Learn more about Georgia State parks here.
Learn about the Charlie Eliott Wildlife Center here.
Learn more about the Helen area here.
Learn more about the Dahlonega area here.
Check out Brasstown Bald here.
Learn more about Jekyll Island here.
To all those families fretting over the prospect of pricey vacations, never fear, The Covington News 2011 Summer Guide is here. And as it turns out, Georgia has more than its fair share of outdoor attractions, ranging from mountains to beaches to scenic hiking trails and rivers.
We've listed several state parks and a few local gems that you can reach on one tank of gas (a few may take a refill) and should fit in most budgets. If any of our choices peak your interest, be sure to their websites for more information and full costs.
Though a little further than one tank of gas, sometimes you just need to get away to a true oceanic beach. Jekyll Island offers among the best value of all Georgia beaches, with 10 miles of beaches full of shell collecting, sea creatures and beautiful scenery. The beach also offers fishing, boat, kayaking, biking, birding and horseback riding.
The island also offers a full range of attractions including the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, historic sites including a former seaside resort club and a memorial to slaves illegally transported to Jekyl and a 63-hole golf course.
Another popular beach destination, Tybee features two lighthouses, Fort Pulaski National Monument, built before the Civil War, the Tybee Island Marine Science Center and typical beach and shopping attractions.
Georgia's largest state park at 9,049 acres is named after the country's longest serving president, and features his home, a museum and the warm springs where he swam. It's also one of the premier hiking parks, featuring 42 miles of trails, including the popular 23-mile Pine Mountain Trail. However, the 2011 storm have temporarily close a small section of the trail and the park's swimming pool. Two lakes offer the full range of activities, and F.D. Roosevelt offer horse rentals.
Few sites offer as many attractions as the tourist trap of Helen. Unicoi has all of the usual favorites, including camping, hiking, mountain biking, waterfalls and a swimming beach. In addition, concerts, festivals and animal programs are held regularly, and the park's restaurant has a mountain trout buffet.
The Alpine Village of Helen offers everything from hot-air balloon rides, wineries, unique shops, a waterpark and the ever-popular tubing down the Chattahooche River. Be careful when the river's low, as you'll find yourself getting stuck frequently.
This 18th century log fort protected settlers from the Cherokee and Creek Indians, and today the park provides respite from the daily grind. Hikers and mountain bikers will enjoy the 18 miles of trails, water enthusiasts will be occupied by boating, canoeing, fishing and swimming and others will enjoy the opportunity to play an 18-hole disc golf course, miniature golf and tennis.
The park also features Camp Will-A-Way, a recreation area designed specially for people with disabilities.
Hikers will enjoy the chance to traverse the 100-acre granite mountain, which is less developed than similar Stone Mountain. Guided hikes are available Wednesday through Saturday and are required to get access to parts of the mountain. Rare plants are one of the mountain's attractions. Self-guided nature trails are also available, and the park has two fishing lakes.
Best known for its nightly laser shows held in the shadow of the granite mountain and its famous carving of Confederate war heroes, Stone Mountain offers many attractions. Visitors can hike up the 825 foot peak or take a Swiss cable car. The 3,200-acre park also features train and riverboat tours, pedal boat rentals, a low ropes course, rock wall climbing, zip lines and original antebellum buildings and furniture.
Chattahooche River National Recreational Area
Visitors can rent canoes, kayaks, rafts and tubes or bring boats to cruise down the 48 miles of Chattahoochee River included in the park. The national park also offers many opportunities for fishing, a nature center and hiking, rafting and canoeing for learning disabled youth.
CLAYTON-TALLULAH FALLS AREA
Black Rock Mountain
Cool down by visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains and Georgia's most altitudinous state park, which offer spectacular 80-mile vistas. Four different hiking trails lead past streams, small waterfalls and wildflowers. The backwoods trail is a challenge, but the ridge option is easier and offers the impressive views. The 17-acre lake offers a variety of fishing, including bass, bream, catfish, perch and trout.
This spectacular 1,000-foot deep gorge is a hiker's paradise, but make sure you show up early if you want to actually hike around the gorge floor or go rock climbing, as free permits are required and limited to 100 people per day. The trails leading to the gorge are quite strenuous.
No permits are needed to hike along the trails which run around the gorge's rim, including 11 overlooks and a suspension bridge. There are also paved paths and a challenging 10-mile trail for mountain bikers. Lake fishing and swimming are also available, and the park has an interpretive center.
