Day Tripping To The Breathtaking National Parks In Georgia

Georgia is filled with beautiful scenery, amazing outdoor adventures, and so much history — it’s no wonder there are so many national parks here.

Here in Georgia, you can learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. or explore a mostly untouched island.  You can learn about the American Indians who called this land home or visit the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter.  Georgia has so much to explore, and the best part is: They can be explored in a day.

Take a day trip to one of these amazing national parks in Georgia — you won’t regret it.

This copper plaque marks the beginning (or end) of the famed Appalachian Trail (and note the white trail blaze)

National Parks In North Georgia

With so many places to choose from, the hardest part will be deciding which one to visit first!  History buffs and outdoor adventurers alike will find that the Peach State has a lot to offer.

Ready for a day trip north of the city?  These sites are great choices!

Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,180+ mile long trail that begins (or ends!) in Georgia.  Now, we’re not saying you need to hike the whole thing, but with almost 80 miles of this awesome trail in our great state — you should at least hike parts of it!

Hiking the AT is what outdoor enthusiasts dream about — and Georgians are so lucky that it’s right in our backyard.  The Georgia section of the AT offers lots of great weekend overnight options, day trips, and family-friendly options too.

The southernmost terminus of the AT is located at Springer Mountain — which can be accessed from Amicalola State Park.  It’s a great hike for even the littlest ones in your group.

Another great AT hike for all ages is the Blood Mountain hike from Neels Gap.  This hike is under 5 miles, and takes you to highest point of the trail in Georgia!

A hike to Preachers Rock from Woody Gap is another crowd-pleaser.  It’s just 2 miles round trip, and the views from Preachers Rock are amazing!  This is one of my kids’ favorites.

Not a big hiker, but still want to “hike” part of the AT?  Then I highly recommend stopping by Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi.  It’s a store with snacks, hiking gear, local goods, and…the Appalachian Trail passes right through the store!  It is the only covered part of the entire AT, and offers amazing mountain views from the back.

Make Sure You…

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

In northwest Georgia on the Tennessee line, you’ll find the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park.

This park is made up of almost 10,000 acres — so there is plenty to do and a lot to learn about.

This area is historically significant because this is where Union and Confederate forces fought for control of Chattanooga — with Union troops eventually gaining control in November 1863.

This park is now home to the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center in Georgia, the Lookout Mountain Battlefield Visitor Center at Point Park in Tennessee, and the Ochs Museum, also in Point Park.  The visitor centers offer many exhibits about the Civil War and the battles fought there.

The Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center is home to Fuller Gun Collection — which is considered one of the best displays of military small arms in the U.S.

There are many trails within the park for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling too.  Rock climbing is permitted at two locations on Lookout Mountain.

Ranger-guided tours are offered regularly during the fall and winter months.

Make Sure You…

  • Explore the Visitor Centers
  • Participate in a ranger-guided tour
  • Hike a trail

National Parks In and Around Atlanta

If you live in the city, a day trip to these history-filled sites are an easy choice!

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Located close to Atlanta, the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is one of the most popular sites run by the National Park Service in the U.S.!

This 2,965 acre site preserves a Civil War battleground.  In 1864, some of the bloodiest battles during General Sherman’s march to Atlanta happened here.

Now, you’ll find miles of trails and a visitor center with a museum.  Ranger talks are also offered on the weekends.  This park is popular with Atlantans who love to hike to the top of the mountain and look out over the city!  The views from the top are amazing.  (You can also drive to the top, or take the shuttle on weekends.)

Make Sure You…

  • Have your kids earn their Junior Ranger Badge
  • Hike to the top of the mountain
  • Explore the museum

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

With 48 miles of river to explore, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offers something for every outdoor enthusiast.

Fishing, boating, hiking, and relaxing are on the agenda here.  The Island Ford Visitor Center in Sandy Springs is a great place to start.  Here you’ll find Junior Ranger information, boating access, and hikes the whole family will enjoy.

The river is great for leisurely rafting, canoeing, or kayaking trips.  Access to the river can be found between Buford Dam and Morgan Falls Dam at 11 different locations.  The river is also accessible by boat south of Morgan Falls Dam at Morgan Falls Park, Johnson Ferry, Powers Island, and Paces Mill.

