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Before I moved to Morgan County, Georgia, I had never heard of Hard Labor Creek State Park. Let’s face it: The name doesn’t sound inviting. It doesn’t sound relaxing either.
But this is easily one of the most beautiful and underrated parks in the Peach State. This gem offers much to see and do, right in the heart of Georgia.
Hard Labor Creek State Park has a fascinating history. Originally, it was the territory of the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe.
In 1802, the tribe lost the land in a treaty following the Oconee Wars, a war between Georgian settlers and the Creek Nation.
It is believed that the name Hard Labor Creek either comes from local enslaved individuals or the Creek Nation.
In 1934, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) — established by President Roosevelt as part of the New Deal — constructed Hard Labor Creek Recreational Demonstration Area, which consisted of 5,804 acres of land that was intended to be turned into a National Park.
It actually was a National Park until 1946 when the state took over. It remains the only CCC park remaining in Georgia.
Where is Hard Labor Creek State Park?
Hard Labor Creek State Park is located between Madison and Covington, Georgia, just off I-20.
It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is best known for its 18-hole golf course. It is located at 5 Hard Labor Creek Road in Rutledge, Georgia.
How to Get to Hard Labor Creek State Park
You’ll find Hard Labor Creek State Park approximately 6 miles off of Interstate 20 from Atlanta.
You’ll take I-20 East to exit 105 and then follow signs to the park. A parking fee of $5 per day is required for entry into the park. The park is located in Rutledge, Georgia. It’s no bigger than a postage stamp, but it’s easy to see why the town slogan is “Small but Special.”
15 Things to Do in Hard Labor Creek State Park
There’s much to see and do in Hard Labor Creek State Park. You’ll find enough to do to fill an entire vacation or several day trips. Perfect for the outdoor adventurer, nature enthusiast, or family outing, Hard Labor Creek offers the following activities:
Inside of Hard Labor Creek State Park, you can go fishing at either of the two lakes — Lake Brantley or Lake Rutledge.
There’s no boat ramp at Lake Brantley, and Lake Rutledge has a boat ramp but also has a 10 HP limit.
Personal flotation devices are required for boating. If you don’t have fishing gear but want to give it a try, you’ll want to rent what you need from Over Yonder Outpost in downtown Rutledge.
You can also rent bait and tackle at the Trading Post in the park. You’ll find largemouth Bass, Striped Bass, Channel Catfish, Black Crappie and Bluegill/Bream in the lakes at the park.
2. Horseback Riding
If you’re a fan of riding horses, you’ll love the 24 miles of trails in the park. There are 11 horse campsites in the park, 30 horse stables, and a horse-riding ring.
There’s a $12 fee per rider, and you must show proof of a negative equine infectious anemia test to access this state trail.
The Creek Golf Course was named “4th sweetest deal in USA” by Golf Digest Frugal Golfer in 2010.
There are weekly leagues you can join, and you can even obtain golf instruction here. You can find the full list of rates and operating hours on the park website.
You’ll also find that The Creek offers golf cart rentals and a driving range in a beautiful, natural setting.
There are several hiking trails inside of Hard Labor Creek State Park. The Brantley Nature Trail is near the park office Trading Post and playground.
It’s a one-mile easy to moderate trail. Beaverpond Nature Trail is also a one-mile trail. You can access it from the Brantley Trail. The orange loop is a single mile through a pine forest.
The green loop is a beginner’s five mile trail. The red loop is for more advanced hikers and is over five miles of hardwood and pine forest trails.
The Lake Rutledge Equestrian Trail can be used by hikers during weekdays and includes 16 miles of moderate to difficult hiking.
The Lake Brantley Equestrian Trail is eight miles of moderate to difficult hiking and is also open to hikers only during weekdays. The mountain bike trail is also available to hikers on weekdays only.
5. Miniature Golfing
From 8 am to 5 pm daily, you can rent mini golf equipment from the Trading Post in the park. It’s $5 for adults and $2.50 for children to play.
