The return of autumn means it’s time to hit the highway and check out the changing colors of fall in the Georgia mountains. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says late October and early November usually bring the peak weeks to admire the reds and golds of the changing leaves.
Georgia’s state parks system brags that its parks offer some of the best leaf-peeping around. And, through a website called Leaf Watch, the park system guides tourists to places where they can find the best fall color.
“Beginning in October, regular updates will keep travelers posted on how fall color is progressing across Georgia’s Blue Ridge,” the state says. “The website is filled with information about top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events and safe hiking tips.”
This year, the DNR recommends a number of state parks to check out for fall color. Here are 12 likely prospects.
Georgia State Parks
CLOUDLAND CANYON STATE PARK
A hike down a long, steep staircase in this park takes visitors to a pair of waterfalls. The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon.
RED TOP MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Just about a 40-minute drive north of Atlanta, Red Top Mountain offers lake and forest views. There’s also a paved walking patch behind the park office, according to park officials.
FORT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Although it may be best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, Fort Mountain offers a variety of hiking trails. They range from a 1.2-mile loop around a lake to an 8-mile, all-day hike. GA 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks.
AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK
This park, an hour north of Atlanta, includes the Southeast’s tallest waterfall, viewable from easy and challenging trails. The park gets busy on October weekends.
VOGEL STATE PARK
The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a bird’s-eye view of the park’s lake, state park officials say. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.
SMITHGALL WOODS STATE PARK
If you’re heading to Helen’s Oktoberfest, you can check out the more than 6,000-acre park around Dukes Creek. A 1.6-mile trail climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mount Yonah, according to state park officials.
UNICOI STATE PARK
Uniocoi promises hiking, mountain biking, a lake with a beach and a 100-room lodge that hosts conferences, weddings and retreats.
MOCCASIN CREEK STATE PARK
Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a gorgeous deep-green lake. GA 197 is a particularly pretty road, state officials say.
BLACK ROCK MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Black Rock Mountain (altitude 3,640 feet) is Georgia’s highest state park. It offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from roadside overlooks and its visitors’ center, according to the state parks system.
TALLULAH GORGE STATE PARK
Tallulah is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast. Visitors can hike easy or difficult trails offering waterfall views. With permits from the park office, hikers may trek all the way to the bottom of the gorge. Exhibits in the park’s interpretive center highlight the Victorian resort town’s history and the rugged terrain and ecosystem.
VICTORIA BRYANT STATE PARK
Two ponds and a nature trail are among the features in this 500-acre beauty spot nestled among rolling hills. The star, according to state officials, is the bubbling stream that inspires photographers and picnickers to stop and take in the awe-inspiring vistas.
JAMES H. FLOYD STATE PARK
The Chattahoochee National Forest surrounds the park and provides a perfect leaf-viewing opportunity. Visitors are invited to fish in the two well-stocked lakes, hike along the three miles of trails looping the lakes, or relax and enjoy nature’s beauty.
Visit gastateparks.org/leafwatch for details and updates.