Hiking is another popular activity here!  Take a hike on the East Palisades Trail in Atlanta and check out the bamboo forest while you’re there.  Or the West Palisades Trail at Paces Mill Park in Vinings is an awesome escape in the middle of the city.  The Sope Creek Trail will take you right by some paper mill ruins, and the Island Ford Trail is a peaceful walk along the river.

There are also 7 miles of trails available to bicyclists, so there is no shortage of things to do.  This park is open year-round.

Make Sure You…

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Learn all about one of America’s most beloved and inspirational people with a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park in downtown Atlanta.

This park protects the sites that are connected to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — including his boyhood home and church.

The visitor center is a great place to start.  Here, you can learn all about the historical site, the life of MLK, and the Civil Rights Movement.  It’s an amazing and powerful museum, and a great way to be introduced to the site.  They even have an exhibit geared to the younger children in your group.

Ebenezer Baptist Church is located across from the visitor center.  It’s the church where MLK’s father was pastor, where he was baptized, and where he was co-pastor before his death.  His funeral was also held here.

The birth home of Dr. King is the only ranger-led tour in the park.  You must sign up for a tour at the visitor center to take part.  On the 30-minute tour, you’ll learn about the young life of MLK, and see the place he lived in until he was 12.

The King Center includes exhibits about King’s life and his work in Freedom Hall.  It’s the final resting place for Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King.

Make Sure You…

  • Stop by the Visitor Center and see the powerful exhibits offered there.
  • Visit Ebenezer Baptist Church
  • Sign up for a ranger-led tour of MLK’s birth home
  • Visit the King Center and see the tombs of Dr. and Mrs. King

National Parks in South Georgia

These sites south of Atlanta are filled with history — you’re sure to love them, and learn a lot along the way.

Andersonville National Historic Site

A visit to the Andersonville National Historic Site will be a somber one, but one that is educational nonetheless.

This historic site, located about 60 miles southwest of Macon, includes the former Camp Sumter military prison, a prisoner of war museum, and a national cemetery.

The Camp Sumter military prison was one of the largest Confederate military prisons during the Civil War.  It’s mostly known for the awful conditions that the Union soldiers suffered through.

The prison was built to hold 10,000 prisoners, but at one point held 32,000.  Almost 13,000 men died here.  Those who died were buried in a cemetery just outside the prison walls.  A tour of the prison is definitely an eye-opening experience.

Also at the historic site, you’ll find the Andersonville National Cemetery.  Initially the site of the Union soldier burials, it is now a place of honor for those who died in service to the United States.

The National Prisoner of War Museum is also the visitor center.  A great place to start, a tour of this museum will give insight to prisoners of war throughout history.

Make Sure You…

Jimmy Carter National Historic Site

Visit the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia and see the town and the places that helped shape the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former President of the United States.

Plains High School serves as the visitor center for the historic site.  Here you’ll find information about the 39th President of the United States in the museum that features exhibits about the lives of the Carters.  Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter both attended and graduated from the school.

You can also explore the boyhood farm of Jimmy Carter, where he was raised from the age of 4. There are audio stations throughout, where you can press a button and hear Jimmy Carter share stories from his childhood.  The farm buildings have been restored to their original appearance.

The Plains Train Depot was Carter’s presidential campaign headquarters, and now contains a self-guided museum.  Take the awesome SAM Shortline Train here — Georgia’s only rolling state park — and explore the National Historic Site during your layover.  It’s a great way to explore the area!

Make Sure You…

  • Take the SAM Shortline Train to Plains
  • Explore the boyhood farm of Jimmy Carter
  • Visit Plains High School

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park in Macon is a prehistoric American Indian site that’s filled with history and nature.

American Indians first came to this area to hunt Ice Age mammals! Many different American Indians occupied the land for thousands of years, until eventually the Mississippian period began.  They constructed mounds here which remain today, and make up this amazing park.

One of the coolest things to see is the Earth Lodge floor.  You’re able to walk inside the mound and look at the mound floor, which was carbon dated to the year 1015!

Another must-see part of this park is the Great Temple Mound. You can climb to the top of the 50-foot mound and look out over the city of Macon.

The Visitor Center is great, and features all sorts of exhibits and archaeological finds.

There are also 5-miles of trails here for hikers, and picnic tables so you can pack a lunch.

