Georgia State Parks’ “Leaf Watch” provides travel tips for leaf peepers

James H. “Sloppy” Floyd State Park.

“When will leaves peak?” is a common question for park rangers in autumn.

Only Mother Nature knows for sure, but Georgia’s peak color is usually toward the end of October or early November. To help leaf peepers plan their fall escapes, Georgia State Parks has launched “Leaf Watch 2020” to track autumn color as it moves across the state.

Found at GaStateParks.org/LeafWatch, the travel planner is filled with top trails and overlooks, mountain cabins and campsites, fall events, and safe hiking tips. Shutterbugs are encouraged to share their favorite shots on Instagram, tagging #GaLeafWatch, and @GaStateParks for a chance to have their photos featured by the park system.

With a wide variety of trails and accommodations, state parks make for the perfect fall-themed escape, filled with cozy campfires and gooey s’mores. Since parks have been especially busy during 2020, rangers encourage guests to visit on weekdays or to explore lesser-known destinations like Victoria Bryant, James H. Floyd, or Don Carter state parks.

The key for a vibrant autumn is warm sunny days coupled with very cool – but not freezing – nights. Most years, Georgia’s mountain parks peak toward the end of October. Color continues to blanket lower elevations into early November. Even some locations in southern Georgia sport beautiful hues into late November, such as George L. Smith and Providence Canyon state parks.

To keep everyone safe while social distancing, park rangers have modified fall events this year. Most programs require advanced reservations and have limited space available. Those who plan ahead can enjoy guided hikes, kayak tours, pumpkin archery, Halloween-themed scavenger hunts, and more. A list of events can be found at GaStateParks.org.

Park rangers have also planned numerous events throughout autumn, including guided hikes and kayak tours, fall festivals, Halloween hayrides, and campground trick-or-treating. A list of events can be found at GaStateParks.org.

Top "Hidden Gems" Georgia State Parks for Fall Color

Don Carter State Park - Gainesville

Georgia’s only state park on Lake Lanier offers more than 14 miles of forested trails, boat ramps, cabins, and campsites. Equestrians will especially enjoy autumn views from the trails, and guided trail rides are available.

George L. Smith State Park - Twin City

In late autumn, cypress trees turn deep orange and make a beautiful reflection off this park’s blackwater pond. Join Mill Pond Kayak for a guided paddle trip under Spanish moss and tupelo trees. Photographers will appreciate exploring a covered bridge built in 1880.

James H. Floyd State Park - Summerville

This quiet park in northwest Georgia has five miles of hiking trails, plus access to the 60-mile Pinhoti Trail. The moderately easy Marble Mine Trail follows an old road to a 35-foot waterfall adjacent to an abandoned mine opening.

Providence Canyon State Park - Lumpkin

Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon” may be best known for its orange-hued soil, but its trees provide a colorful palette as well. In late fall, rent a cabin nearby at Florence Marina State Park, then hike the canyon for the best leaf watching.

Red Top Mountain – Acworth

With its Lake Allatoona location, Red Top Mountain is best known as a summer destination. However, more than 15 miles of trails wind through the park, providing beautiful autumn views of the forest. The 4-mile Iron Hill Trail is open to both hikers and bikers, and its wide path is fairly easy for younger children. Beautiful new cabins let visitors stay right inside the park.

Victoria Bryant State Park – Royston

Located just minutes from I-85 in north Georgia, this little-known gem has eight miles of hiking trails, a pretty stream, and small fishing ponds. Tent campers will like the wooden platforms surrounded by hardwood forest. Golfers can tee off surrounded by fall color on the park’s 18-hole Highland Walk Golf Course.

Safe Hiking Tips

Georgia Department of Natural Resources rangers offer these tips for safe hiking:

Avoid hiking alone.

Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Remember to let them know when you are back.

Stay on marked trails. As you hike, pay attention to trail blazes and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection, so be sure to follow the correct trail.

Never climb on waterfalls or wet rocks. This applies to pets as well.

Do not cross barrier fences.

Keep pets on a leash. Even dogs have become lost in the woods.

Always carry quality rain gear, even if weather looks good. Turn back in bad weather.

Dress in layers and avoid cotton.

All hikers should carry a whistle (especially children), which can be heard far away and uses less energy than yelling.

Carry plenty of drinking water for everyone in your group, including pets.

Don’t count on cell phones to work in the wilderness, but if they do, be able to give details about your location.

Don’t rely on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or equipment can become damaged or lost.