If you want to go visit the mountains, you don’t have to go far from metro Atlanta. You don’t even have to go north. Check out these state parks and heritage areas that lie to the south, east and west. For more, visit gastateparks.org.
Only minutes west of Atlanta in Douglas County, the hills, outcrops and rolling rapids of Sweetwater Creek make for a great afternoon hike. The centerpiece of the park is the ruin of the New Manchester Textile Mill, which was burned during the Civil War. Park rangers lead informative hikes through the park and to the old mill. There’s also plenty of fishing opportunities in the 215-acre George Sparks Reservoir. The park is located at 1750 Mount Vernon Road in Lithia Springs.
Just 15 minutes south of Atlanta, Panola Mountain is a100-acre granite outcrop similar to Stone Mountain, but smaller and much more pristine. Park visitors will see the outcrop and its rare ecosystem just as Native Americans did centuries ago. Reservations are required for ranger-led hikes that teach about the rare plants and animals found at the park. There’s plenty of activities in the park, too, including a playground, archery, birding and tree-climbing programs. A paved trail is open for biking, roller blading, jogging and dog-walking, while forested fitness trails are open for hiking and running. 2620 Ga. 155 SW in Stockbridge.
Located near Lithonia in southern DeKalb County, this national heritage area is also a granite outcrop similar to nearby Stone Mountain and Panola Mountain. The best way to see the park is on foot or by bike, and you can even get there using the PATH system of trails. The area is also dotted with historic homes and cultural buildings that have been preserved. For more information, visit arabiaalliance.org.
Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon” was created by combination of erosion and poor farming practices during the 1800s. There are now gullies 150 feet deep and the soil’s pink, orange, red and purples hues make for stunning photographs. Visitors can enjoy views of the canyons from the rim trail and also admire the beauty of the rare Plumleaf Azalea, which only grows in this region, and blooms in July and August. 8930 Canyon Road in Lumpkin.