The Towaliga weaves through shoals and tumbles over cliffs near the remains of a 19th century grist mill, accessible by hiking trail. A mostly destroyed bridge offers beautiful views of the shoals. High Falls is one of three state parks with yurts, canvas and wooden tent-like structures complete with furniture, electricity, decks, picnic tables and outdoor grill. The park's lake is one of the top fishing spots for hybrid and white bass. Swimming is allowed in the lake, but not the river.
Mystic healing powers are said to permeate the waters of one of Georgia's oldest state parks. The Creek Indians collected spring water at the site for centuries and visitors can still sample the water today. A creek and lake provide options for swimming, boating and fishing, while a small museum highlights Creek Indians, the town's resort history and work Depression-era work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hiking, miniature golf and camping are also available.
CLOSE TO HOME
Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center
This 6,400 gem near Mansfield offers a variety of activities including, an archery range, shooting range, bird watching, fishing, hunting, hiking, biking and primitive camping, camping not done at a prepared site. Check out the georgiawildfile.com for more information.
Factory Shoals Park
The gurgling shoals of the Alcovy River create the perfect, calming backdrop for a picnic and offer great opportunities to swim and sun bathe, but be careful of the sharp rocks and strong currents. There is also a 20-foot rock face that offers the chance for rock climbing. Residents can also kayak and canoe, play ball or hike around the 300-acre jewel of Newton County. A $2 donation is encouraged.
Hard Labor Creek
Less than 20 miles from Covington, this 5,084-acre site is one of Georgia's largest, most versatile state parks. Golfers can play one of the most challenging area courses, including a killer first hole, while horse lowers will find an equestrian-friendly experience with horse stalls, horse campsites and 22 miles of riding trails. However, one must BYOH (bring your own horse).
Hard Labor is also popular for its two lakes where visitors can swim, fish and rent pedal boats and canoes. The park is also equipped with dozens of campsites and 20 cottages.
Georgia State University has an observatory out there, which is a great option for astronomers and will be open June 11, July 9, August 6, Sept. 17 and Oct. 29.
Helton Creek Falls
WHAT: This small falls is a great place for a picnic away from the crowd. There are two stages: An upper level to ooh and ahh over, and a lower level that's not as pretty but has its special charm, a cool pool and shoals where the kids can splash around. It's a favorite rec spot for locals that's rarely crowded and just a tenth of a mile off the road.
GETTING THERE: Be prepared for a bumpy ride: The falls is on the right off a rocky Forest Service road, about 3.5 miles off U.S. Highway 129.
Vogel State Park
WHAT: This Depression-era Georgia gem is one of the most popular of Georgia's state parks. Call ahead to reserve a cabin or campsite, but there's plenty of day-use activities too, including swimming, fishing, riding in a paddleboat, hiking and picnicking. The trail around the lake is a flat and easy stroll, offering great views from the dam end of Blood Mountain and the main park. A trail down by the dam offers a nice view of an unexpected waterfall.
Georgia's highest peak (4,784 feet) is cool on the hottest day. A shuttle is available for a ride to the observation tower at the top of the mountain, or you can take a paved trail from the parking lot to the top. Be forewarned: It's a short hike, but steep.
There's also a trail from the base of the mountain for the more adventurous. The interpretive center is free, and has exhibits on the forest ecosystem, history and conservation.
There's a stone wall circling the top of the peak in this state park. The wall's origins are a mystery worth exploring, and there are numerous easy trails around the mountain. Head for the small observation deck overlooking the valley on the mountainside for a treat at sunset. Watch out for rattlesnakes, though. They seem to be fairly common around the rocky outcroppings. The park offers the usual park amenities, including camping, cottages and swimming.
This 729-foot waterfall is one of the prettiest in Georgia, well worth the climb up the stairs to the observation decks. There are 175 steps to the second deck, and it's a steep climb, but worth the effort for photography enthusiasts. A lodge is at the top of the falls and there's a viewing area there, but your best bets are the lower platforms.
If you want to shop without the faux Bavarian atmosphere of Helen, check out downtown Dahlonega. There's an eclectic assortment of retailers along the square, ranging from boutiques to junk stores. There's a variety of eateries, too, but no visit to Dahlonega is compete without the communal pleasure of dining on the down-home fare at the Smith House. Leave room for dessert.