The return of autumn means it’s time to hit the highway and check out the changing colors of fall in the Georgia mountains.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says late October and early November usually bring the peak weeks to admire the reds and golds of the changing leaves.
Georgia’s state parks system brags that its parks offer some of the best leaf-peeping around. And, through a website called Leaf Watch, the park system guides tourists to places where they can find the best fall color. For regular updates on where to see leafy views that are at or near their colorful peaks, go to gastateparks.org/leafwatch.
“Beginning in October, regular updates will keep travelers posted on how fall color is progressing across Georgia’s Blue Ridge,” the state says. “The website is filled with top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events and safe hiking tips.”
And state officials encourage photographers to post their favorite shots to the Georgia State Parks’ Facebook page and on Instagram.
This year, DNR recommends a number of state parks to check out for fall color. Here are 10 likely prospects:
CLOUDLAND CANYON STATE PARK
A hike down a long, steep staircase in this park takes visitors to a pair of waterfalls. The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon. For more: gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon
RED TOP MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Located about a 40-minute drive north of Atlanta, Red Top Mountain offers views of lake and forest. Families with young children will find a paved walking path behind the park office, park officials say. For more: gastateparks.org/RedTopMountain
FORT MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Although it may be best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, Fort Mountain offers a variety of hiking trails. They range from a 1.2-mile loop around a lake to an 8-mile, all-day hike. Ga. 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks. For more: gastateparks.org/FortMountain
AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK
Located an hour north of Atlanta, this park includes the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall. The falls can be viewed from both easy and difficult trails. The park gets very busy on pretty October weekends, the state says. For more: gastateparks.org/AmicalolaFalls/Trails
VOGEL STATE PARK
The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a bird’s-eye view of the park’s lake, state parks officials say. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery. For more: gastateparks.org/Vogel
SMITHGALL WOODS STATE PARK
If you’re heading to Helen’s Oktoberfest, you can check out the more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek. A 1.6-mile trail climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mount Yonah, state parks officials say. For morel gastateparks.org/SmithgallWoods
UNICOI STATE PARK
Unicoi promises hiking, mountain biking, a lake with a beach and a 100-room lodge that hosts conferences, weddings and retreats. For more: gastateparks.org/Unicoi
MOCCASIN CREEK STATE PARK
Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a gorgeous deep-green lake. Ga. 197 is a particularly pretty road, according to state officials. For more: gastateparks.org/MoccasinCreek
BLACK ROCK MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
Black Rock Mountain (altitude 3,640 feet) is Georgia’s highest state park. It offers sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from roadside overlooks and its visitor’s center, according to the state parks system. For more: gastateparks.org/BlackRockMountain-Hiking
TALLULAH GORGE STATE PARK
Tallulah offers one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast. Visitors can choose from easy or difficult trails as they hike through the park. Hikes along the rim offer several overlooks with waterfall views. Hikers with permits from the park office may trek all the way to the bottom of the gorge. Exhibits in the park’s interpretive center highlight the history of the Victorian resort town and the rugged terrain and ecosystem. An award-winning film features footage of kayakers and news clips from daredevil Karl Wallenda’s tightrope walk across the gorge. For more: gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge