During the government shutdown, the most public display proved to be the closure of the National Park Service. That’s because these sites receive so many annual visitors. As the United States government is reopened and the NPS gets flooded with tourists, Georgia still has many state parks open and ready to receive locals or those visiting from far away.
Attached is a list of the best Georgia state parks in each part of the state, along with some runner-ups for would-be visitors, as well as a few details about each place.
North Georgia: Tallulah Gorge
Karl Wallenda once wowed locals by walking across this on a tightrope. You’ll be impressed when you take a look at the canyon. The hike down was tough on my asthmatic wife, but my 5-year-old son was able to make it. At least head down to the Suspension Bridge halfway down. Make sure you stop by the store on the south end and hike down from the north end.
Honorable Mentions: Unicoi Falls (one of the best waterfalls outside of Yosemite, and near the delightful town of Helen, Georgia) and the Dahlonega Gold Museum (learn about one of the first U.S. gold rushes, from 1829, then head down to the Consolidated Gold Mine, where kids and adults can pan for gemstones or gold).
Atlanta Area: Pickett’s Mill Battlefield
Not only do you find a great staff and volunteers willing to help, but it’s an important piece of history as part of the Atlanta Campaign. It’s a nice place for a leisurely hike, too, a break from the urban sprawl surrounding it.
Honorable Mention: Etowah Indian Mounds (a scenic site for those who love Native American history about the Mississippian Indian culture from 500-1,000 years ago, along the way to Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, Georgia).
West Georgia: Roosevelt’s Little White House
You won’t believe this isn’t a key national park when you visit the site of FDR’s holiday, discovery of the South, and key moments in his lengthy administration. It’s right next to Warm Springs, Georgia, and the site of the fight against polio and other diseases.
Honorable Mention: Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park (loaded with cabins, outdoor activities, trails for hiking or horseback riding or biking, a lake with geese that the kids love to feed, and a small ranger station with a little history on the Civilian Conservation Corps and how the place was built during the New Deal).
Southeast Georgia: Sapelo Island
Colleagues can’t stop raving about this barrier island, accessible by ferry, which includes the Reynolds Mansion, a historic African American community, marshes, and beaches, of course, along the Atlantic Ocean.
Honorable Mention: Wormsloe State Historic Site (which no trip to Savannah would be complete without, if only to see the amazing mansion and the surrounding oaks and moss on the plantation).
Southwest Georgia: Providence Canyon
Combines a Grand Canyon look with a lesson on environmental disasters from overfarming, which contributed to these geological formations.
Honorable Mention: Kolomoki Mounds (made by Indians residing in the location from 350-750 A.D. in the flatter Georgia plains, it makes for a good camping weekend in the fall).
Of course, there are plenty of other Georgia state parks to see. You can find them all here, and they’ll make for great class field trips and holiday visits with a touch of history. And if the government should shut down again next year, they’ll make an excellent substitute for their national counterparts.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia. Photos include shots of the Tallulah Gorge’s bridge, Unicoi state park’s waterfall, Dahlonega, water near Tallulah Gorge (photos by Beth Tures), as well as our college’s history students and faculty outside the Andersonville historic site during the government shutdown.