The legend, the myth, the legacy left behind – that is the great Ray Charles Robinson – who forever imprinted upon the public consciousness: “just an old, sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.” Charles’ ode to his home state of Georgia creates images of sultry summer nights, a country road, and the moonlight shining through the pine trees.
Georgia is steeped in U.S. history. It was the 13th colony of a young nation and the 4th state admitted to the union.
From early revolutionary days as the southern border frontier during America’s fight for independence, to the rebellious tumult of the Civil War, to the front lines of the battle for Civil Rights in the mid-20th century south, Georgia has been at the vanguard of an evolving national conversation, and it still bears some of those triumphs and scars.
Within its borders, it holds a wellspring of natural wonder. From the Appalachians to the north to the Ocmulgee to the south and littered between its boundaries is a wealth of history, both geological and sociopolitical. Thankfully these treasures are preserved within its many national parks.
Below are some can’t miss national parks to see when visiting the Peach State.
APPALACHIAN NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL: This is where it all begins. Known colloquially as the “footpath for the people,” the Appalachian Trail is a nearly 2,200 miles stretch of conjoined, rugged thoroughfares reaching from edges of north Georgia to Maine and beyond. Originally embarked upon by private citizens in 1921 (completed in 1937), the trail is preserved and maintained today by the National Park Service. This country-long hike-way offers ecological beauty and history as diverse as the states across which it spreads. For the wild at heart from all over the globe, the Appalachian Trail is a clarion call for those seeking the wild solitude of the great outdoors.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE: This little-known island off the Atlantic coast of Georgia is the very definition of a “hidden gem.”
Home to 9,800 acres of protected wilderness, Cumberland Island feels like stepping back in time. Camping, hiking and watching the wild horses that populate its land are just a few things that make this national park one not to be missed.
OCMULGEE MOUNDS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK: It’s tempting for present-day Americans to only consider American history in post-revolutionary terms, but this national historic site reminds all who visit that this land is known as the United States has been inhabited for thousands and thousands of years. The site of the largest archeological dig in American history, this Ocmulgee Mounds preserves the very lives and legacies of the indigenous people who first migrated here during the end of the last Ice Age and all who followed and survived here in the intervening 17,000 years. The burial mounds stand today as a proud reminder of the human spirit and will of the many native tribes who inhabited this part of present-day central Georgia.
CHATTAHOOCHEE RIVER NATIONAL RECREATION AREA: “Way down yonder” (as country singer Alan Jackson would sing) near the state’s largest city, Atlanta, where the ancient Chattahoochee River flows through the heart of Georgia.
The world-famous river is over 400 miles long. It forms parts of borders between Georgia and Alabama and Georgia and Florida, and it offers a diversity of activities and opportunities that are hard to find anywhere else.