Georgia State Parks Director Becky Kelley. "They can offer expertise on the most colorful trees in Georgia, and we can provide easy ways for visitors to get out and enjoy this beautiful season."
Park officials advise visitors to make overnight reservations as soon as possible. It is not uncommon for mountain cottages and yurts to be reserved nearly a year in advance, and many campgrounds fill up on pretty weekends. Amicalola Falls and Unicoi state parks offer hotel-style lodges with restaurants. To make a reservation, call 1-800-864-7275 or log onto www.GeorgiaStateParks.org.
Rangers from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources offer these tips for safe hiking:
• Avoid hiking alone.
• Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Remember to let them know when you are back.
• Stay on marked trails. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.
• Never climb on waterfalls or wet rocks.
• Always carry quality rain gear and turn back in bad weather.
• Dress in layers and avoid cotton.
• All hikers should carry a whistle, which can be heard far away and takes less energy than yelling.
• Carry plenty of drinking water and never assume stream water is safe to drink.
• Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location.
• Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.