It’s also ideally located beside restrooms and a playground making it a family-friendly stop during your park visit.
6. Playground Adventures
The playground is perfect for families with young children. It’s located beside the Trading Post and is adjacent to some of the beginner hiking trails.
It also offers picnic tables and a public restroom for visitors.
Swimming is available at Hard Labor Creek State Park’s beach during the summer season. The rest of the lake is restricted for swimming with signs posted as reminders.
During the summer season, the beach offers concessions as well as paddling rentals. This small lakeside beach is a local family favorite.
During the summer season, the park rents out solo and tandem kayaks. Your rental time covers 3 hours and a personal flotation device. You must be 16 years old to rent a kayak, and you’ll be required to sign a waiver.
You can also bring your own paddleboard or kayak to the lake. If you don’t have a paddleboard, you can rent one from Over Yonder Outpost in historic Rutledge. I regularly bring my own paddleboard to the lake, and it’s a peaceful location to visit year-round.
Fans of birding will love visiting Hard Labor Creek State Park. There are even citizen science programs available for beginners.
Bring your binoculars and a field guide to catch sight of the many birds that call this park home.
Some birds you might see include mallards, snow geese, mourning doves, ruby-throated hummingbirds, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, great egrets, sandpipers, osprey, hawks, bald eagles, owls, woodpeckers, and more.
There are 51 tent, trailer, and RV campsites in the park and 11 horse campsites. Thirteen of these have sewer hookups.
You can choose between campsites with nearby shower facilities and restrooms, or you can elect a more rustic campground with portable restrooms. You can find the fees and amenities for each site online.
11. Off-Road Biking
Mountain bike trails are available within the park. There are 16.5 trails ranging from beginners to advanced levels.
Horses aren’t allowed on the trails, but hikers are allowed during weekdays. Bike helmets are encouraged for all riders and are required for riders 16 and younger.
If you don’t have a bike but want to give trail riding a try, rent a bike from Over Yonder Outpost.
While there is a parking fee for the park, picnicking is free. Picnic tables and picnic shelters are available on a first come first served basis.
Grills are available throughout the park, and some of the picnic shelters have electricity and water while others do not.
Picnic shelters can be reserved in advance with a fee. There are plenty of restaurants in Rutledge and nearby Madison that can help you easily pack a picnic for your visit to the park.
If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s an outdoor adventure using a GPS. It’s basically a modern treasure hunt where you look for hidden containers with prizes inside.
You can take a prize and leave a prize of equal or greater value as you hunt for these hidden caches throughout the park using the listed coordinates. This activity can be fun for all ages!
While you’re visiting the park, check out the Hard Labor Creek Observatory. It offers monthly open houses from March to October.
Fans of star gazing will appreciate these visits and access to Georgia State University’s telescopes. Check their website for special celestial events that happen periodically during each year.
15. Tour Filming Locations
Fans of Fear Street and Friday the 13th movies may want to visit the filming locations in Hard Labor Creek State Park.
It’s a little-known fact that Camp Daniel Morgan in Hard Labor Creek was a filming location for these films and many others. Hike these locations and see where some of these spooky films were created.
Where to Eat
Ruby’s by the Beach
Ruby’s by the Beach is the perfect place to grab lunch or a cup of tea during your stay at the park. It is open seasonally for visitors, but you can also contact the restaurant in the off-season for catering orders.
The best part is that Ruby’s is a healthy choice. The menu is entirely plant-based. While I don’t eat a plant-based diet, I can tell you that the food at Ruby’s is phenomenal.
Even the grilled cheese takes like actual cheese and not a plant-based substitute. You’ll leave happy you tried it!
The Caboose is a local favorite in historic Rutledge. It’s located near the park, and it offers delicious breakfast, lunch, and dessert options.
This family-friendly location is adjacent to a small playground, and you can always order your food to-go to take to the park for a picnic. Their burgers are my personal favorite, but this is also a great stop for an ice cream cone or hot fudge brownie sundae.
