Plan ahead to enjoy fall's leaf show

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Georgia’s annual blaze of autumn color could range from fantastic to fizzling this year, depending on last-minute weather trends.

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Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, Ga., features a 1.2-mile walking loop around its signature lake. About 215 miles from Augusta, the scenic drive along Georgia Highway 52 offers overlooks worth stopping for.  GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Fort Mountain State Park in Chatsworth, Ga., features a 1.2-mile walking loop around its signature lake. About 215 miles from Augusta, the scenic drive along Georgia Highway 52 offers overlooks worth stopping for.
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“If I had to guess, I’d say this year will be – probably – about average to slightly below average,” said Kim Coder, a forestry and tree health professor at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Although a soggy spring and summer are not conducive to fabulous foliage, cool temperatures and sunny skies can turn things around quickly.

“The thing we always need for the best color is bright, sunny days,” he said. “A few days of overcast weather and clouds can erase a week of full sun.”

In recent weeks, dry conditions and plenty of sunlight have begun to generate lots of color at the higher elevations.

“If we keep this same pattern going clear into mid-October, we have a chance to redeem ourselves,” he said.

The most vivid colors are aided by cool days and not-freezing nights.

“An early frost, especially at higher altitudes, can tear up the color,” he said. “You have to have a living leaf to produce the color, but if you kill it, it browns out.”

Typically, northern Georgia peaks in late October; however, color can be seen as early as September and as late as mid-November.

“People say they want to make a trip when it’s at its peak, but I would make three trips,” Coder said. “You can go before, during and after, still have color and contrast, and you still get to be outside during one of the most beautiful times of the year.”

From a technical point of view, the contrasting hues of autumn foliage are a major factor in its beauty.

“You know the old adage that art is in the eyes of the beholder,” he said. “Fall color is also in the eye of the beholder.”

The first wave usually includes the yellows of hickory and muscadines, followed by the orange wave, where people might see the most individual colors.

“Some people wait for the dark reds and burgundies of the third wave,” he said. “It really depends on what you’re looking at and what you like.”

Leaf watching is popular all along the Appalachian mountain chain, but Georgia’s state parks attract loyal crowds each season.

“Fall is a great time to get outdoors and explore our beautiful state,” said Georgia State Parks Director Becky Kelley. “We have short nature trails that are good for children, as well as longer trails that are perfect for a workout. We even have roadside overlooks, making it easy to enjoy the view from your car.”

AMICALOLA FALLS

LOCATION: Dawsonville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 180

HIGHLIGHTS: Just an hour north of Atlanta you’ll find the Southeast’s tallest cascading waterfall. The falls can be enjoyed from easy or difficult trails. A short, flat path leads to a boardwalk offering the most spectacular views. There’s also an easy-to-reach overlook at the top. For a tougher challenge, start from the bottom of the falls and hike up the steep staircase. Amicalola Falls gets very busy on pretty October weekends. Pumpkin farms and apple orchards are nearby.

gastateparks.org/AmicalolaFalls/Trails

BLACK ROCK MOUNTAIN

LOCATION: Mountain City

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 160

HIGHLIGHTS: At an altitude of 3,640 feet, Black Rock Mountain is Georgia’s highest state park. Roadside overlooks and the summit Visitor Center offer sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 2.2-mile Tennessee Rock Trail is a good choice for a short, moderate hike. For an all-day challenge, take the 7.2-mile James E. Edmonds Backcountry Trail. If driving Highway 441 north to the park, you can stop by Tallulah Gorge State Park and quirky Goats on the Roof.

gastateparks.org/BlackRockMountain-Hiking

www.gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge

CLOUDLAND CANYON

LOCATION: Rising Fawn (near Chattanooga, Tenn.)

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 270

HIGHLIGHTS: One of Georgia’s most beautiful parks offers easy-to-reach rim overlooks and challenging hiking trails. A favorite hike takes you down a long, steep staircase to the bottom of the canyon, where you’ll find two waterfalls. (Remember, you have to hike back up, but it’s worth it.) The 5-mile West Rim Loop is moderately difficult and offers great views of the canyon. New yurts are located off this trail.

gastateparks.org/CloudlandCanyon-Hiking

DON CARTER

LOCATION: Gainesville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 150

HIGHLIGHTS: Georgia’s newest state park opened this summer on Lake Lanier, protecting a beautiful hardwood forest and many miles of shoreline. If you have a boat, this would be a great park to enjoy fall color from the water. A 1.5-mile paved (and quite hilly) trail is open to bikes and foot traffic. Another 2-mile trail is open to hikers only.

www.gastateparks.org/DonCarter

F.D. ROOSEVELT

LOCATION: Pine Mountain

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 200

HIGHLIGHTS: Many people are surprised to find hardwood forests and rolling mountains south of Atlanta. The 6.7-mile Wolf Den Loop is a favorite section of the longer Pine Mountain Trail. For a touch of history, drive to Dowdell’s Knob to see a lifesize bronze sculpture of President F.D. Roosevelt and great views of the forested valley. Georgia Highway 190 is a pretty driving route.

www.gastateparks.org/item/148124

FORT MOUNTAIN

LOCATION: Chatsworth

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 215

HIGHLIGHTS: This park is best known for a mysterious rock wall along the mountain top, plus a variety of trails. For the easiest walk, take the 1.2-mile loop around the park’s pretty, green lake. For a challenging, all-day hike, choose the 8-mile Gahuti Trail. Mountain bikers have more than 14 miles to explore, and horseback rides are available as well. Highway 52 has beautiful mountain scenery and overlooks that are worth stopping for.

