The 10 best hikes in Georgia

If you picture Georgia as a vast expanse of red dirt punctuated by peach trees all the way to the moss-strewn coast, think again. Georgia’s Piedmont spills out of the Appalachian mountains at the northern end of the state, a stretch of rugged terrain packed with incredible hikes that rival neighboring North Carolina and more famous outdoor destinations like New Hampshire and Vermont. 

From the legendary Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus to spectacular waterfalls crashing into pools ringed by rhododendron, from under-the-radar south-eastern thru-hikes like the Pinhoti Trail to a swath of canyons carved by a century of erosion, the Peach State is full of surprises.

So lace up your hiking boots and grab your trekking poles – we’ve hand-picked some of the best hikes in Georgia, from challenging trails with technical features to short day hikes easily accessible for families and hikers with disabilities. 

Pinhoti National Recreation Trail is a great training ground for northbound Appalachian Trail hikers © Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Pinhoti Trail

Good for: Backpackers and thru-hikers

Springer Mountain wasn’t always intended to be the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Originally Benton MacKaye, the conservationist who first conceived of the epic thru-hike, imagined the trail would run the full length of the Appalachian Mountains named for, including the rolling foothills that extend into portions of Georgia and Alabama.

Work began in the 1970s on blazing the Pinhoti Trail, which encompasses the southern spurs left off the official AT. However, it wasn’t until the early aughts that the Pinhoti Trail was completed and opened to thru-hikers. 

Over the past 13 years, the Pinhoti Trail has steadily become better known as a southeastern thru-hike in its own right, as well as a good training ground for north-bound AT hikers. It also makes for a great section hike; however, whether you want to spend a Saturday on a portion of the PT or make a backpacking trip out of the 160 miles that traverse the Peach State from the Alabama state line near Etna to the northern terminus at Flagg Mountain near Epworth. However far you go, just follow the blue blazes.

 Blood Mountain on the Appalachian Trail is a popular Georgia hike © Meghan O’Dea / Lonely Planet

Blood Mountain

Good for: Day hikers

Despite the sinister-sounding name, Blood Mountain is one of the most renowned hikes in all of Georgia. It’s the highest-elevation peak on the Georgia section of the AT, and unlike a lot of summits in Appalachia, you actually get inspired panoramic vistas from the top instead of climbing to a dense, anti-climactic knob socked in by foliage. 

Pick up any last-minute supplies you need at the legendary Mountain Crossings general store nearby, then start your climb at the Byron Reece trailhead near Neels Gap. You can follow the blue blazes to the intersection with the AT at Flat Rock Gap, then follow the Appalachian Trail’s famous white blazes. You’ll know you’re getting close to the top when the trees give way to a series of big stony balds, which hint at the views to come.

A boulder formation off the Byron Reese trail on Blood Mountain in Georgia © Meghan O’Dea / Lonely Planet

Keep your glutes firing, though, until you reach the big stone shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps almost a century ago, where AT hikers still rest up overnight. You can scramble up the boulders behind the shelter for the best summit views and a bite to eat – there’s a reason it’s called Picnic Rock, after all. There’s also an outhouse a few dozen yards further down the trail and downhill from the shelter.

If you don’t want to backtrack on return to your car, turn your Blood Mountain hike into a loop by continuing along the AT until you run into the Freeman Trail partway down the mountain. It juts off on a sharp left and brings you back to the Byron Reece trailhead at a lower elevation.

Trillium blossoms in the Pigeon Mountain Wildflower Pocket © Meghan O’Dea / Lonely Planet

The Pigeon Mountain Pocket 

Good for: Hikers with disabilities, photographers, families

If it’s wildflowers and waterfalls you’re looking for, it’s hard to beat this best-kept secret of northwest Georgia. Tucked at the foot of Pigeon Mountain is a tiny jewel box of biodiversity, criss-crossed with level, accessible boardwalks that float just above a sea of bloodroot, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, Virginia bluebells, and star chickweed.

