Colorful autumn leaves attract visitors to Georgia’s state parks every year, according to Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator with Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites.
This year, she said, the park system has designated 13 of its more than 60 parks as “Best Parks for Fall Color.”
All of these parks are in the northern part of the state, from just above Columbus to Georgia’s borders with Tennessee and North Carolina, she said. Nearly all these parks are within a five- or six-hour drive from Hinesville.
“The key to when fall colors peak is having warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights without heavy rains or the temperatures dropping below freezing,” Hatcher said. “Predicting when fall colors will peak is not an exact science, though. We do advise park visitors not to come right after a storm because most of the (colored) leaves will have fallen.”
She said fall colors typically peak in Georgia from early to mid-November, but she noted the Georgia Forestry Commission is predicting autumn leaves peaking early this year.
Brian Ensley, park manager for Fort Mountain State Park near Chatsworth, agreed with Hatcher. A graduate of the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, Ensley said he expects fall colors to begin peaking at Fort Mountain in about 10 days. He also said he expects the colors to be especially brilliant this year.
“What you need for good fall colors is a warm, wet spring and a mild summer,” he said. “And even though much of Georgia was under a draught during the spring and summer, we were not in a draught. So I think we’ll see a lot of good color this fall.”
Ensley said he already is seeing an increase in visitors to Fort Mountain State Park, presumably to see the fall colors. He said the trees that are turning bright red, yellow and orange include red maples, sourwoods, tulip poplars and both red and white oak trees.
He laughed when he noted that many park visitors are from Coastal Georgia, where fall almost goes unnoticed. Because the majority of trees in this area are pine, palm or live oak trees, he understands why coastal residents go to the Georgia mountains to see signs of changing seasons — beyond the grass turning brown.
Some other mountain parks known for their fall colors include Black Rock Mountain State Park near Mountain City, Amicalola Falls near Dawsonville and Unicoi near Helen.
All of the designated parks have cottages or cabins that can be rented as well as tent and RV campsites. Amicalola and Unicoi also offer a lodge with a restaurant.
“(Fort Mountain State Park) is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” said Ensley, who’s been with the Georgia park system for 18 years. “We have 15 cabins and 70 tent/RV campsites. We also have 70 miles of trail for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.”
Although poisonous snakes are not as numerous in the Georgia mountains as they are on the coast, he said hikers should be aware they do have copperheads and timber rattlers. However, he adds they’re not so common to be really worried about them.
And although mosquitoes are not the problem they are in this area, he suggests hikers apply insect repellent before taking to the trails. Ticks can be a nuisance until after the first frost, he said.
“We’re anticipating a great fall here,” Ensley said, referring to the fall colors. “We want to invite everybody to get out there and enjoy it.”
For more information about fall colors at Georgia’s state parks, go to www.gastateparks.org. For weekly fall foliage reports from the Georgia Forestry Commission, go to www.GaTrees.org.