www.gastateparks.org/FortMountain-Hiking

www.dot.ga.gov/travelingingeorgia/scenicroutes/Pages/CohuttaCattahoochee.aspx

HARD LABOR CREEK

LOCATION: Rutledge

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 100

HIGHLIGHTS: Kayak tours of this park’s lake let you enjoy autumn color from a different perspective. Sign up for a ranger-led paddle or rent a canoe to explore on your own. Mountain bikers can explore 10 miles of trails ranging from beginner to experienced. This park is easily reached from I-20 exit 105.

www.gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek-Trails

JAMES H. (SLOPPY) FLOYD

LOCATION: Summerville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 240

HIGHLIGHTS: This park near Rome is a good choice for families with young children. An easy walk circles a fishing lake, and kids enjoy feeding fish from the boardwalk. Older children will like the Marble Mine Trail, which leads to a small waterfall with a pretty blue-green tint. Serious hikers can explore the nearby 330-mile Pinhoti Trail.

www.gastateparks.org/JamesHFloyd-Trails

MOCCASIN CREEK

LOCATION: Clarkesville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 175

HIGHLIGHTS: Georgia’s smallest state park sits on the shore of a gorgeous, deep-green lake. Guests can choose from the 2-mile Hemlock Falls Trail or 1-mile Non-Game Trail with a wildlife observation tower. Highway 197 is a particularly pretty road, passing Mark of the Potter and other popular attractions.

www.gastateparks.org/MoccasinCreek

RED TOP MOUNTAIN

LOCATION: Cartersville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 195

HIGHLIGHTS: Just 40 minutes north of Atlanta you’ll find a variety of trails with nice fall color. The easy, flat, 4-mile Iron Hill Loop is open to bikes and foot traffic, offering great views of the lake and forest. Another good choice for lake views is the 5.5-mile Homestead Trail. Families with young children will like the paved walking path behind the park office. Be sure to explore the log cabin and blacksmith shed.

gastateparks.org/RedTopMountain-Hiking

SMITHGALL WOODS

LOCATION: Helen

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 165

HIGHLIGHTS: Protecting more than 6,000 acres around Dukes Creek, this is the perfect spot for fly fishing while enjoying fall color. Day visitors can picnic near the creek, and overnight guests can hike a private trail to Dukes Creek Falls. A 1.6-mile loop climbs to Laurel Ridge and provides a view of Mt. Yonah once most leaves are off the trees. This park is near many wineries and Helen’s Oktoberfest.

www.gastateparks.org/SmithgallWoods-Hiking

www.helenga.org/events/oktoberfest

SWEETWATER CREEK

LOCATION: Lithia Springs

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 165

HIGHLIGHTS: Just west of Atlanta you’ll find 9 miles of hiking trails, a beautiful creek and small lake. For an easy walk, take the popular 1-mile Red Trail which follows the creek to the ruins of an old mill. For more of a workout, continue past the mill to the Blue Trail, where you’ll climb steep bluffs for outstanding creek views. Sign up for a guided hike to learn more about this park’s Civil War history.

www.gastateparks.org/SweetwaterCreek-Hiking

TALLULAH GORGE

LOCATION: Tallulah Falls

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 150

HIGHLIGHTS: Tallulah is one of the most spectacular canyons in the Southeast, and you can choose from easy or difficult trails. Hike along the rim to several overlooks with waterfall views, or get a permit from the park office to trek all the way to the bottom. During November, you can watch expert kayakers as they enjoy the bi-annual “whitewater releases.” Be sure to see the park’s film because it includes heart-racing footage of kayakers and news clips from Wallenda’s famous tightrope walk across the gorge.

www.gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge-Hiking

UNICOI

LOCATION: Helen

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 165

HIGHLIGHTS: Avoid Oktoberfest crowds in Helen by hiking a pretty 3-mile trail which leads from the park into town. You can enjoy lunch and window shopping before hiking back to the trailhead. Mountain bikers can zip past fall color on the park’s challenging 7.5-mile bike loop. If you’re up for a steep hike, take the 4.8-mile Smith Creek Trail up to Anna Ruby Falls. (To avoid having to hike back, leave a second car at the falls.)

gastateparks.org/Unicoi-Trails

www.helenga.org/events/oktoberfest

VOGEL

LOCATION: Blairsville

MILES FROM AUGUSTA: About 180

HIGHLIGHTS: The 4-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail makes a nice day trip for experienced hikers, offering great mountain color and a birds-eye view of the park’s lake. For an easier walk, follow the Lake Loop to a small waterfall. The twisting roads around Vogel, particularly Wolf Pen Gap Road, offer some of north Georgia’s prettiest fall scenery.

www.gastateparks.org/Vogel-Hiking

PRETTIEST PARKS

Georgia officials recently announced the top 15 state parks for leaf watching:

• Amicalola Falls

• Black Rock Mountain

• Cloudland Canyon

• Don Carter

• F.D. Roosevelt

• Fort Mountain

• Hard Labor Creek

• Moccasin Creek

• James H. ‘‘Sloppy’’ Floyd

• Red Top Mountain

• Smithgall Woods

• Sweetwater Creek

• Tallulah Gorge

• Unicoi

• Vogel


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