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12 Best National Parks in Georgia, US, According to a Local

ocmulgee mounds park

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When I think of national parks, my thoughts often turn to the more famous ones. Yosemite. Glacier. Yellowstone. Grand Teton. Arcadia. Grand Canyon. What I didn’t realize is that there are 12 national parks right here in the state of Georgia and many more state parks, nature reserves, and national monuments.

I’ve been to many of the state parks over the years. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to explore the national parks that the Peach State has to offer. While I still think it’s worthwhile to plan trips to see the nation’s other parks, I don’t want to overlook the ones in my own metaphorical backyard. 

12 Best National Parks in Georgia (USA)

Ocmulgee Mounds — Photo by Crystal Jackson

I thought about providing a list of the best national parks in Georgia according to me, but all 12 have something unique to offer. What might appeal to me might not be to the taste of someone else. For that reason, I’m going to include the best features of all 12 parks and explain why they deserve a visit. 

When planning your national park visit, there are a few things to keep in mind. Most of them have a parking fee. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks, you might want to consider purchasing a park pass that will give you a year of access to all of them. This is a particularly good value if you plan to visit more than once. 

You’ll also want to pack a few essentials depending on what you plan to do on your trip. Sunscreen is recommended at all times of year. Bringing water along with you can keep you hydrated. Wear comfortable shoes as many of the parks will have options for hiking or other recreational activities. I’ll cover which parks offer accessible trails.

1. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

waterfall in Chattahochee park
By JJonahJackalope — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is located in Sandy Springs, just outside of Atlanta. It was established by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 to preserve a 48-mile portion of the Chattahoochee River. You’ll find the park open from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset year-round.

The Island Ford Visitor Center is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas day. There’s no Wi-Fi in the park, so you’ll want to be prepared to be offline and in nature. There is a $5 parking pass to visit, but you can purchase an annual pass for $40, which is recommended if you plan on regularly visiting any national parks. 

There’s plenty to do at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. I live in Georgia, and I need to inform you that locals will refer to this area as the ‘Hooch. You can hike the ‘Hooch or shoot the ‘Hooch (which refers to water sports), depending on your preference.

This expansive park offers riverside trails, historic sites, waterfalls, woodlands, marches, caves, bluffs, wetlands, and even a bamboo forest. Some options for your visit include fly fishing, cycling, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and rafting.

While small boats are allowed on the Chattahoochee River, jet skis are prohibited. If you don’t have a boat of your own, you can rent equipment, which comes with a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). 

Address: 1978 Island Ford Pkwy, Sandy Springs, GA 30350

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 19.5 miles (approximately 29 minutes) 

Cost: $5 daily pass, $40 annual pass

2. Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Appalachian Trail Helen Georgia
Appalachian Trail Helen Georgia

I should point out that the Appalachian National Scenic Trail is 2,190+ miles long and includes the states of Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, and West Virginia. You’ll find 76 miles of the trail in Georgia.

While Georgia has many accessible state and local parks, the Appalachian National Scenic Trail in Georgia isn’t considered accessible for those with disabilities. In fact, the only truly accessible part of the trail is in Connecticut, but there’s hope that more of the trail will be developed in future with inclusivity in mind. 

A word for hiking enthusiasts

The average hiker might not plan to complete the 2,000+ mile trail, but it’s still important to research the part of the trail you do plan to complete. Parts of the trail can be challenging, and it’s important to consider in advance your hiking and fitness levels before planning a trip.

Hiking the Appalachian National Scenic Trail isn’t like going for a simple walk in the woods. There are challenges, and it’s best to be prepared. You’ll want to research the weather and trail conditions before heading out. 

Even though I am an experienced hiker, I’ve made the mistake of inadequately preparing for hikes before, and I don’t recommend it. Making sure you have food, water, first aid supplies, a compass, maps, and other supplies can make even a short hike much safer.

You never know what can go wrong, and it’s important to also mention that you should do your due diligence about potential wildlife in any area you plan to hike. North Georgia is known for being bear country, and it’s a good idea to know how to deal with a bear encounter just in case. 

Address: Dahlonega, Georgia

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 89.9 miles (approximately 2 hours 15 minutes)

Cost: FREE entry, variable parking charges

Related read: The Appalachian Region: A Breathtaking Area in North America

3. Cumberland Island National Seashore

The Cumberland Island National Seashore is perhaps my personal favorite in the state of Georgia. It has a beautiful live oak forest draped in Spanish moss that leads down to the undeveloped beach area and marshes.

