Panola Mountain State Park & 10+ Superb Outdoor Adventures

It’s always fun to get outside in the fresh air, but sometimes you want more than just a walk in the woods.

Georgia’s Panola Mountain State Park is a spectacular destination for the outdoor adventurer because, in addition to the usual hiking and biking paths, Panola also has archery classes and tree climbing!

Panola Mountain State Park

And when you are done there, you’ll be amazed at all the other outdoor fun we found throughout Henry County. I know this because it took quite a bit of searching just to get the links for the 10+ trails we mention in this article.

Believe me, you’ll want to bookmark this post if you like getting outside and are looking for some new destinations close to Atlanta.

But first, let me tell you more about why we love Panola Mountain State Park, and then we’ll give you the scoop on even more adventures in the area.

5 Superb Panola Mountain State Park Adventures

Panola Mountain State Park 

2620 Highway 155 SW | Stockbridge GA 30281
There are 25+ miles of trails at Panola Mountain State Park, including a PATH Foundation Trail that connects Panola with Arabia Mountain State Park, Stonecrest Mall and a few other places. It’s perfect for a long run or bike ride.

(Note: Both lakes and a portion of the Lake Loop Trail are closed for dam reconstruction. Anticipated Completion – Spring 2019)

Panola Mountain State Park Archery

Archery at Panola Mountain State Park, Stockbridge, Ga.

My first trip to Panola Mountain was to research a post on Experiencing the Hunger Games in Atlanta. If you’ve read any of the Hunger Games books, you know the main character, Katniss Everdeen is an expert archer.  So of course my research had to include learning how to use a bow and arrow, and the best place to learn archery is Panola Mountain State Park.

I may have been channeling Katniss, but my youngest, who joined me, was pretending to be Will from the Ranger’s Apprentice young adult book series. Something for everyone.

When you go, be sure to make a reservation prior to heading out — the classes are popular and large groups can fill a class quickly. You are welcome to bring your own archery equipment, but it’s not necessary as they have impressive and colorful compound bows for visitors to use. (Archery classes would also be an awesome birthday party)

Logistics of Archery at Panola Mountain State Park

Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before the class begins. If you’ve paid online, go straight to the archery range. If you haven’t paid, you’ll need to visit the nature center first.

The archery range is down a separate road from the main entrance to Panola Mountain Park, so consult a map carefully, or just leave a little extra time to find your way. I was hopelessly lost in the parking lot and ended up having to ask the ranger at the front gate for directions twice. So much for my survivor skills. I wouldn’t last five minutes in the Hunger Games arena.

Archery at Panola Mountain State Park

I don’t know that either my son or I will be taking down charging foes anytime soon, but we had a ton of fun learning to shoot. I found myself getting a bit competitive after a good shot or a tiny bit of praise from the instructor.

Archery is addictive. I could have easily stayed for another half hour trying to replicate my bulleyes (notice I used the plural there:)  My son enjoyed educating me on draw weight and we confirmed that both of us are right eye dominate (My older two are left-eye dominate, which we learned in another archery session years ago.)

Standard and 3D Archery Ranges

In addition to archery classes, Panola Mountain has two different archery ranges. There is a standard range with targets at varying distances, as well as a 3D archery range where you walk through the woods to find different animal targets. In order to use the ranges, you’ll need to bring your own equipment.

Tree Climbing at Panola Mountain State Park

Tree Climbing at Panola Mountain State Park

Who loved climbing trees when they were a kid? I sure did. On a return trip to Panola Mountain State Park, I had the chance to relive those moments by climbing Naomi Ruth, the park’s beloved Southern Red Oak during an introductory tree climbing class.

Note: Naomi Ruth is not being used for tree climbs until the dam reconstruction is complete. The tree currently being used is near the nature center.

With helmet on and harness fastened, the instructors walked myself and other bloggers through the process of inching up the ropes, which were already hanging from dear Naomi. I must admit that it took a little getting used to, but there was crazy satisfaction making my way up up up into the canopy.

I was a tad higher than others, so I was able to see how they finagle their way into a hanging cot called a “treeboat” that holds visitors  for special sky-high overnights.