Harvest & Honey
Harvest & Honey is a relatively new addition to the Rutledge area, but it’s already a fan favorite. Have your picnic catered by this charming shop or stop in to browse the limited selection of pre-made farm-to-table food selections.
Plan a picnic as simple or as extravagant as you want by checking out their catering options in advance of your visit.
Rutledge Wings is another local favorite that’s located not far from the park. This restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday.
Check their Facebook page for weekly specials and updates.
If you’re up for a short drive, head into downtown Madison, Georgia, to have lunch or dinner at Mad Taco — my personal favorite in downtown Madison.
Enjoy street-style tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and burro bowls at this charming location. Try out a prickly pear margarita or other cocktail on your visit. Dine in or call ahead for takeout.
Betty Gene’s is the newest addition to downtown Madison and is a great place to visit for breakfast or lunch. Expect southern-style food and a whimsical atmosphere.
Unfortunately, Betty Gene’s doesn’t yet offer vegan or gluten-free options, but it does have an extensive menu otherwise. It’s located right in historic downtown Madison behind the post office.
Another dining option on your visit is to stop in at Amici Madison for pizza or wings. This restaurant has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere and frequently features live music on weekends.
Enjoy a slice inside in the rustic dining area or outside on the patio. Located near Town Park in Madison, Amici is worth the drive from the park. My personal favorite is the Blonde Greek pizza, a white pizza with spinach, garlic, mushrooms, and feta.
If it’s barbecue that you’re craving, you’ll want to head from Rutledge to downtown Madison to give Crowe’s BBQ a try!
This local favorite offers southern BBQ with a Carolina-style sauce. With good food and friendly service, you’ll be glad you gave it a try.
You can dine in with indoor or outdoor options, or you can carry out your BBQ and take it with you for a picnic in the park.
Another option for a planned picnic is to order sandwiches, hoagies, or paninis from Madison Produce Co. in downtown Madison. You can’t go wrong with any of their sandwiches, but my personal favorite is the Cranberry Pecan Chicken Melt.
The menu also offers soups, salads, hot dogs, chips, and sodas. Plus, you can shop fresh produce in the restaurant on your visit. Indoor and outdoor seating is available, but you can always take your order with you back to the park for a picnic.
Oconee Coffee Roasters
You can buy coffee from the Trading Post during operating hours but expect a standard Keurig. If you want something a little fancier, drive into downtown Madison for a cup from Oconee Coffee Roasters, a local coffee-lovers favorite.
You’ll find friendly service and great coffee Tuesday through Saturday. There are even milk alternatives for those who require substitutions.
The coffee is roasted in-house, and you can even sign up for the coffee classes offered to learn more about it.
Of course, you can always BYOB — bring your own breakfast, that is. If you’re camping in the park, what’s better than making coffee and breakfast on an open fire?
You’ll want to make sure to bring a cooler to keep your food at the correct temperature before preparing it.
You can stop by Ingles or Walmart in Madison to stock up on everything you need for a simple fireside meal during your stay. You can also get the supplies you need to grill out for lunch or dinner during your visit.
Where to Stay
If you’re visiting the park, you might want to consider camping. You can make reservations at a rustic pioneer camp or elect for a camp close to the showers.
Choose the level you’re comfortable with, but there’s nothing quite like camping at Hard Labor Creek. It’s also one of the most affordable ways to visit the park.
RV Park or Cabins
If you want the benefits of camping without sleeping outside, consider staying at the RV park or reserving a cabin in the park.
Sure, it’s more glamping than camping, but you’ll be close to nature as well as modern comforts like an actual flushing toilet and hot showers. It’s the best of both worlds and great for those who aren’t comfortable with roughing it in a tent.
If you want to visit Hard Labor Creek with a group, you can consider renting from J&J Bunkhouse on Airbnb.
This bunkhouse is run by owners of one of Madison’s best bed and breakfast establishments.
