Many Hall County residents have ventured to Amicalola Falls, gazed upon its 729-foot cascade and climbed its hundreds of steps to the top.
But Amicalola Falls — and other Georgia State Parks — have some lesser-known “hidden gems.”
Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites is celebrating its 85th anniversary with a new Hidden Gems series. Each state park has a little-known location, artifact or historical feature waiting to be discovered by guests.
“We wanted to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the state parks system in a way that engaged visitors and encouraged them to go explore somewhere new,” said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks. “So we asked park rangers to come up with the areas they like that visitors might typically miss.”
More than 60 hidden gems can be found throughout the state. Most state parks have a description of the gems on their websites, but finding them can be tricky.
“Quite often, people will go to their favorite state park or go to the parks that they’ve heard about the most, the ones people know about,” said Hatcher. “But we also wanted to encourage people to go somewhere new, somewhere different.”
Some of the hidden gems can be found by visitors on their own, while others can be discovered through programs running throughout the entire year.
“It’s a mix,” Hatcher said. “In some cases you’d be on a ranger-led event. Sometimes they’re hikes, sometimes they are paddles. But some you can go on your own, you just have to know what to look for.”
Amicalola Falls State Park’s unknown historic gem is an old blue moonshine truck from the Prohibition Era hidden on the trail to the falls.
While drivers were racing to get away from “revenuers,” the truck slipped 200 feet down the steep incline to its current resting spot, according to the park.
Another nearby location is Don Carter State Park. Hatcher said it provides “new places to explore on the quiet end of the lake,” and its hidden gems are the lady slippers blooming in spring.
A lesser-known nearby park is the Hardman Farm State’s Historic Site in Sautee Nacoochee.
Adjacent to the well-known Nacoochee Mound is another gem.
“People don’t realize that across from there is a beautiful, Italian-style house that had been owned by a former governor of Georgia, and a huge dairy barn,” Hatcher said. “So it opened last year, and what they picked for their hidden gem is an antique hand-crank phone. Not everybody had a phone back then, but because he was the governor, it was important for him to have one.”
Smithgall Woods State Park is well known for its walking trails, but hidden along the Tsalaki Trail is a working apiary, or honey bee hives. Honey from these hives is for sale in the visitor center.
Finally, Hatcher recommended Gainesville residents explore Victoria Bryant State Park in Royston. It’s hidden gem is an under-visited Beaver Pond observation deck, providing a view into a “haven for wildlife.” The park will offer a 3-mile, ranger-led hike to the deck at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16.
“Victoria Bryant has really nice hiking trails and a pretty, rocky stream that kids will play in, and people sit on the rocks there,” Hatcher said. “They also have a neat campsite with wooden platforms in the woods, and I guarantee few people in Gainesville have heard of it though it’s less than an hour away.”
Check www.GaStateParks.org/HiddenGems for a complete list of programs spotlighting these secrets.
“Gainesville is really pretty fortunate,” she said. “You guys are so close to so many beautiful parks.”