Parks for ‘peeping'
Leaf Watch's best state parks for fall foliage:
- Amicalola Falls State Park, Dawsonville
- Black Rock Mountain State Park, Mountain City
- Cloudland Canyon State Park, Rising Fawn
- F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Pine Mountain
- Fort Mountain State Park, Chatsworth
- Hard Labor Creek State Park, Rutledge
- Moccasin Creek State Park, Clarkesville
- Panola Mountain State Park, Stockbridge
- Providence Canyon State Park, Lumpkin
- Red Top Mountain State Park, Cartersville
- Smithgall Woods Conservation Park, Helen
- Sweetwater Creek State Park, Lithia Springs
- Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls
- Unicoi State Park, Helen
- Victoria Bryant State Park, Royston
- Vogel State Park, Blairsville
Aside from optional lodging, dining and shopping, the only mandatory fee is parking:
Parking (proceeds go to maintaining Georgia's state parks): $5 per day or $50 per year
Senior citizens (age 62 or older) receive a 50 percent discount
Active military and veterans receive a 25 percent discount
Wednesdays are free parking days
Parking is free to members of "Friends of Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites"
Parking is free with a "Historic Site Annual Pass," ($20 per adult, $15 per youth or $35 per family) OR, anyone can check out a ParkPass from his or her local library
Park goers may also rent picnic shelters and group shelters for events.
Picnic shelters, a covered space with picnic tables, range from $15 to $90 per day.
Group shelters, an enclosed space with heat and air-conditioning, range from $40 to $200 per day.
Special events sometimes cost extra, like "Backyard Birding," an event teaching goers how to attract birds to their backyards and how to identify them once they get there. The fee is $7 and it will be held tomorrow (Oct. 2) at Panola Mountain State Park.
Fall Color Hike: 2 p.m. Saturday, Panola Mountain State Park, 2600 Ga. 155, SW, Stockbridge, 770-389-7801; cost, $7 (hike), $5 (parking)
Hiking in Helen: Saturday, Unicoi State Park and Lodge, 1788 Ga. 356, Helen, 800-573-9659 ext. 305
It's beginning to feel like fall — temperatures are dropping and local businesses are suiting up with seasonal décor, apple-filled treats and spiced lattes. The only thing missing is Georgia's beautiful fall foliage.
Fall fanatics won't have to wait long to see their favorite fiery shades, though. Georgia's state parks launched a new addition to their website today, "Leaf Watch 2010," highlighting the ever-changing flora from Oct. 1 to the end of November.
"Leaf Watch's goal is to help state park visitors plan trips to see fall colors," said Kim Hatcher, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites' public affairs coordinator. "They'll be able to see when the leaves are at their peak, and be able to learn about the best parks to visit."
"Leaf Watch 2010" found at georgiastateparks.org/LeafWatch is Georgia's guide to fall foliage, but contains other helpful tools, too.
"It also offers safe hiking tips and educational information about photosynthesis," Hatcher said.
Georgia, known for its beautiful scenery, is home to the Blue Ridge Mountains and many species of trees, making it a prime spot for leaf peeping.
"Citizens don't have far to drive to see beautiful fall color. We have a great state park system that makes it easy for people to get out and enjoy the season," Hatcher said.
While there are dozens of state parks here, "Leaf Watch" notes the 16 best parks for fall color. Included on that list are Amicalola Falls in Dawsonville and Moccasin Creek in Clarkesville.
Attending state parks is free, but parking costs $5 a day, except for Wednesdays, where all can enjoy autumnal weather free of charge.
"If you want to simply drive while looking at leaves, Black Rock Mountain is a good choice because they have roadside overlooks," Hatcher said.
Whether driving, hiking or sipping apple cider in the comfort of your own home, the sights of Clayton's Black Rock Mountain can be seen at any time now through a webcam on "Leaf Watch's" site.
To appease those looking for more of an adventure, though, hiking is a great way to enjoy fall color up close.
"We have easy trails, like the rim of Tallulah Gorge or the lake loop at Unicoi State Park. And of course we have longer backcountry trails for people who want to escape for a while," Hatcher said.
This site displays events for everyone. Tomorrow, Panola Mountain State Park is hosting a "Fall Color Hike," where trail goers may enjoy the beautiful colors of fall with a guide. The cost is $7; pre-registration is required. All are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water.
For a more local excursion, Unicoi State Park invites all to "Hiking in Helen" Saturday, an event honoring Get Outdoors Georgia. Pre-registration is required for a free three-mile hike, with shuttle service provided for those who prefer to hike one way.
While there are already many fall outings to choose from, one cannot experience the full effect of fall foliage until later this month. Right now, aside from its maple, black gum and sourwood trees, most of Georgia is still green.
"On average, the peak fall color occurs during the last two weeks of October. It appears first in the higher elevations and progresses into the lower elevations over the two-week period," said Mitch Cohen, interpretive program manager of the USDA Forest Service.
There are many reasons why Georgia has numerous opportunities for enjoying fall weather and scenery. This is partly why people from all over come to enjoy it: Fall foliage is not common to some of our surrounding states.
"The forest of broad leaved trees that dominates the mountains of North Georgia usually provides a colorful display," Cohen said. "It's the variety of tree species and the scenic vistas the mountains provide. Put this within a short drive of major metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Chattanooga and we have a large audience nearby. Georgia is also close to Florida which has virtually no fall color. Many people from Florida make the trip to see the fall color here."
Every season has its perks, but fall is the only one where the leaves set the forest on fire.
"I have to say I really like the entire season (of fall). Early on it brings an end to the summer heat. Then the fall color comes - what a treat. Then it's time for Thanksgiving," Cohen said.
"Leaf Watch 2010" gives readers a guide to Georgia's most vibrant season, allowing them to get the most out of its brevity that they can.