Your rental will include two bedrooms with two bunkbeds each, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, an open living area with a stone fireplace, high speed Internet, a guest computer, and a flat-screen TV.
There’s a sofa bed included which means the Bunkhouse can sleep up to 10 guests.
Sunflower Farm Airbnb
Another option for your stay is to book the Sunflower Farm on Airbnb. Also located in Rutledge, Georgia, this 1811 cottage sleeps up to 8 guests and is located on a 120-acre farm.
The farm features a trail available to guests, a catch-and-release fishing pond, two bedrooms, a sleeping loft, and a shared bath.
It’s close to the park and offers several amenities for those who want to enjoy the activities in the park but stay in a more luxurious location.
James Madison Inn
Located in nearby Madison, the James Madison Inn is a picturesque place to stay on your visit to the park.
This boutique hotel is great for park guests who want to enjoy the great outdoors but sleep at night in a specialty hotel in a charming small town.
Hotel amenities include complimentary breakfast, an evening happy hour, concierge services, a complimentary business center, and 24-hour fitness facility.
You’ll be in walking distance to a local park, shops, and restaurants in charming downtown Madison and only a short drive away from Hard Labor Creek State Park.
Southern Cross Ranch
If your plan is to enjoy outdoor amenities at Hard Labor Creek, consider a stay in nearby Madison at the Southern Cross Guest Ranch.
There’s a swimming pool available during the summer season, and you can also opt for guest packages that include horseback riding on the ranch trails. If you don’t want the horseback riding package, you can always choose the bed and breakfast option instead.
The food here is first class, and you’ll enjoy comfortable accommodations in a beautiful bucolic setting.
Plus, it’s only a short drive away from the park where you can enjoy hiking, biking, picnics, golfing, and more while resting your head at the end of the day at a beautiful and exquisitely appointed guest ranch.
The Firefly at Madison
The Firefly is yet another bed and breakfast option in nearby Madison. You can enjoy comfortable accommodations on this family farm with four acres of woodlands.
Check out the owner’s children’s books and even take an art class on the premises during your stay.
This is one of the more unique bed and breakfast experience, and it’s a close drive to the state park as well as to historic downtown Madison.
The Brady Inn is yet another bed and breakfast I’d recommend in nearby Madison. It’s in walking distance to local shops, restaurants, parks, and wellness trails in the historic district, and it’s only a short drive from Hard Labor Creek State Park.
This beautifully appointed inn offers a comfortable stay amid lush gardens and serves a delicious breakfast daily.
The Farmhouse Inn
Lastly, if you don’t mind a little drive, you can head to The Farmhouse Inn in rural Madison, Georgia. It’s not too far from the park, and it offers several unique amenities.
You’ll enjoy daily farm-to-table breakfasts, which may include honey from the owner’s own apiary.
You can fish and kayak on the two-acre lake, hike or birdwatch along three wooded trails, or visit with the horses, goats, ducks, chickens, peacocks, turkeys, donkeys, or dogs that call this farm home.
Your Visit to Hard Labor Creek State Park
A $5 parking fee is required, but if you frequently visit state parks, it’s a good idea to invest in an annual ParkPass, which costs $50 each year. Bulk ParkPasses are heavily discounted.
Seniors, active military, and veterans will receive a 25% discount on an annual pass. You can also become a member of the Friends of Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites.
Membership costs start at $55 per person and may include park discounts, free camping stays (depending on membership level), and additional parking passes as well as other benefits.
This is a great way to support the state park service while taking advantage of the discounts available.
Hard Labor Creek State Park is one of Georgia’s hidden gems.
This expansive park doesn’t get the attention of many of the other state parks, but it’s a great location for outdoor adventurers and nature enthusiasts.
It’s the perfect place for a family camping trip, a day of fishing, or simply a nature outing with friends.
It’s easily one of the most underrated parks in the state but well worth a visit. Check it out for yourself and see all that “Small but Special” Rutledge and nearby historic Madison have to offer!