From March through May, the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail is typically in bloom, though it’s pretty any time of year thanks to the bubbling Pocket Branch creek and the lovely, two-pronged cascade that feeds it from atop Pigeon Mountain.

Where the boardwalk ends, there’s a trail leading to the base of the falls – though be aware it’s fairly rocky, rooty, and muddy. Be careful to stay on the trail to protect the vegetation that makes this place so special. And if you don’t mind getting a little wet, go all the way up behind the falls, which have carved an arch-shaped passage in the rock behind the right-most cascade.

Amicalola Falls can be viewed from a number of angles, depending on how you feel about stairs ©Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock

Amicalola Falls

Good for: Hikers with disabilities, families, and stairmaster fiends

Tennessee has Fall Creek Falls, Oregon has Multnomah Falls, Washington has Snoqualmie Falls, and Georgia has Amicalola, the tallest cascade in the state.

Just north of Dawsonville, Amicalola Falls State Park not only boasts a 729-foot waterfall but also a beloved lodge, restaurant, and conference center, along with plenty of campsites and hiking trails. It’s also famous for a spur that connects to the Appalachian Trail and makes for a convenient, bucolic drop-off point.

Get a close-up look at the falls on one of several trails ranging from .3 miles long to just over two. The shortest is the West Ridge Trail, an ADA-accessible path that leads to the middle of the cascade and connects to two other options – seeing Amicalola from above and below.

From here, there are 604 steps up to a viewing platform where you can see the falls from halfway up. Connect to the East Ridge Trail, which runs from the Visitor Center parking lot to the top of the falls, for the longest possible loop. Or you can take the New Appalachian Approach Trail to the bottom of the falls – or another eight miles to the AT’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain.

Tallulah Falls, Georgia, USA overlooking Tallulah Gorge in the autumn season.
Tallulah Falls is just one of several cascades in this state park of the same name © Alamy Stock Photo

Tallulah Gorge

Good for: Day hikers and photographers

In the far northeastern corner of Georgia, about an hour and forty minutes from Atlanta or three from Chattanooga, Tallulah Gorge is one of the state’s Seven Natural Wonders. See its best features up close on the gorgeous but strenuous Hurricane Falls Trail Loop, which shows off some of Georgia’s prettiest waterfalls, including L’Eau d’Or, Tempesta, and Hurricane.

In just three miles round trip, hikers can follow the rim of this water-carved gorge, then descend to its bottom, and even cross a magical suspension bridge that looks like it’s straight out of Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone. No, those movies weren’t filmed here, but several scenes from Deliverance were. 

There are 10 overlooks total along the Hurricane Loop – along with over a thousand heart-pounding stairs that will leave your quads shaking.

Beautiful water falls of Anna Ruby waterfalls in Helen, Georgia, USA
Beautiful waterfalls of Anna Ruby waterfalls in Helen, Georgia, USA © Alamy Stock Photo

Anna Ruby Falls

Good for: Families, visually impaired hikers, day hikers

Tucked away in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests near charming Helen, Georgia, Anna Ruby Falls is easily accessible for hikers of all abilities. The .15 mile Lion’s Eye Trail is punctuated with signage in braille about the surrounding landscape, as well as a handrail to guide visitors with visual impairments.

There is also a half-mile paved trail from the parking lot to a pair of viewing decks suitable for those at modest activity levels, including families. However, this approach trail may not be considered truly accessible for hikers using mobility aids because it encounters moderate inclines at a few points.

For a longer hike, try the Smith Creek Trail, a nine-mile round trip trek through Unicoi State Park that ends in Anna Ruby Falls and follows a path once blazed by early gold miners.

Cloudland Canyon State Park in Rising Fawn, Georgia, USA
Cloudland Canyon State Park is a picturesque hike © Alamy Stock Photo

Cloudland Canyon

Good for: Day hikers, backpackers, photographers

Cloudland Canyon was formed millions of years ago where Sitton Gulch Creek cuts through the western edge of Lookout Mountain. It’s full of lovely hiking trails and camping spots and is easily accessible from both Chattanooga and Atlanta.

