The Definitive Guide to Georgia State Parks Near Atlanta

The city can get kinda hectic sometimes, but take heart — there are plenty of sprawling swaths of protected land where it’s easy to get back to nature with some fresh air and sunshine. While there are literally dozens of state parks in Georgia, there are a slew of them within a two-hour drive of the city, whether you’re in the mood for hanging out on the shore of a tranquil lake, or hoofing it through a trail in the wilderness of the Appalachians. Here are 10 of our favorites; should you need more info, check out the resources at

Sweetwater Creek State Park

Location: 18 miles west of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – dark

Sweetwater is a popular name in Atlanta. Most folks in the region know it for the regionally famous beer that brewed in the heart of the city, though this line of ales is so named for the charming creek just a short distance to the west. The state park that also shares this name is living proof of just how back-to-nature things can be this close to the metropolis. There is some lively hiking along this 2,500-plus acre park (not to mention around the 215-acre lake), but camping (and for that matter, glamping) is available too, thanks to five campsites and 10 yurts — super-cool permanent tents with all the comforts of home, but with all the splendor of nature.

Must-see: While you’re here check out the mill ruins, which in their past life were the site of a textile mill called the New Manchester Manufacturing Company. They sit at the foot of some amazing bluffs and raging rapids.

Panola Mountain State Park

Location: 20 miles southeast of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – dark

Barely 15 minutes outside the boundary of the I-285 Perimeter, Panola Mountain State Park serves as a haven for recreation. Part of the Arabia Mountain National Historic Area (one of only three designated historic areas in the state), this spot has a blend of natural beauty and geological features that are truly unique. While most come for the namesake mountain, there’s plenty to do here otherwise, including archery, boating, some great birding, and for tech nerds with the right apps on their phones, some of the most imaginative geocaching in the region. Book in advance for a ranger-led hike to see some stunning flora and fauna.

Must-see: The view, of course. Not only does the Monadnock here offer a lovely view of the city and the surrounding countryside, but it’s a little less crowded here than it is at other, more popular attractions like Stone Mountain.

Red Top Mountain State Park

Location: 40 miles northwest of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – dark

To be sure, the dominating factor of this pristine piece of nature lies in the 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona, one of the largest bodies of water in the state. Needless to say, boating is a big deal around here — private boats are permitted from two boat ramps, and there’s some amazing fishing if you know which estuary to set up shop in. As far as camping is concerned, talk to any Atlantan who owns a tent, because chances are they’ve camped here at least once; the 92 sites at Red Top Mountain are among the most popular in the ex-metro area. For something a little more elevated (especially for pet owners) there are 18 cottages you can nail down, and three of them are dog-friendly.

Must-see: If you’re in the mood for a hike, the 15 miles of trails leave a lot to discover. But check out the gravel-topped, four-mile Iron Hill Trail if you can — it’s open to both hiking and biking, and boasts some sweeping views of the shoreline.

High Falls State Park

Location: 50 miles south-southeast of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

In addition to being one of the state’s best spots for sports fishing (white bass is a particular favorite), the Vista here is a feast for the eyes — the roaring falls on the Towaliga River are the highest you’re going to find south of the city. Campers are always delighted by what the area has to offer (there are 100 sites here, in addition to six yurts for those who want a dash of elegance in their camping experience): a variety of hiking trails intersect with what’s left of an early 19th-century industrial town, and the foundation of an early hydroelectric power plant can still be seen today.

Must-see: Again, the fishing. This area is consistently rated one of the nation’s top family fishing destinations, so bring along the poles and tackle box.

Fort Yargo State Park

Location: 50 miles east of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

If you get an early start on the way to a long weekend in Athens, Fort Yargo State Park is totally worth a stop. The 260-acre lake provides a bunch of opportunities to cool off (there’s a huge swimming beach on the western bank), places to hop onto a boat for some fishing, and more than 20 miles of trails that are particularly popular with mountain bikers. If your schedule permits more time for an extended stay, check in advance during high season: there are 38 campsites, 13 camper cabins, three cottages, and a half-dozen yurts that all fill up quickly.