While we were hanging out in the trees, our guide encouraged us to hang upside down!! My friend Lori even stayed upside down while they lowered her to the ground…like a bat!

This was an amazing experience- it even made our list of 52 Adventures Every Kid Must Experience! Just be mindful that your child needs to be 8 years old or so to have the strength necessary to climb.

For special-needs climbers, call the nature center at Panola Park and they can arrange canopy assistance…there is no reason any kiddo (or adult) should miss out on the excitement of climbing trees!

So how do you get in on this action? There are five ways that you, too, can climb a tree #likeaboss with Tree Top Excursions at Panola Mountain State Park:

  1. Introduction Climbs – These occur once a month, primarily at Panola but sometimes at other locations. The cost is $15 per person, and it is two hours of fun much like I mention above.
  2. Group Climbs – If you have a group- a birthday party, scout group, homeschool co-op, etc- then you can schedule a private climb. The minimum fee is $200 and that covers up to 10 people. Each additional person is $20.
  3. Night Climbs – Nighttime climbs offer the opportunity to see florescent lichen, bright stars, and Barred owls. Night climbs are $25 per person.
  4. ZZZs in the Trees – If you want to sleep under the stars in the treeboat (like I did in the feature picture), then tree ZZZs in the trees is for you. It is $90 per person. You and your friends hang out in the canopy while a guide camps out below, available to lower you down upon request for the restroom, etc.
  5. Wild ClimbAfter you’ve gotten your bearings on Naomi, you can venture into the backcountry with a guide for a wild climb!


Panola Mountain State Park Biking

Biking at Panola Mountain State Park

On our first visit to Panola Mountain, we brought along bikes and did the lake loop a few times. My son said he was pretending the bikes were horses and we were galloping through the kingdom like the characters in his current book, Eragon.

This horse had to work harder than expected to get up the hills on the path. After a bit of initial complaining, my 9-year-old did fine and requested we go around a second time, but it might be a little hard for young or novice bikers who will likely walk up the hills and might have some trouble on the downhill as there are some sharp turns.

If we had more time, I would have liked to take the path to Arabia Mountain Park, but we decided to save that for another day.

This park is part of the Georgia State Parks Muddy Spokes program too. And if you don’t have a bike, or don’t want to lug it to the park, Panola Mountain State Park rents bikes.

And more at Panola Mountain State Park

Archery, tree climbing, biking and hiking are just the beginning. Panola Mountain also has paddling, site specific camping, Geocaching, and a cool Monodock, which is a 100-acre granite outcrop similar to Stone Mountain.

Panola Mountain State Park hiking

Hiking Trails with a Little Something Extra

Panola Mountain State Park isn’t the only place to hit the trail. Here are 10+ trails just south of Atlanta in Henry County, Georgia that offer a little more than just a walk in the woods.

Reeves Creek Trail (at Memorial Park)

106 Jennings Way | Stockbridge GA 30281
Dogs and bikes are welcome at this park with three miles of trails. There are two trailheads with parking – one at Memorial Park and one at Flippen Road. I suggest the Flippen Road entrance where you’ll find exercise equipment, as well as a Little Free Library.

Village Park at North Henry

750 Fairview Road | Stockbridge GA 30281
This 34-acre destination park just opened in 2017 and is a great addition to Henry County. There is a 1.1 mile walking/jogging trail; playground, and splash pad for the kids; and fitness equipment for adults. Catch a game at one of the two multipurpose sports fields or get your own going on the event lawn. However, you’ll need to leave Fido home. No pets are allowed in this park.

Clark Park

111 David Road | Stockbridge GA 30281
This city park has paved walking trails perfect for strollers, plus a playground and dog park. FYI – the dogs are not allowed on the trails, just in the dog park.

Bud Kelley Park

1605 Kelleytown Road | McDonough GA 30252
This 124-acre park has a playground and fitness area in addition to two miles of paved trails. Your pets are welcome, and the playground area has restrooms, always a plus.

Heritage Park

101 Lake Dow Road | McDonough GA 30252
In addition to almost a mile of paved walking trails, this 129-acre park has not one but two playgrounds, a community garden and something very special.