Make Sure You…

  • See the exhibits in the Visitor Center
  • Walk inside the Earth Lodge
  • Climb the top of Great Temple Mound

National Parks on the Georgia Coast

While visiting coastal Georgia, make sure to make time for a day trip to one of these excellent national parks!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island is Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island — and it is magnificent.

Undeveloped beaches, maritime forests, camping, hiking, biking, and even wild horses can be found here.  It’s home to almost 10,000 acres of Congressionally-designated wilderness, and that means that it’s virtually untouched.

The only way to get to the island is by boat — a ferry runs to and from the town of St. Mary’s several times a day.

You can explore the ruins of Dungeness Mansion, enjoy the natural beauty of an untouched beach, hike or bike the trails through the maritime forests, camp, or stay at Greyfield Inn.

This place is extraordinary, and a visit here is guaranteed to be memorable.

Make Sure You…

  • See the wild horses (don’t get too close)!
  • Hike to and explore Dungeness
  • Go to the beach
  • Rent a bike

Fort Frederica National Monument

At this national monument you’ll find the archaeological remains of Fort Frederica — which was once a British town and fort founded by Gen. James Oglethorpe.

In 1742, Spanish and British forces fought here — the Spanish lost — and Georgia remained a British colony because of it.

Now you’ll find the remains of the fort, a visitors center, a flat 1/4-mile hike that takes you to the fort, and an amazing Junior Ranger program.

It’s a great place to discover history for both kids and adults.

Make Sure You…

Fort Pulaski National Monument

If you’re in the Savannah area, a visit to Fort Pulaski is a must!

Fort Pulaski is located halfway between Savannah and Tybee Island, and played a significant role in the Civil War.

More than 25 million bricks were used to build the fort, and in the early 19th century, these masonry forts were great at keeping their enemies at bay.  But in April 1862, Union forces used new technology — rifled cannon fire — to expose the Confederates ammunition and the Confederates were forced to surrender.

Today visitors can tour the fort, hike the surrounding trails, learn more about the building of the fort at the visitor center, and see live cannon demonstrations.

It’s a great national monument with so much to explore — Fort Pulaski is a family favorite of ours.

Make Sure You…

  • Tour the fort! (The tunnels are especially amazing.)
  • Hike the Lighthouse Overlook Trail for great views of the Cockspur Lighthouse.
  • See a cannon or musket firing — available several times a year.

Other National Park Service Affiliated Sites in Georgia

These sites aren’t technically run by the National Park Service, but the NPS partners with the sites and provides assistance.  They’re all worth a visit!

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area

Hiking at Arabia Mountain is fun for both adults and kids!  Located in DeKalb County, Arabia has a lot of fun, easy hikes that kids will really enjoy.  Highly recommend a visit here!

Augusta Canal National Heritage Area

The Augusta Canal helped usher in the Industrial Revolution to the south — and now it’s a great place to explore.  Tour the museum and float down the river on a boat cruise and see the sights!

Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from North Carolina down to Florida, and is home to one of America’s most unique cultures.

Gullah Geechee is the name given to the descendants of African slaves from west and central Africa who worked on southern plantations.  The culture continues today, having been passed down through generations. The heritage corridor is home to historic places, cultural sites, tours, festivals, and more.

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Remember and honor the survival of the Cherokee people who were forced from their land in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in what is now Oklahoma with a visit to the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

The trail stretches over 5,000 miles across nine states.  Activities and programs can be found in the communities and at sites along the trail.

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Kate Gelsthorpe is a former TV news writer, and a born and raised Georgia girl who grew up camping with her family at state parks around central and south Georgia. After 18 years in Atlanta, her family recently moved to Athens, and in their spare time you can find them exploring their new hometown. She and her husband, Kevin, are the proud parents of an 8-year-old dinosaur expert, and a 6-year-old outdoor-loving fashionista. You can follow her family’s quest to go on 100 hikes in 2018 on Instagram @loveandkate.

 

Kate Gelsthorpe

Kate Gelsthorpe is a former TV news writer, and a born and raised Georgia girl who grew up camping with her family at state parks around central and south Georgia.After 18 years in Atlanta, her family recently moved to Athens, and in their spare time you can find them exploring their new hometown.She and her husband, Kevin, are the proud parents of an 8-year-old dinosaur expert, and a 6-year-old outdoor-loving fashionista.You can follow her family's quest to go on 100 hikes in 2018 on Instagram @loveandkate.

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