Picture of the Day: Truck in the Woods

These pictures were taken at a small picnic area off the road in Northern California at the south end of Redwood National and State Parks. Though my first redwood trees were the dying ones in Malibu Creek State Park about 600 miles south of here, these were my first big boy Redwoods! Returning home to Georgia after this felt like I lived in a land of twigs that people called trees. The Redwood forests are something that has to be experienced in person and everyone with a chance to visit should take that chance!

Thanks! – Josh

Chattahoochee Bend State Park

The nearly constant spring rain let up enough this Monday for us to make a trip over to Chattahoochee Bend State Park. Chattahoochee Bend, Georgia’s 5th largest State Park, is a kayakers haven, along with having hiking trails and plenty of camping. The park winds along the Chattahoochee river and is home to diverse wildlife and lush green forest.

When we arrived at the park, I was so surprised by how nice it was. Chattahoochee Bend had by far the cleanest, nicest facilities of any park we have visited. The visitors center had rocking chairs on a wrapping front porch, very friendly employees, and kayak rentals available. We stopped in to grab a map, and decided to drive down to the Riverside trail. It was marked as “easy”, and follows the path of the Chattahoochee River.

We started along the trail, and I was so surprised by how different it felt than other GA trails. Low hanging vines, bright green leaves, and scattered creeks surrounded us. When our son wasn’t singing “we’re going on a bear hunt”, the only sounds were chirping birds and gurgling streams. It felt very secluded and really “out in nature”, even though we only hiked a few miles. We stopped to observe the beaver pond, but sadly didn’t spot any beavers. About a mile into the trail, we came to the observation tower, which was a wooden tower about two stories up. We climbed up and enjoyed the view of the muddy river. The trail itself went several more miles than we hiked, but the weather was very dismal that day, and no one likes getting caught in a downpour several miles into a trail!

We finished off our quick visit by visiting the playground, which seemed very new, much like all the bathrooms and facilities. Rain started to come down shortly after that, so we decided to head on home. Although our visit was cut short, this is a park I would love to visit again, and even take the kayaks out. The camping areas also seemed very nice…perhaps we’ll have to make a little trip out of it next time!

Until next time, and happy hiking 🙂

Rebekah

Red Top Mountain State Park

It’s Thursday, so I am back to report on this week’s continuation of our State Park mission (to visit every State Park in Georgia.) Before I share about this week’s park, Red Top Mountain, I would like to add that I changed up our challenge a little bit. I had originally included State Historic Sites on our list of parks, but decide to remove them after realizing that they aren’t included in your State Park pass and would cost us $15 per site. Sorry Historic Sites. So that leaves us at 8 parks done, 38 to go!

Red Top Mountain is the State Park that is the most accessible to us. I had been there many times for hiking, boating, and other events prior to beginning this blog series. My overview of this park is really a compilation of many trips. The park itself, named for the hard Georgia red soil that covers it, is primarily a boating spot. It sits adjacent to the 12,000 acre man-made Lake Allatoona, and Red Top encourages enjoyment of the lake with a sandy swimming beach, marina, 2 boat ramps and docks. As a teenager, I spent many hours “tubing” on the back of friends’ boats in the lake. More recently, we have had fun paddling kayaks around the still parts of the lake, and exploring mini-islands that litter it. As long as you have life jackets, it is doable to kayak with a young child in between your legs in a sit-in kayak- as long as they are old enough to be mostly still and follow directions. Our 3 year really enjoyed doing so.

Red Top Mountain is not necessarily a place to go for challenging hikes or backcountry activities. Their 15 miles of trails are not strenuous, but a good place for running or getting outside for a long walk. Red Top does, though, do a real service to the area that it is located. Sitting right above true suburbia, it is wonderful that the community has an accessible place to enjoy the outdoors. You can participate in camping, swimming, tennis, boating, picnicking, and our favorite, outdoor putt putt. They have a really fun putt putt green in a wooden area near the swimming beach. We bring our own putter and balls, and have a good old fashioned game while our son enjoys climbing, running, and jumping all around the course like it’s his own personal obstacle course.

Overall, it is a great resource for people looking to enjoy the outdoors with plenty activities to choose from. I’m not sure which State Park we will head to this week, but I look forward to sharing about it!

All the best,

Rebekah

Fort Mountain State Park: Family Hiking

Welcome back readers – we are going strong on our mission to visit all the beautiful Georgia State Parks. The days are getting long and hot here in Georgia, so today we headed out bright and early for Fort Mountain, a State Park about 2 hours north of Atlanta. The park gets it’s name for the nearly 900 foot long “fort” rock wall located atop the mountain. The history behind the namesake fort is a bit muddy, as there is no definitive explanation for who built the wall (or why.)