There are wonderful hikes you can do on the island, and you can spot the many wild horses that live there. You can also visit the Dungeness ruins, one of my favorite places to explore. The island also contains 9,800 acres of wilderness. 

While you can hike, cycle, and camp on island in addition to enjoying beach activities, you’ll want to keep in mind that this island is only accessible by ferry from St. Marys, Georgia. You’ll want to reserve your ferry ride in advance as spaces fill up.

Also, you’ll have to bring everything you need with you because the island is undeveloped. You won’t find shops and restaurants upon your arrival. You will, however, find pristine forests, beaches, marshes, and preserved ruins.

If you’re camping or cycling, you’ll have to bring your bike and supplies with you. Be sure to bring a refillable water bottle for the stations you’ll find on the island. There are restrooms and showers on island, but camping sites must be booked in advance if you plan to stay the night.

Other things to keep in mind

There are some things to keep in mind for your trip. The wild horses are beautiful, but they are wild. Don’t approach them or attempt to feed them. You should also know that alligators call this island home and can swim in the sea. While I did not see any on my visit, you better believe I was keeping an anxious eye out just in case. Beachcombing, shell collecting, and swimming are all permissible on island. 

While you’re on island, you can check out the Plum Orchard Mansion to explore 22,000 square feet of history. If you’re visiting for the day, you should know it takes 3–5 hours of cycling to reach the mansion or 8–10 hours of hiking.

It’s best to plan this visit for when you’ll be camping overnight. You can also see the First African Baptist Church if you don’t mind the 14-mile distance to see it (which day visitors should not attempt lest you miss the return ferry).

The sea camp ranger station is conveniently located by the dock and operates between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm daily. You’ll also find the Ice House Museum near Dungeness dock, also open daily between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. Dungeness Ruins, the former home of Thomas Carnegie, his wife Lucy, and their 9 children was built in 1884 and burned down in 1959. It remains one of the most beautiful places on the island even in its state of ruin. 


As far as accessibility is concerned, there’s wheelchair access on the ferry, at the visitor’s center, gift shop, museum, restrooms, and headquarters.

Vision impaired guests will find accessibility options at the visitors’ center, museum, and on the fairy, and hearing impaired guests will find texts for all exhibits. All-terrain beach wheelchairs can be requested at the dock but should be reserved in advance. There is one wheelchair accessible campsite on the island.  

Address: St. Marys Street West, St. Marys, GA 31558

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 345.8 miles (approximately 5 hours 7 minutes plus ferry time to the island)

Cost: $15 per person, $45 per person annually (plus ferry fees

4. Trail of Tears National Historic Trail

Trail of tears
By NPS Staff (NPS) — NPGallery, Public Domain

From 1838–1839, colonizers forced indigenous tribes from Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee to move to Oklahoma. Over 16,000 Cherokee Indians were forced to relocate. Hundreds died on the journey, and thousands died following their relocation. The route they took is now known as the Trail of Tears. This trail stretches across nine states, but a portion of it is located in Georgia. 

You can visit many historical places along the trail in Georgia. Some of the sites include:

  • Fort Buffington,
  • the Vann Cherokee Cabin in Cave Spring,
  • the John Ross House and Association History Museum,
  • the Funk Heritage Center and Georgia’s Official Frontier and Southeastern Indian Interpretive Center,
  • the Cedartown Encampment Removal Site,
  • Chief Vann House mansion and exhibit,
  • the Chieftains Museum and Major Ridge Home,
  • Rockdale Plantation,
  • Running Water John Ridge Home,
  • New Echota State Park,
  • Cherokee Garden at Green Meadows,
  • Fort Newnan,
  • Fort Gilmer.

Each site bears a marker with historical information about this terrible time in United States History. The full trail is 2,200 miles with only a portion in the state of Georgia. While much of it is scenic, it’s also an important way to preserve history so that we don’t repeat it. 

Address: Ball Ground, Georgia 

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 19.5 miles (approximately 31 minutes)

Cost: FREE

5. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park

Photo by Crystal Jackson

Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park is located in Macon, Georgia. It’s a great place to hike and learn about the history of the indigenous tribes who once called this land home. You’ll find the nation’s only reconstructed Earth Lodge here.

It has a floor that dates back a thousand years. You can climb to the top of the Great Temple Mound, visit a British Trading Post site, and read along the way about how colonization and railway construction impacted the people who already called this land home. 

