Traveling and adventure don’t always have to mean hopping on a plane or cruise ship to jet set to a remote island. Although that is nice, I believe that one can find a fantastic adventure by merely exploring new places locally. One of my favorite pastimes is hitting a local hiking trail and taking in nature. For one, it is cheap and perfect for anyone on a budget. Also, there are many mental and physical health benefits of being outdoors. Getting outside encourages physical activity, reduces stress, relieves depression and anxiety, improves relationships, and increases sleep quality.
If you are looking for an affordable way to explore and a little self-care, I’ve listed some of my favorite local and nearby hiking trails below!
Tallulah Gorge State Park
Home to Tallulah Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park is a 90-minute drive northeast of Atlanta. This was probably one of the first trails that I’ve hiked in Georgia and also one of the best workouts. There are about 6 trails total at the park, but the most popular trail, Hurricane Falls Trail, is known for having about 1,099 stairs that will, without a doubt, get your heart rate up. Don’t worry, the stairs are broken up into sections, and you can use them to go to the bottom of the crashing sounds of the waterfall. However, I have to tell you that I was beyond wiped out after tackling this epic climb! The next day, you will feel the aftermath of your battle in your legs, feet, arms, and even fingernails. Do not underestimate this full-body workout. Obviously, I do not recommend this particular trail if you have any health conditions, and highly recommend the other trails and activities that the park has to offer. Some of my favorite parts of Tallulah are the 80-foot high suspension bridge, the calming Tallulah Falls, and the sand beach conveniently placed for you to cool down after your workout.
I have been here in the spring and summer and have never had a terrible issue with crowds. The park definitely has a lot of foot traffic, but there weren’t any issues with getting pictures or space during the hike. Like many state parks in Georgia, there will be a parking fee of $5.
Cloudland Canyon State Park
I added Cloudland Canyon to the list, as this one has one of my favorite backdrops. I have a thing for waterfalls, and this particular hike ends with the trail opening up to an intimate waterfall that you can get very close to. I like to come out here to sit on the rocks and listen to the water thundering into the blue hues of the pond below.
This park has 3 trails, with the most popular one being the shortest one at 2 miles. Like Tallulah Gorge, they want to give you a workout, and they supply you with another climb of about 600 stairs. Once you defeat the staircase, you will be rewarded with beautiful creeks and breathtaking overlooks before you get to the calming waterfall surrounded by rock formations.
Cloudland Canyon is about 2 hours northwest of Atlanta in Rising Fawn, Ga. The drive isn’t bad, and one could turn it into a quick day trip with friends. I went in November and loved the fall foliage with the leaves scattered along the trail. I also hear that it is a great experience to go in the winter to see the waterfall accompanied by icicles and a white winter frost. There can be a bit of a crowd here, which only poses a slight issue with climbing the stairs and narrow areas of the trail. Despite the number of people, you are still usually able to find a sweet spot around the waterfall and overlooks. The parking here is also $5, with plenty of parking spots for visitors.
Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain
Easily one of my favorite views in Georgia, Sawnee Mountain, sits in Cumming, Ga, just a little over a 1-hour drive north of Atlanta. The trail is about a 4-mile round trip that leads you to the top of the mountain, called The Summit, that overlooks a long span of land and the North Georgia Mountains. Although no stairs are here, the incline still provides a great workout, and the trees alongside this trail are unique in presentation.
The view from the top of the mountain is breathtaking, and I highly recommend going in the evening just before sunset. The summit sits in the perfect spot to catch the sunset and trust me, you will thank me for this. Since the trail loops and provides a different path going down, you will not have to worry about too much of a crowd during your hike. However, there can be a crowd at the top (especially during sunset). Still, it doesn’t pose too much of a problem as there is plenty of room for everyone to find a spot for photos and stillness.
Like most state parks and trails, their visitor center hours are 8am-5pm, but since many people like to hike late and catch the sunset, you will see a lot of after-hour hikers. There were not any restrictions on this, so I only recommend taking a flashlight as the trail gets pitch black after sunset.
Parking was easy and was also FREE! Can’t get any better than that!!
Amicalola Falls State Park
I recently visited Amicalola Falls for the first time, and it was quickly added to my list because of the waterfall. The cascading 729-foot waterfall seriously made me want to move in. I could possibly just build a little hut next to it without anyone noticing, right? Once my mind stopped drawing the blueprint of my future home under the waterfall, I was able to enjoy the trail and everything that the park has to offer. This park has about 6 total trails that provide different experiences. We took what I believe is the most popular trail called Appalachian Approach Trail, with a distance of about 2 miles. I love that the path gives you multiple views of the waterfall. You can start at the bottom, then take stairs to get extremely close to feel the mist from the water hitting the rocks. Afterward, it loops all the way to the top where you can experience a beautiful overlook while seeing the waterfall rushing down below your feet.
This was probably one of the more crowded hikes that I have experienced. They have a pretty popular lodge in the park as well as zip-lining and archery for activities. Georgia also must have a thing for strenuous stairs because they are present here. The good news is on this hike, the stairs come in waves, so you don’t have to tackle them all at once.
Since there are so many different types of trails at this park, I do recommend that you stop in the visitor center to receive guidance on which path may be best for you. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful, so they will point you in the right direction. Parking is minimal here, you may have to arrive early to grab a spot or wait for someone to leave. The parking and entry fee is $5.
Skinny Dip Falls along the Blue Ridge Parkway (Asheville, NC)
We are going to go outside the state lines for this one and travel up to Asheville, NC. I came here for a girls’ trip with some of my best friends, and we decided to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a beautiful Saturday hike. This had to be added to the list for several reasons: 1. This is probably one of my all-time favorite scenic drives. 2. Asheville is one of those towns that can immediately raise your vibration. 3. Skinny Dip Falls was pretty much a free amusement park.
Again, the drive up was amazing. It was about a 1-hour drive from Asheville, while you’re on a constant incline getting higher and higher while the land below spans out more and more. There are many overlooks along the way that allow you to pull over and take in the views. Take advantage of this! We stopped a few times and enjoyed connecting with other people that were either visiting or drive up every day.
After our drive, we arrived at our hike up to Skinny Dip Falls, which was pretty quick. I would describe this as one of the more accessible walks that take you through what feels like a tropical forest and opens to small waterfalls and a swimming hole. It was definitely a popular spot with kids and family all taking turns jumping off a cliff and cooling off in the water.
Asheville, NC, is about a 3-4 hour drive from Atlanta. I suggest a quick weekend trip up to enjoy the town and take advantage of the many hiking trails along Blue Ridge Pkwy. Parking was pretty plentiful and was FREE!
So Many Trails to Choose From!
These are my top 5 favorite trails as of today, but there are so many more in and around Georgia that I love and plan on trying very soon. I’m continually seeing new hikes and adding them to a list that I have provided myself a lifetime supply of endless trails.
If you do not live in or near Georgia and are wondering how you can find the best hikes in your area, remember that Google is everyone’s best friend. Search online and check out sites like Trip Advisor that provide reviews and details for the trails (including parking fees). I also find a lot of parks and trails on social media like Instagram and Facebook. Many pages cater to an audience with an interest in outdoors. I am always saving posts, adding to my list.
I would love to know some of your favorite hiking trails, waterfalls, and parks, so be sure to mention them in the comments below! I’ll be sure to add them to my never-ending list!