After some exceptionally curvy mountain driving (not my favorite activity), we arrived at the entrance of Fort Mountain State Park. This park is primarily used by tent, RV, and cottage campers, so they had a well-stocked Trading Post that we stopped in at. In the building was a massive taxidermy black bear who had previously called the park home. According to a sign, he was illegally killed by a hunter, but the body was retrieved to be displayed in the park. Our 3 year old was terrified of the bear- Hopefully that means he will listen when we talk about bear safety!

The park is fairly large, so we drove over to the beginning of the most popular trail. It is was a 1.5 mile hike that summits to the park’s fire tower, which visitors are permitted to climb (with a ranger present) for a spectacular view. We then looped down to the fort which the park was named for. The “fort” is more of a long pile of rocks than anything. We hiked around it for a bit and spotted some millipedes, but not much else in the wildlife department. The loop trail hike itself was fairly easy and mostly shady.  We ended our trip with a packed lunch by the park’s lake, which features a small swimming beach and different types of boat rentals.

On our way home, we were able to drive by two Historic Sites, the Chief Vann House and New Echota. Both of these are located on the Trail of Tears and feature Native American History. We didn’t get out and explore because we had a sleeping kid in the back, and both required guided tours with admission, no free exploration of the grounds, which we weren’t really up for waiting around for. I did snap some pictures out of the window though!  Overall, it was a really nice day exploring North Georgia’s bright green spring wildlife and getting a small taste of history.

Until next week- Rebekah

Sweetwater Creek State Park – Sweetwater Creek Hike

Editors note: this is week 4 of our recurring feature from a young family point of view as they visit all of Georgia’s state parks. I’ll include links to the previous weeks action at the end.

Welcome back to our little state park adventure! It’s a rainy April here in Georgia, nearly every day this week was pouring- so today I am going to throwback to one of the first State Parks we went to as a family: Sweetwater Creek State Park. This park has become a popular spot because the ruins of an old textile mill featured on the red hiking trail was also a film location for the Hunger Games. The park itself runs along the large and flowing Sweetwater Creek for which the park is named. The park boasts history, beautiful hiking trails, amenities, and even a spot for weddings!

Upon arriving at the park, we were very surprised at the sheer amount of people there. It was challenging to even find a place to park our car in the large dirt lots. After locating a parking spot, we headed to the most popular trail, the red trail, to check out the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill that was burned during the Civil War. Upon beginning the trail, I started to wonder if we should have chosen a different one. It was quite literally just a flat dirt path for the first bit, people with flip-flops and strollers were heading down alongside us- not a great sign when you are looking for a fun hike. The trail remained just as easy but got a little more exciting when we were able to walk right alongside the creek. Our son enjoyed watching the flowing stream and looking for creatures along the edge. We quickly arrived at the old ruins, which were nice, but you are unable to get very close due to preservation.

Just as I was thinking that the park was a crowded bust, we saw a sign that was our saving grace. Just past the mill, it reads “the red trail now becomes moderately difficult.” Apparently that scared all the flip-floppers away because 95% of the crowd did not continue on the trail past that. In my opinion, “moderately difficult” trails can actually be more fun with kids than easy ones, because the child stays interested with the challenge of climbing. That was definitely true in this case. The trail got really fun after the ruins. It became very rocky, and had some wooden stairs at the steepest parts. We hiked for about a mile along the rocky trail, holding on to the chains they had inserted into the rocks for balance. We ended up turning around after we became soaked in mud (I would recommend going on a dry day), but the rest of the trail looked equally fun and exciting.

What started out as a slight disappointment due to crowds ended up being a really enjoyable hike that I would love to do again. If I could give some recommendations for Sweetwater Creek, they would be to: go on a weekday to try to beat the crowds, go when it’s dry outside because the creek side trail does get pretty muddy, and to keep going past the old ruins to see what the red trail really has to offer! Thanks for reading and let’s hope all these April showers bring some May flowers (and hikes).

– Rebekah

Week 1: Panola Mountain SP

Week 2: Fort Yargo SP

Week 3: James H Floyd SP

James H Floyd State Park – A True Hidden Gem

This week we loaded up for yet another state park to mark off of our list. It ended up being possibly my favorite park yet! James H “Sloppy” Floyd State Park (named after a gangly Georgia State Representative, hence the “sloppy”) was like a little diamond in the rough- a small park tucked right in the middle of true country residential roads. 