The area is scenic with forest and river views, and you could spend a day hiking the trails if you don’t mind an alligator sighting or two. It’s a beautiful place, but the historical markers remind us that there was 17,000 years of Native American history in the area. Honor that history and enjoy the sights of this wonderful national park. Plus, stop by the ranger station by the parking lot for snacks, drinks, and a free exhibit. 

Address: 1207 Emery Highway Macon, Georgia 31217

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 85.6 miles (approximately 1 hour 29 minutes)

Cost: FREE

6. Fort Frederica National Monument

Fort Federica National Monument
Photo by Crystal Jackson

Fort Frederica National Monument is a historic site where Spanish and British forces fought over land that was already occupied by indigenous tribes. The Battle of Bloody Marsh resulted in Georgia becoming a British colony.

Fort Frederica was the second town established in the state of Georgia, and the park displays the history of the 500 colonists who settled in the area. The military threat ended in 1749, but the fort remains. 

Today, you can hike, cycle, kayak, or fish in the park. It’s a great place to have a picnic or simply to explore the relevant artifacts of the area. Located on St. Simons Island, Fort Frederica makes an interesting and educational stop along the way.

It should be noted, however, that some of the historical markers still bear a colonizer’s history and does not necessarily reflect the experience of the indigenous people who occupied the lands when foreigners came here to fight over it. This should always be kept in mind when reviewing historical narratives. 

Address: 6515 Frederica Road St. Simons Island, Georgia 31522

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 317.2 miles (approximately 4 hours 53 minutes)

Cost: FREE

7. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

martin luther king national historical park
By Riis2602 — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park is located in Atlanta, Georgia, and commemorates the life and work of this notable Civil Rights hero.

The park contains the birth home of MLK Jr., his neighborhood and church, a historic fire station, the “I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the DREAM Gallery, and the BEHOLD Monument. You can also visit the final resting place of MLK Jr. Exhibits also exist for Coretta Scott King and Mahatma Gandhi. 

While many of the national parks preserve the memory of war and genocide, this particular park is about peace and equality.

I think that whether you come visit for the beauty of the rose gardens or to simply marvel at the historical significance of this hero’s life, it’s a national park you’ll want to be sure to take the time to visit. 

Address: 450 Auburn Avenue Northeast Atlanta, Georgia 30312

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 0.9 miles (approximately 5 minutes)

Cost: FREE

8. Fort Pulaski National Monument

Photo by Savannah Rohleder on Unsplash

You’ll find the Fort Pulaski National Monument in Savannah, Georgia. This monument marks the place where Union soldiers tested rifled cannons in combat to see if they could obliterate brick forts. They were successful. The fort was originally built to protect the fort city of Savannah, but it was eventually taken over by the Union army during the Civil War, thanks to advancement in military science and weaponry.

These days, it’s a 5,365-acre park that offers guided fort tours, cycling, hikes, and picnicking. There’s a wooded landscape, salt marshes, and mud flats in the area. Plus, the area is dog-friendly, so you can bring your leashed pup to wander the area with you. Even though it is the site of a battle, the beauty of the natural environment alone is a reason to add Fort Pulaski to your trip. 

Address: 101 Fort Pulaski Road, Savannah, Georgia 31410

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 262.8 miles (approximately 4 hours 6 minutes)

Cost: $10 per person or $35 per person for the annual park pass

Related read: 23 Unique and Unforgettable Date Ideas in Savannah, GA

9. Jimmy Carter National Historical Park

Jimmy carter national historical park
By Riis2602 — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

With the recent passing of Rosalyn Carter, the former First Lady of the 39th President Jimmy Carter, visitors may want to pay their respects at Jimmy Carter National Historical Park in Plains, Georgia.

You can take a self-guided tour of Plains High School where both Jimmy and Rosalyn attended, visit the Rosalyn Carter Butterfly Trail, tour the Plains Depot (the presidential campaign headquarters), and explore the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm.

Audio programs are available at signposts throughout the park. It might surprise you to know that it is still the home of the former President who is, at this time, still currently in hospice care. 

The park is also fully accessible. You can contact an Accessibility Coordinator at the Visitor’s Center to source a sign language interpreter, and there are ramps and handrails for greater access to those with disabilities both in the buildings and around the property.