Must-see: The namesake fort was built in 1792 by settlers to serve as protection against the Native American tribes that inhabited this land. While it’s a sobering reminder of this area’s checkered history, it’s also one of the few structures in the region that were spared during the Civil War.

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Location: 52 miles east of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Golfers, listen up. While the name of this park might imply a long day’s work (this park was previously the site of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps), today’s purpose leans more toward a bag of clubs and 18 holes on the Creek Golf Course. Long regarded as one of the best values in Georgia golfing, this course comes complete with a pro shop, a driving range, and carts for rent. If golfing isn’t your style, no worries — there’s a lakeside beach that’s more-than-attractive during the summer months, and 24 miles of trails that are best suited for hiking and leisurely horseback rides.

Must-see: Not a lot of people have heard of the golf course here, but it’s actually among the most challenging in the state — particularly hole one, which pros and amateurs alike refer to as ‘the hardest starting hole in Georgia.'

John Tanner State Park

Location: 53 miles west of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

This slice of paradise used to be a private park owned by an area businessman of the same name, but as of 1971, the property went public. Now, Atlantans headed in the direction of the Alabama border can make a stop for picnicking, mini-golf, horseshoes, volleyball, and some time spent in the lake. A super-quaint, retro-style mini lodge located near the water (it only has six units) is a fun place to spend the night, so bring some food to prepare — each unit has a fully equipped kitchen.

Must-see: The largest sand swimming beach of any Georgia state park — an ideal spot to take a dip, or hop on a boat.

Indian Springs State Park

Location: 55 miles SE of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

One of the oldest state parks in the nation, Indian Springs’ history goes back to the 1800s when it was actually quite the hopping little resort town. The reason so many folks flocked to this park to Georgia had a lot to do with the healing waters of the namesake spring, which have been collected by the native Creek Indians since forever. Today, these same pristine waters can be enjoyed by 21st-century visitors in a stone spring house that was built by the CCC during the Great Depression — there’s nothing more refreshing after some time spent hiking along one of the several nature trails that pepper this property.

Must-see: Though it’s only open from July to December, there’s a museum in the park that is geared toward educating visitors about the history of this ancient region.

Amicalola Falls State Park

Location: 70 miles north of Atlanta
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Located in the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Amicalola Falls is the place to go for a challenging hike — with some amazing rewards along the way. One of these are the Amicalola Falls themselves, which at 729 feet, is the tallest cascading waterfall in the southeastern U.S. As far as close-in parks are concerned, this one is a little farther out of the way, so if a long weekend dictates that you have a little extra time on your hands, book a room at the 57-room Amicalola Falls Lodge or in one of the cottages; all the better to be as close as possible to the brilliant sunrises (and sets) this part of the state is famous for.

Must-see: Early autumn, when the leaves are changing color. Combined with the elevation, there are some amazing views that make it appear as if the rolling forests are on fire.

F.D. Roosevelt State Park

Location: 80 miles southwest of Atlanta
Hours: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

At just over 9,000 acres, this park, about a two-hour drive outside of Atlanta, is Georgia’s largest, drawing visitors from all over the region. History reigns supreme here, and much of it can be seen on the 40-plus miles of trails that weave through this secluded property. Still, for all the solitude, you’re never too far from some relaxed action — there are some naturally warm springs here that make for great swimming (a favorite of President Roosevelt’s), and if a long weekend is in order, make a reservation: there are 109 campsites (plus 16 far-removed backcountry sites) and 22 cottages to shack up in. In all, a great place to relax old-school style

Must-see: Those in favor of a dawn-til-dusk mega-hike can take to the Pine Mountain Trail. At 23 miles long, it traverses forests of hardwood and pine, creeks, and an overlook where FDR himself used to hang out and picnic back before he was president.