My love for this 561 acre park began with the drive to it. Once we turned off of I-75, we drove through some genuine small-town country roads, and got to enjoy the views of the beautiful Chattahoochee National Forest. The lime green spring trees surrounded us and gave a real sense of mountain living. It had my imagination running about what it would be like to move from big-ol metro Atlanta into the quiet country. 

Once we arrived into the park, the stillness and beauty continued. The park surrounds a small lake with trees, which have hiking trails and backcountry campsites tucked away in them. We saw very few people while at the park (perks of heading up on a Tuesday afternoon), and the ones we did see were quiet older men enjoying fishing and watching ducks swim. Upon stopping at the visitors center, we found that it was only $5 a person to rent a pedal boat. This seemed like the perfect activity for us and our 3 year old son to enjoy. We suited up in provided life jackets and headed out on the pedal boats, which were very nice and kept us covered from the sun while on the lake. Our son loved steering the boat while we did all the leg work!

We decided to give our leg muscles a break before heading out on a hike, so we took a while and fed the friendly ducks with food we purchased for $1. We got to enjoy seeing some tiny goslings which in the words of our son were “sooooo cute!” Once we regained some energy, we started on the 1.7 mile Marble Mine trail, which turned out to be a little more brutal than we expected. It was actually a bit of a challenging hike for a little kid, because it maintained a slightly steep incline for a majority of the time. He did fine with some encouragement but I could tell we were pushing the limits. There was a compost toilet on the trail, which is a part of the much larger Pinhoti trail, so that was a plus for someone bringing children. 

When it already felt like we had been hiking for a while, we were staring up the steepest part of the trail yet, and I was thinking our son’s good attitude was going to crack soon. We kept pushing though and as soon as we reached the peak of the trail, we heard a waterfall and felt cool, refreshing air surround us. A few more steps and we saw the reward of the trail: the Marble Mine waterfall. The old mine has a small boardwalk that takes you into the cave-like area and behind the stream of water pouring down. You can sit on a wooden bench behind the falls and peer into the beautiful pool of blue water, admire the mossy rock walls surrounding you, or try to see into the deep caverns behind you. 

The Marble Mine Trail provided an experience for me that I don’t often have in Georgia’s mild nature. The feeling of a challenge opening up into a surprisingly beautiful part of earth, leaving you with a sense of true awe. I really recommend this hike for anyone, because albeit being moderately challenging for little kids or inexperienced hikers, the end reward is worth it. James H “Sloppy” Floyd Park was the perfect place to get away into nature and enjoy some peace. To me, this is the kind of place that keeps people coming back out to explore wildlife. It definitely gave me the boost I needed to keep going, with 48 State Parks to go!

 Until next week-

Rebekah 

Hiking, History, and Games at Fort Yargo State Park

Our State Park saga continued this week with a trip to Fort Yargo State Park. We chose to head to Fort Yargo because it was a quick drive, and the weather was very temperamental and chilly that day so we opted to go somewhere that wouldn’t require all day (getting rained on while hiking isn’t that fun, especially with a little kid.)  The park is named after the log-cabin type fort that it houses just inside it’s gates, but it offered much more than that.

Upon arriving at Fort Yargo, we stopped in at the visitor’s center, where they rent discs and putt-putt equipment for their outdoor courses. I was immediately struck by how much the park itself felt more like a “family camp” than a typical park. It was very activity focused, and boasted a long list of things to participate such as a lake swimming beach, mountain biking, canoeing, and fishing. They also had camping options including tent, RV, cabins, and yurts. It seemed like a fun place to get away for a relaxing week of family time, but didn’t offer as much as I had hoped when it came to actual nature.

Our first stop was to check out the namesake fort, which was erected in the late 1790’s by white settlers as protection from local Cherokee Indians. It was beautifully well maintained and very fun to see the craftsmanship from time past. Near the fort, some very friendly ducks really stole the show for our 3 year old. The ducks were unfortunately the only “wildlife” we caught a glimpse of, but they were not afraid of people at all and followed us around a lot, much to the delight of our son.

We spent most of our time playing on the park’s large disc golf “course.” It was completely in a wooded area with a lake view. You can drive to the course, but we opted to hike in about 1/2 a mile on part of the 20 mile mountain biking and hiking trail. Our whole family had fun playing on the wooded course, but if you aren’t very good at disc golf, (like me) you will end up climbing through briars and leaves to retrieve your disc a good majority of the time. After we finished playing, (I should add that the course is par 57 and I got….145. Apparently I do not have a career in professional disc golfing) we hiked back to our car via part of the 7 mile lake loop trail. It was exciting for our son to watch people canoeing around the lake as we hiked.