Audio descriptions of the exhibits, a Braille brochure, and tactile features are all available to meet the needs of those who are blind or visually-impaired. It is truly one of the most accessible national parks in Georgia, which allows anyone to visit and enjoy the friendly and picturesque small town of Plains, Georgia, and the national park that commemorates the life and work of the Carters. 

Address: 300 North Bond Street Plains, Georgia 31780

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 159.2 miles (approximately 2 hours 29 minutes)

Cost: FREE

10. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park

Kennesaw Mountain Park
Photo by Nikhil Mistry on Unsplash

Just when you thought there couldn’t be any more Civil War sites, here’s another. The Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park was the location of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, which took place from June 19 to July 2, 1864. Today, it’s a 2,965-acre park with a historic museum and numerous hiking trails. There are even live reenactments scheduled in the park. Birding and horseback riding are also popular activities at the park. 

Although there is an entry fee for the park, there are certain days of year with FREE entry. Those days include the following:

  • January 16- MLK, Jr.’s birthday
  • April 22- First Day of National Park Week
  • August 4- The Great Amerian Outdoors Act
  • -September 23- National Public Lands Day
  • November 11- Veterans Day

Even if you don’t care about the Civil War, the park has miles of beautiful trails. Park rangers are available to help guests who might need accommodations to enjoy their visit. The hiking trails are not wheelchair friendly, but it is possible to drive to the top of Kennesaw Mountain. 

Address: 900 Kennesaw Mountain Drive Kennesaw, Georgia 30152

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 24.8 miles (approximately 46 minutes)

Cost: $5 parking fee or $40 for an annual parking pass, $5 per person

11. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park

By Gloria Bell from Philadelphia — IMG_0062, CC BY 2.0

I’ll be honest. I don’t love the many war-related national parks, but I do respect the fact that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it, as they say. Over 100,000 men participated in the battle that took place at Chicamauga and Chattanooga in 1863.

The park now consists of over 9,000 acres, which includes battlefields, monuments, and forests. There’s even Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, which showcases history going back 10,000 years. 

Outdoor activities permissible in the park include hiking, cycling, fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding, and paddling. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder this national park space is so popular! Whether you’re a fan of history or nature, you’re sure to find something to love about this national site. 

Address: 3370 Lafayette Road Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, 30742 

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 110.1 miles (approximately 1 hour 58 minutes)

Cost: $10 per person

12. Andersonville National Historic Site

The Andersonville National Historic Site was built 18 months before the end of the Civil War. Although it was meant to hold 10,000 prisoners at most, it actually held more than 32,000 Union prisoners of war — over 12,000 who died and were buried in the cemetery there.

It joined the National Park System in 1970 and contains the Camp Sumter military prison, the Andersonville National Cemetery, and the National Prisoner of War Museum. The museum doesn’t just honor the prisoners of war (POW) from the Civil War but all United States POWs. 

Just as an interesting fact, I have an ancestor who served in the Union army and was imprisoned during the Civil War. While I don’t have proof that he was captured and taken to Camp Sumter, it was the most notorious prison camp of its time. It had the highest mortality rate with the cause of death most frequently due to malnourishment.

Only an estimated 7% of soldiers escaped from Andersonville, and 28% of the soldiers imprisoned there died. The Union Army wasn’t able to liberate the camp until May 1865. The commandant of Camp Sumter was later tried and found guilty of war crimes related to the conditions of the prison camp. 

Today, visitors can come and see this example of the atrocities of war and what human beings can do to one another. It can serve as a reminder of the importance of an ethical standard even in times of conflict. It’s also a place to honor and remember POWs in all the wars. 

Address: 496 Cemetery Road Andersonville, Georgia 31711

Distance from Downtown Atlanta: 126.8 miles (approximately 2 hours 20 minutes) 

Cost: FREE

What is the Biggest National Park in Georgia?

The largest national park in the Peach State is Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. It covers more than 9,000 acres. You’ll want to make sure to visit Lookout Mountain’s Point Park. Although this was the site of the “Battle Above the Clouds,” it’s now a scenic destination to view the surrounding area. 

What is the Most Famous Park in Georgia?

The most famous national park in Georgia is the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Both residents and visitors alike enjoy shooting or hiking the ‘Hooch. It’s considered the most visited park in the state and had over 3.3 million visitors in 2019. 

There are a dozen national parks in the state of Georgia. While some offer education and history, others are visited more for the natural beauty and outdoor adventure. While Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and other national parks might get more attention, it’s always a good idea to see what parks are a little closer to home and start there. 

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