Four things for nature lovers
1. Cloudland Canyon
Cloudland Canyon State Park, in northwest Georgia, offers some spectacular sightseeing and hiking opportunities. On the western flank of Lookout Mountain, Cloudland overlooks a valley where deep canyons, waterfalls, wild caves, and cascading creeks are surrounded by dense woods. Go mountain biking on more than 48 km of singletrack; hike the 100+ kilometres of trail in, through, and around the canyon, or do a little fishing. Hike the West Rim Loop (8 km) for sweeping views, or descend Sitton’s Gulch, a 10.5 km trail that leads to the canyon floor where Cherokee and Hemlock Falls wait. You don’t need to do it all in one day, there’s plenty of lodging – campsites, yurts, and cottages – available. Treetop Hideaways, for example, offers beautifully furnished rustic rooms up in the trees on the side of Lookout Mountain, while the nearby Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast located on Lookout Mountain offers cosy cottages with views of the Chattanooga Valley.
Wherever you decide to stay, keep an eye out for the park's resident bears. While spotting one is exciting, make sure you also know how to stay safe around these animals.
2. The Okefenokee Swamp
The Okefenokee Swamp, the largest blackwater swamp in North America, gives you the chance to paddle, camp, hike and bike in an otherworldly place. Blackwater swamps are created by tannins and peat tinting the water, which makes for amazing photography and a nature outing like no other. Enter via one of the three main entrances to enjoy a tapestry of landscapes. The main entrance, Suwannee Canal Recreation Area offers open prairies, the Stephen C. Foster State Park to the west is a certified Dark Sky Park and is great for stargazing by night and exploring the forest cypress swamp by day, while the Okefenokee Swamp Park entrance in the north is where you can find boat tours, rent a kayak and stop for a spot of fishing.
Join a motorised boat tour and familiarise yourself with this 1,094 sq km swamp before you rent a kayak and paddle off to explore. You’ll see blue heron, hawks, owls, white-tailed deer, otters, and maybe even black bears and bobcats, and you’ll certainly see more than a few alligators – more than 20,000 call the Okefenokee home. Turn the adventure quotient up a notch with an overnight paddle and camp on one of the raised platforms in the swamp, or keep things tame with a scenic drive along Swamp Island Drive, where you’ll get plenty of views and the chance to do a little hiking.
3. Providence Canyon—Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon”
One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, Providence Canyon in southern Georgia earned the nickname “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” and it’s a must-see for intrepid adventurers. Enormous washouts caused by bad farming habits in the 1800s created gullies up to 46 metres deep, their sides a riot of colour. The orange, pink, red and purple-tinged soil make great subjects for photography and plein air projects, and the Plumleaf Azalea, a rare plant that blooms in mid-summer, adds another layer of colour.
Backcountry trails give backpackers a place to spend the night and more than 16 km of trails allow day visitors to experience the canyon. Explore the 16 canyons (and all 43 shades of soil) as you hike, and remember, the deepest canyons will stay a little wet, which turns Georgia’s famed red clay into an excellent shoe dye.
4. Golden Isles
Sea turtles return to Georgia’s shores to lay their clutches of eggs each summer, and on Jekyll Island you stand the best chance of seeing turtle tracks leading from the high-tide line to nests among the dunes, or for seeing a nest 'boil' as a hundred turtle hatchlings dig free and race for the surf. Five species of sea turtle nest here, but the most frequent visitor is the Loggerhead turtle, an endangered species that clocks in around 90 cm long and 135 kgs. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island lets you get a close look at these creatures, but they also provide medical facilities and rehabilitation to injured turtles.
As well as sea turtles, you will find a whole host of other wildlife on Jekyll Island including alligators and snakes which can be seen at 4-H Tidelands Nature Center. Head out on the water with Jekyll Island Boat Tours on a 90-minute dolphin tour for a chance to be tailed by a friendly pod. A guide on board will teach you about this intelligent creature and you can also enjoy views of the waterways and marshes. Bird lovers should try a guided kayaking tour to spot egrets and herons in the marshes. Be sure to visit some of the sites along the Colonial Coast Birding Trail to see some of the 300 species of birds as well as 18th and 19th Century historic places well-worth exploring.
On nearby Little St. Simons Island, some 45 sq km of wilderness awaits exploration. Head out with a local guide on a sustainable tour to explore by bike, hike or kayak to learn about the impressive conservation of the Island and to spot the wildlife. See pilot whales, alligators and dolphins in the water. Seek out many species of frogs, rabbits, deer and racoons on land. And look up to see a sky filled with myriad birds from ruby throated hummingbirds and osprey to bald eagles and peregrine falcons.
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