After spending a few hours outside, we were pretty wet and cold, so we decided to head home. Fort Yargo overall was very nice and well maintained, and I think would be a fun place to come camping for families with older children or in a large group because of the amount of activities. I  do wish that we had been able to view a little more wildlife or just really get into nature without interruption from man-made structures (pavilions everywhere!). We were also excited to knock our checklist down into the 40’s this week- with only 49 more spots to hit! Thanks to Fort Yargo for making it happen!

Until next week-

Rebekah

Family Time at Panola Mountain State Park

Editors note: this blog is part of a new regular feature by a new blogger in the family sharing travel from a young family point of view. enjoy!

As a young family who lives and works in bustling Atlanta, it is easy to think of spending time in nature as something that requires a lot of time and energy. The skyscrapers seem to loom over, blocking your mind’s eye from the relaxing and beautiful landscapes that Georgia, even metro Atlanta, has to offer. Add to that a busy schedule, an energetic 3 year old, and a tight budget…we often end up staying home! My parents and siblings travel a lot, and I got inspired to travel too- just making it fit our different season of life. Our family of 3 is aspiring to hit all of the beautiful Georgia State Parks (and a few outdoor recreation areas and historic sites, too.)

We have so far been to five of the fifty-five state parks on our checklist. Unicoi, Amicalola Falls, Red Top Mountain, Sweetwater Creek, and most recently, Panola Mountain. We headed up to Panola Mountain spontaneously on a Tuesday afternoon. We chose it because even though we were grabbing some snacks and leaving at 2:30pm, we would arrive quickly in just about an hour. Spontaneity can be great, but in this case, my lack of planning ahead did not work out in our favor. Upon arriving, we discovered that the hike on the granite mountain was only “ranger-led”, and we could only take the 3/4 of mile “scenic overlook hike.” The scenic overlook was beautiful, and I did enjoy seeing the different stages of vegetation on the mountain, which is quite literally a massive granite rock. It was a very easy hike for our three year old and nice and shady.

Although we missed out on the mountain hike, we were very pleasantly surprised by the Visitors Center. It was really more of a nature center, as they had live and taxidermy animals featured. We were able to peer in glass cases to see all of different types of snakes and turtles that inhabit the mountain (all non-venomous, thankfully!) The taxidermy case was really exciting for our son, as they had so many different animals featured from deer, bobcat, and beavers all the way down to tiny mice. We saw a lot of butterflies on our hike, and they had butterfly cases in the visitors center as well. There is also a playground, a ton of picnic areas, and lots of green open grass to play catch, hammock, or just let kids run around.

We ended up spending about and hour and a half at Panola Mountain. If I could give a recommendation, it’s to make sure you check in advance when a ranger-led hike will be so you don’t get left in the dust like us. It is also worth noting that the mountain itself is located very close by the Atlanta Zoo and downtown Decatur which is home to lots of delicious restaurants.

Thanks for reading and happy traveling!

– Rebekah

Sunday Hikes: Cloudland Canyon State Park Waterfalls Trail

Cloudland Canyon State Park in northeast Georgia is a great place for a day trip or weekend camping trip from Atlanta or Chattanooga. The aptly named Waterfalls Trail takes you to the parks two largest waterfalls, Cherokee and Hemlock falls. The trail is only 2.1 miles round-trip but is also entirely a steep stairway descending into the canyon so going back up will wipe you out. About half a mile in you will reach the 60 foot Cherokee Falls. Cherokee drops into a large pool before turning back into the small Sitton’s Gulch Creek. 

A little over half a mile later you will reach Hemlock Falls. Hemlock is 30 feet taller than its upstream partner and splashes down onto the rocks below. Though Hemlock is more impressive it’s view is somewhat obstructed by a large tree and a giant boulder that can’t help but make you  question where such a large rock fell from.



 A lot of people try to get a better view by leaving the platform and getting closer to the Falls but you have to walk past multiple signs warning you to not leave the trail so you should probably not do this. The trail continues past Hemlock Falls and turns into the Sitton Gulch Trail but most people turn back up towards the canyon’s rim. The hike won’t take you more than an hour and gives you two beautiful waterfalls to enjoy as well as a bit of a workout on the way back up! Whether you live nearby or are traveling by I’d say that Cloudland Canyon is worth the visit for sure! 

Thanks! – Josh