From cascading waterfalls and colorful canyons to scenic mountaintops and Civil War-era ruins, Georgia's trails offer a variety of scenic escapes for city dwellers searching for an easy hiking day trip as well as experienced backpackers. From short, beginner-friendly paths along calm rivers to day-long, challenging excursions deep in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the state offers a variety of hiking experiences for all levels of fitness and in all corners of the state. From the unique, lunar-like granite monadock of Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve near Atlanta to the state's highest mountain peak Brasstown Bald in North Georgia, here are the 12 best places to hike in Georgia.
Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve
This former quarry turned nature preserve is part of the three-county, 40,000 acre Arabia Mountain National Heritage Site located just 30 miles east of Atlanta. The preserve is defined by its two moon-like granite monadnocks as well as dense forests, hidden lakes, and small pools. Try the 2.5-mile Mountain Loop Trail, which takes you to the summit of Arabia Mountain and offers stunning views of the countryside below. Or explore the 30-mile, multi-use Arabia Mountain Path, which passes the historic T. A. Bryant House and Homestead—home to Flat Rock Archives and other items detailing the history of this African-American community—and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual home of local monks which has exhibit space, an abbey, a bookstore, and bonsai garden open to the public.
The storied Appalachian Trail begins in Georgia, with the first 79 miles of the hiking route located in the northeastern part of the state. At 4,458 feet, the Blood Mountain summit is Georgia's highest peak along the trail, making it a popular destination for day hikers. A 4.3-mile moderately difficult trail from the Byron Reece trailhead north of Neel’s Gap takes you from a mosses valley to the mountain's craggy summit, which offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains below. Note that while the trail is popular year-round, it's particularly busy during peak leaf season and parking can be scarce, so plan to arrive early on weekends or try your hike on a less crowded weekday.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
For some of the state's best waterfalls, head to Cloudland Canyon State Park, located on the Cumberland Plateau on Lookout Mountain in the northeastern corner of the state. The aptly named, 2-mile out-and-back Waterfall Trail descends more than 400 feet into a gorge formed by Daniel Creek. The arduous hike, which includes sections of gravel and a 600-step staircase, is worth it for views of two separate falls: Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, which plunge from 60 and 90 feet deep into the canyon below. Or try the scenic, 4.8 mile West Rim Loop, a rocky, moderate to difficult trail that rewards hikers with shady oak and maple forests, thickets of blooming Rhododendron and mountain laurel, and stellar views of the canyon and surrounding mountains.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
Located just 20 miles from downtown Atlanta, Sweetwater Creek State Park's proximity to the city and 15 miles of trails make it popular with city dwellers looking for a quick escape. Take the mostly-flat first half of the mile-long Red Trail—the park's most traversed—to see the ruins of a five-story Civil War-era textile mill towering above the creek's rapids. The ruins may look familiar as they were featured in movies like the "Hunger Games" series. For a more strenuous hike, try the Yellow Trail, a 3-mile loop that takes you across the river and ascends deep into hardwood forests before descending into thickets of mountain laurel and a natural rock dam that gives way to views of the ruins and rapids below. The park also has ranger-led hikes as well as an interactive on-site museum.
At 4,784 feet tall, Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in the state of Georgia and is located deep in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests just north of the mountain town of Helen and south of the North Carolina border. Reach the mountain's expansive observation tower via the steep but paved, 1.2-mile out-and-back trail that starts at the visitor's center and winds through a lush, rocky forest dotted with wildflowers and patches of green moss before reaching the summit, which offers panoramic views of four states: Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of Atlanta's skyscrapers over 100 miles to the southwest, and the views at sunrise and sunset are unparalleled.
Located in the southwestern part of the state near the Alabama border, this colorful canyon is dubbed "Georgia's Little Grand Canyon." The Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area has over 10 miles of hiking trails, but the most popular (and scenic) is the Canyon Loop Trail, an easy to moderately challenging 2.5-mile journey that rings all nine of the park's canyons. The best vistas are found closest to the fence, and that due to the fragile soil, no walking is allowed on the canyon's floors or rims. Experienced backpackers seeking a challenge will want to tackle the 7-mile Backcountry Trail, a rugged and technically challenging hike that leads into dense forests and offers views of six of the park's canyons.
Bartram Trail at Rabun Bald
Rabun Bald is Georgia's second-highest peak and less traversed than its sister peak to the west. Towering at 4,696 feet, the summit can be reached via three separate paths, the easiest and shortest of which is the Bartram Trail, which follows the route of late 18th-century naturalist and writer William Bartram. The 4-mile, round-trip path gains more than 1,000 feet in elevation through switchbacks and rocky terrain before ending in a set of steep wooden stairs leading to an observation tower offering sweeping views of nearby mountains and hillsides in both North Carolina and Georgia.
Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge
Ample accommodations, 10 separate hiking trails, and 829 acres of lush scenery make this one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the state. At 729 feet, Amicalola Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of Georgia. For novice hikers, the falls are accessible via 600 stairs and a slightly steep quarter-mile hike from the parking lot. More experienced trekkers often opt for the Approach Trail, an 8.5-mile hike that begins in the park and ends at the southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail. The park also offers hour-long guided hikes, zip-lines, 3-D archery, and animal meet-and-greets. Fuel up after your hike with dinner at the on-site Maple Restaurant, which offers panoramic views of the falls and surrounding mountainside.
Pine Mountain Trail at F.D. Roosevelt State Park
North Georgia isn't the only place in the state with scenic hikes. This state park named for former President Franklin D. Roosevelt—who retreated to the nearby warm spring to treat his polio—is just 80 miles southwest of Atlanta and has 23 miles of trails. For the best views, take the moderately-paced Dowell's Knob Loop, a 4.3-mile path that loops through wildflowers and rocky forest for a sweet reward: panoramic views from the 1,395-foot summit, the former President's prized picnic spot.
Hurricane Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park
This state park in Rabun County in North Georgia offers over 15 miles of scenic hiking trails. Take the 2-mile Hurricane Falls Trail loop, which circles the 1,000-foot-deep gorge's south and north rims. While moderately difficult, with terrain varying from steep metal steps to pavement to a suspension bridge, it offers one of the best overlooks for viewing the upper portion of the thundering Hurricane Falls, one of the park's six waterfalls. For a gentler experience, take the Tallulah Gorge Shoreline Trail, a paved, relatively flat former rail trail that follows the banks of the Tallulah River that's perfect for running, cycling, or hiking with small children.
Located between the towns of Cleveland and Helen in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, Yonuh Mountain rewards hikers who take on the challenge of its somewhat strenuous 4.4-mile out-and-back trail with panoramic views at the iconic summit. The route winds through patches of colorful wildflowers and rocky boulders, with plenty of opportunities for stopping and resting (or overnight camping) along the way. While in the area, visit nearby wineries like the Yonah Mountain Vineyards in Cleveland.
Anna Ruby Falls
For a short, yet scenic hike, head to Anna Ruby Falls in the Chattahoochee-Oconoee National Forests in North Georgia just north of Helen. The half mile out-and-back trail is mostly uphill along a bubbling creek and rewards hikers with vibrant wildflowers, mossy boulders, plenty of wildlife, and views of twin waterfalls formed by Curtis and York Creeks spilling over the cliff just below the top of nearby Tray Mountain. The path is paved and perfect for novices or those with strollers and small children.