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State parks trails, lakes make for cool getaway
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Hard Labor Creek State Park

Where: Knox Chapel Road, Rutledge
How much: $5 parking fee; separate fees for camping, golf and horse stall rental
More info: 706-557-3001

RUTLEDGE — Sure, North Georgia, with its scenic mountains, is chock-full of pretty state parks.

You can drive up to see waterfalls or babbling brooks or even wildflowers.

But every so often you can turn the car south, and one of the state parks you'll come across is Hard Labor Creek State Park. It's one of the largest state parks in Georgia and spans Morgan and Walton counties.

While it doesn't have the majestic vistas of parks like Amicalola or Anna Ruby Falls, it does have a little bit of recreation for everyone — there's horseback riding, hiking and swimming, including a boat ramp for visitors looking for a break from Lake Lanier.

My family and I dropped by on a recent sweltering weekend, and after a quick stop at the ranger's cabin to get our bearings we set off on one of two easy hiking trails near the cabins and camping areas.

The trails are moderate — there are a few hills but for the most part they simply wind among shady trees and across a brook that, thanks to recent rains, is more than just a muddy ditch.

Although she requested a few times to be picked up, our 2-year-old was able to do a lot of walking, too, and the dog had a good time bounding alongside us up and down the trails.

If you're looking for a longer getaway, you can rent a cabin or campsite and take in the hiking one day and the swimming the next. If you have horses, there are stables available for renting, too, or visitors can rent a horse for a trail ride.

If you go for a day trip, as we did, you can head just a few miles south of the park to the quaint town of Rutledge, where, at least to visitors, it seems like a town that time forgot. There's a little general store and a hardware store, a couple of little restaurants and even a historic train caboose parked along a side street where you can get some pimiento cheese sandwiches and home-brewed root beer.

The town is worth a stroll, too, and we were happy to see the stores and cafes open on a Sunday afternoon.