Atlanta is the ninth-largest metro area in the U.S., but what makes it a truly special city (besides its incredible Southern food, one-of-a-kind nightlife, and storied history) is the fact that it's surrounded by some pretty wild natural beauty. Mere minutes outside the city limits, you can find abandoned Civil War-era ruins to explore, mountains to hike, rivers to canoe, lakeshore beaches to swim from, mysterious Native American earthworks to study, and plenty more. So, when you start to feel the need for a break from the hustle and bustle of the ATL, there's plenty of natural beauty for the enjoying!
Just a twenty-minute drive out of the big city, Sweetwater Creek State Park is the perfect way to begin unwinding. You'll feel like you're way outside the city, but minus the part where you have to drive forever. Once you arrive, grab a guide from the Interpretive Center and you'll be on your way! The red trail (history trail) is the shortest and easiest hike in the park, and it takes you right to an old textile mill that was burned down during the Civil War. Keep trekking along and you'll enjoy views of crashing, white-capped waves that provide for some great pictures! Additional trails at the park vary in length and difficulty. This truly is a perfect day trip to unwind and get away from it all. And the park is pet-friendly!
Aside from how fun it is to say the name, Chattahoochee Bend State Park offers some serious outdoor fun and awesome camping. The park offers more than just your average tent and RV sites; for real privacy and that authentic wilderness experience, there are also backcountry and paddle-in campsites. And, remember, this backcountry camping is only an hour's drive from the city! The park also offers programs that provide an afternoon of guided activity and can include hikes, fishing trips, and boat excursions. There are plenty of other activities for people of all ages and interests, including a butterfly garden by the visitor center, and plenty of trails for biking. Head down the Riverwalk Trail and you'll stumble upon an observation tower that's great for seeing the park, or for viewing a sunset. And if you need a break from the great outdoors, explore the Carroll County Gold Museum nearby!
For history buffs, this next stop is a must-see. Head north to Pickett's Mill Battlefield, where you can visit a fantastically-preserved Civil War Battlefield in all its glory. Over 2,000 soldiers, from both the Union and the Confederacy, lost their lives on this field during an all-night battle in 1864. Visitors can experience it firsthand by walking the same grounds the soldiers trod that fateful night. Miles of trails are featured at the Battlefield and interpretive signs explain historically significant spots along the hike, along with a visitor center and a pioneer cabin replica from roughly the same era. This trip back in time is only open from Thursday to Saturday, so plan accordingly. Fun fact - the 2009 Robert Duvall film "Get Low" was filmed here!
Just a half an hour away, in Cartersville, you can continue time traveling by stopping at Etowah Indian Mounds Historic Site. Over 50 acres of land feature six Indian mounds and historic landmarks that date back to 1,000 A.D. A nature trail following the Etowah River teaches the ways that the people living here long ago used the land and trees. You can even see an old fishing trap! A museum on the property showcases an educational film, as well as artifacts that have been preserved from the site. Pack a picnic for the afternoon, and enjoy the view of the mounds after working up an appetite climbing up them. Pro tip: Don't forget bug spray for the occasional patch of tall grass.
Close by to the mounds is a gorgeous state park that offers picture-perfect water views and scenery. If you haven't already been taking pictures of Georgia's beauty, now's the time to bring out the camera! Not only are there miles and miles of hiking and biking trails that take you to overlooks of the park, but the park is right on Lake Allatoona, which spans 12,000 acres and offers secluded beach activities, perfect for those who want to chill out after a long hike. Stay at the lodge, rent a cottage, or pitch your own tent at the end of the day! History enthusiasts will enjoy yet another battlefield from a Civil War engagement that took place around the same time as Pickett's Mill. The Battle of Allatoona Pass was a small yet gruesome battle, with nearly one thousand deaths on each side. Confederates were the ones attacking Union troops, but ultimately weren't successful in getting through to the railroad that the Union Army was protecting. Red Top Mountain State Park is conveniently located not far off the highway, perfect for roadtrippers making their way through the adorable town of Cartersville.
Or, adventure east and you'll reach the ultimate getaway, nestled between Atlanta and Athens. At Fort Yargo State Park, you have a choice of amenities such as cabins and yurts. Over 20 miles of trails make Fort Yargo a great place for hiking and biking, and the lake offers fishing, swimming, boating, and more. Always wanted to try paddle boarding? Here's your chance! An old fort built in the 1700s sits on the property, where you'll find re-enactments and perhaps even an axe-throwing demonstration. There are loads of activities for all ages; you'll want to kick back, relax, and stay awhile!
Panola Mountain State Park gives visitors incredible mountain views, not too far from the city. Here you can participate in a variety of ranger-led hikes up the mountain, work on those archery skills, or just hike and fish. There are both paved and natural trails, so bring the rollerblades or your bike for an afternoon of fun! The park does have campsites, but note there are only a handful available, and you're provided with just simple camping basics. Both boat and bike rentals are available to all. Enjoy a final sunset over the water for a great ending to a day out in nature.
Who would've thought that Atlanta had such breathtaking views and so many opportunities to be out in nature, right in its backyard? When busy city life gets the best of you, or you find yourself simply traveling through Georgia, these hidden gems are great places to unwind and appreciate the beauty of the South!
From mountains to lakes, and from salt marsh to streams, Georgia has dozens of places for you to kick back and enjoy the great outdoors.