The Heritage Park Veterans Museum is a hidden gem.  The museum is free and has memorabilia from WWI to the present and guided tours led by veterans. The Veterans are what make this extra special. There is also a Veterans Wall of Honor outside the museum.

Go back a bit further in time at the Historic Village. On this site are  historic buildings such as a barn, 1827 settler’s cabin, an original two-room county school house, the first library building in Henry County, Lane’s country store and even a 1934 steam engine locomotive and tender. The park is viewable from the exterior anytime, but groups can set up a special tour of the buildings with the Parks and Recreation department.

Nash Farm Park

100 Babbs Mill Road | Hampton GA 30228
This 204-acre park was the site of one of the largest Cavalry raids in Georgia’s history. Learn about the park’s past from historic markers along the walking trails.

Noahs Ark Henry County Ga.

Unexpected Adventures in Henry County

Rum Creek Golf Course

107 Saint Ives Crossing | Stockbridge GA 30281
Have you ever played Foot Golf? It’s kind of like soccer golf. You use a soccer ball instead of a golf ball and kick it to the special hole vs. using a club. It’s lots of fun and perfect for any age. Rum Creek Golf Course in one of only a few foot golf courses in the state that offer foot golf. Don’t have a foot golf ball, don’t worry about it, you can rent one at the course. If you’d rather play regular golf, they have that too on a Par 3, 9-hole executive course. Plus you can hit balls at the driving range or hit different balls at the batting cage on site.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary

712 LG Griffin Road | Locust Grove GA 30248
We love Noah’s Ark. So many animals to see (1,500 to be exact) all along a 1-mile paved trail. We usually take the self-guided tour, but they also have a Walk on the Wild Side Behind the Scenes tour that allows you to get inside the first set of fences for a closer look (must be at least 10 years old) After checking out the animals, stay for a picnic lunch, they have lots of tables and a playground to get out the wiggles before heading home.

J.P. Moseley Park & Disc Golf Course

1041 Miller’s Mill Road | Stockbridge, GA 30281
There is a ton to do at this 179-acre park. In addition to 1.4 miles of paved trails, there is an 18-hole professional caliber disc golf course that meanders through the woods. This park also has a recreation center and playground.

Cubihatcha Outdoor Center

100 Collins Road| Locust Grove GA 30248
Explore 10 miles of trails set between two beautiful reservoirs on almost 1,000 contiguous acres. This is a wonderful place to see the Piedmont region in its natural state. Take a self-guided tour to view the diverse habitats, or book a walk led by staff naturalists.

If you go in the Fall, you may run into groups of Henry County Public School 3rd graders. The students, called Cubihatcha Kids visit each fall to use the center as their outdoor classroom.

Note the trails here are only open Monday – Friday 8 – 4 pm.

Sandy Ridge Park & Sandy Ridge BMX

1200 Keys Ferry Road | McDonough GA 30253
My boys LOVE the BMX tracks around the state. These parks are open to the public and a lot of fun for all ages as it’s challenging to a new rider to just get around the course, while an experienced rider will likely try to ‘get air’ as they go around. In addition to the BMX track, there are two playgrounds and a paved trail just over a half-mile long neatly compacted into this 34-acre park.

Henry County Farms

You can’t get much more fresh air than on a farm. These are two of our favorites in Henry County

Southern Belle Farm

1658 Turner Church Road | Stockbridge, GA 30252
We love this 330-acre family farm where you can pick strawberries in the spring, and peaches, blackberries and blueberries in the summer. After picking, participate in farm activities like peddle karts, a cow train, jumping pillow, or just see the farm animals. Fall is one of the best times to visit because they have pig races and a corn maze. Here’s more about what you can expect at Southern Belle Farms no matter what the season.

Yule Forest: Home of the Pumpkin Patch

3656 Hwy 155 North | Stockbridge GA 30281
Yule Forest is another family owned and operated farm where you can pick your pumpkin and cut it fresh off the vine. The cartoon hayride is always fun and it stops at a petting farm. There are tons of educational opportunities here too. They have puppet shows, honey bee demonstrations and the last time I was here they even had a hydroponics display! I guarantee everyone will learn something and have fun in the process.

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