One of the best vantage points, however, is the West Rim Loop trail, a nearly five-mile, moderate-to-challenging hike. It takes trekkers up out of the gorge to the edge of the canyon, through stands of rhododendron and classic Cumberland boulder fields, with plenty of overlooks gazing down on views begging to be Instagrammed. It’s easy to turn this day hike into an overnight, too, since this trail passes both the Yurt Village, the park’s cottages, and its campgrounds.

Combine the West Rim Loop with the Waterfalls trail to see Cloudland’s famous Cherokee Falls and Hemlock Falls, a strenuous hike to the base of the gorge and back that only covers 1.8 miles but also involves climbing back up 600 stairs.

Entrance to the Len Foote Hike Inn
The entrance to the Len Foote Hike Inn, which has been open since 1998 atop Frosty Mountain © Getty Images

Len Foote Hike Inn

Good for: Backpackers

If you like the idea of backpacking, but not so much the part where you schlep your days worth of food, water, shelter, and emergency supplies deep into the backcountry only to sleep on the ground, you want to try this famous hike that’s somewhere in between backpacking and glamping.

True to the name, this iconic sustainable lodge in the Chattahoochee National Forest can only be reached via a five-mile hike that typically takes anywhere from two to four hours and is only moderately challenging. Once you arrive, you’ll be greeted with rustic hospitality in the form of 20 private bunk rooms, hot showers, family-style meals, a library stocked with board games and puzzles, and cozy spots to curl up in an Adirondack chair and take it all in. 

Some hikers chose to pair a multi-night stay at the Len Foote Hike with a trek to Springer Mountain, which is almost nine miles away round trip.

Providence Canyon in Southwest Georgia, USA.
Providence Canyon was created when farmers dug ditches in the soft, sedimentary soil of southern Georgia. Over time, those ditches eroded into colorful canyons © Alamy Stock Photo

Providence Canyon 

Good for: Families, day hikers, backpackers, geology fans

Here’s the red dirt Georgia is so famous for – only it’s eroded into an eerie canyon that looks like it was dropped from Utah into the otherwise soft, flat landscape of the southeast. Unsustainable farming practices over a century ago are responsible for the Peach State’s “Little Grand Canyon,” but today, it’s a fun destination for outdoor enthusiasts in southern Georgia who like a little uphill in their hike.

The Perimeter Loop Trail is only two miles long with just 252 feet of elevation gain, is rated easy to moderate, and offers views down into canyons 1-5. If you want a longer hike, you can combine the Perimeter Loop with the Canyon Loop to see canyons 6-9. For a gnarlier outing that’s both strenuous and technical, the backcountry trail is a seven-mile loop that leads to primitive campsites and offers views of additional canyons.

Though the Appalachian Trail technically starts and ends on Springer Mountain, the archway at the entrance to the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls is a popular place to snap a pre-trek photo © Shutterstock

The Appalachian Trail

Good for: Thru-hikers, section hikers, day hikers

Only 78 miles of the Appalachian Trail’s 2,200 miles span are in Georgia, but they’re pretty important miles, connecting to the thru-hikes southern terminus. They’re also incredibly scenic, spiking up and down some truly stunning summits like Springer Mountain, Blood Mountain, and Tray Mountain. 

How one first-time hiker conquered the Appalachian Trail

You can hike the AT state by state, of course. But you can also break up Georgia’s portion into a series of really fun day hikes or shorter backpacking trips between major landmarks like Woody Gap, Slaughter Mountain, Neels Gap, Gooch Mountain, Tesnatee Gap, and Hogpen Gap. If you want to pick up a map and some advice, it’s hard to beat chatting with the experts at Mountain Crossings, a well-regarded outfitter whose parking lot is a meeting point for both thru-hikers and leather-clad bikers.

Adventure in the North Georgia mountains

You may also like: