Sweet Georgia on My Mind: Georgia State Parks

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Amicalola Falls
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I never would have guessed I would live in Georgia, or the south for that matter, and love it as much as I do. Over the years since graduating from my Minnesota upbringing, I have lived in California, NYC, back in Minnesota, and now Atlanta. I have traveled to many states and places, but Georgia ranks at the top for so many reasons I simply can’t express in just one article. Who knew Georgia would be on my mind in such a sweet, nostalgic way? Well, apparently Ray Charles did, but now I do too!

My family of 7 moved to an Atlanta community nearly 5 years ago from Minnesota. Our big move south occurred quickly after my husband was offered an opportunity to advance his career. I had been a transplant in other states before, but never with children in tow. While raising five young children all under the age of 8 at the time, it was an opportunity of a lifetime we could not pass up! The moving truck arrived before we could even finish packing and we took a leap of faith moving across the country away from our life long family and friends. We learned to lean in on each other and grow tremendously outside of our comfort zone as a family. I can’t help but wonder how my great grandmother from Sweden felt, arriving at Ellis Island with only a trunk of belongings to her name, ready to embark on a new life in America with my great grandfather. She was a true transplant finding her way and blooming where she was planted; likewise, albeit hard initially, a century later, we learned to navigate our way in unknown territory and bloom where we were planted too.

Fast forward 5 years, we are extremely happy living in Georgia. Not only is the milder climate incredible with four seasons (yay to year-round outdoor tennis and soccer!), but the access to the mountains and ocean are a short drive by car. The ability to experience so much in terms of natural geographic beauty and diversity Georgia has to offer is so vast! The diverse cultural and large metropolitan city offers vibrant and endless opportunities and the southern warmth and hospitality of the people living here feels a lot like ‘home’ coming from the land of “Minnesota-Nice.” The quality of life and cost of living in the south for a large family is simply incredible. 

Our family is always up for an outdoor adventure and being a ‘tourist’ exploring Georgia has been fun. We are always up to finding new places in the city or nature to explore. Perhaps our love of escaping the city/burb life is part of the equation for our love of nature, but I do believe our parents and grandparents instilled a great love of getting outdoors and spending time exhaling outside too. It was the way my husband and I grew ‘traveling’ as children. We didn’t get on planes or go to lavish places. We piled into the car with our parents or grandparents and found the next best hike in a state park, lake, or river to play on. We skipped rocks and had picnics on mossy grounds. We peeled the bark from trees and created art on it. We climbed trees and went fishing. We built forts in the forests and learned about animal life and insects around us. We learned to love and appreciate the outdoors from a young age. In turn, we are raising our children the same way.

Georgia State ParksWhich leads me to sharing the best state park opportunities just outside of Atlanta. By far my favorite outing was with my husband when we rented a ScamperVan (fully equipped camper van for rent in Atlanta). We drove to Providence Canyon State Park and experienced an amazing day/night hiking and taking in the sites of what is known as  Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.” We hiked along the top of the canyon and then down the canyon floor, which was even more spectacular! Who knew Georgia was so beautiful? I sure didn’t. This state is full of amazing surprises and natural beauty from lakes to rivers, oceans to mountains, canyons & waterfalls, to wild and serene scenery.

Cloudland Canyon State Park is another top-notch must-see visit in Georgia. The vast views are heavenly and the hiking to waterfalls where you can cool off is remarkable. We hiked with our 5 children ages 3-12 at the time. You can camp out in a yurt or camper cabin if you are more of a glamping type family or pitch your own tent for a more rustic experience. Another favorite for our family is the well known, Amicalola Falls State Park. There are a kid and pet-friendly options for hiking to view Georgia’s largest waterfall and a wonderful observation deck and restaurant to eat lunch and take in the amazing expansive view of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. If you can break away from the kids or with older children, take a 5-mile excursion at the start of the Appalachian Trail to the secluded Len Foote Hike Inn.

Another favorite to note is Brasstown Bald where you can view four states at the same time from the highest point in Georgia. The hike to the top is doable with children of all ages and the treetop views, especially in the fall when the colors are breathtaking. It is easy to find your center or zen up there while floating amidst the clouds in what is known as the “cloud forest.”

Lastly, did you know that Georgia has a pristine ocean coastal region too? Jekyll Island or St. Simons Island boasts miles of open beaches, marshes and live oaks draped in Spanish moss. Both islands have plenty to do for families including a visit to the turtle rescue center and lighthouse or trolley/boat tours. Our family enjoyed crabbing and fishing off a well-known fishing pier. We can’t wait to camp and visit the wild (feral) horses known to roam Cumberland Island in Georgia this summer. This island was abandoned by Spanish settlers more than 500 years ago. Among the roaming horses on the island and untouched miles of sea & salt beauty, there are ruins of a former Carnegie mansion and a vast array of wildlife including manatees, sea turtles, armadillos & dolphins.

I don’t know about you, but Spring is here which means, it is time to get outdoors before the HOTlanta summer heat wave hits. Take the opportunity to visit a new state park or outdoor wonder in Georgia. Whether you are new to the state or a native, there is always a new adventure to be found…

Georgia sweet Georgia, you are a sweet sweet song on my mind.

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Georgia State Park Check List