By Layla Khoury-Hanold

 

If you think your options for outdoor summer fun are limited to day camps or beach trips, think again—think Georgia State Parks. With dozens of state parks to visit, there’s loads of family-fun activities practically in your own back yard. You can hike and climb thousands of feet in elevation, mountain bike on more than 68 miles of terrain, paddle through 24 miles of scenic waterways or go glamping in a yurt (more on that later!). And with Georgia State Parks’ clubs program, you and your family will have a built-in adventure to look forward to all summer-long.

It works like this: visitors buy a membership card ($10-$15) at the first park or online at www.gastateparks.org//ParkClubs, then bring the card with them to each of the parks in that club. After you complete each park’s quest—like hiking a trail or searching for hidden trinkets—your card gets punched. Once you’ve successfully completed the tasks at each of the parks in that club, you’ll get a “members only” t-shirt, not to mention bragging rights and priceless family memories. 

Kim Hatcher, an outdoor enthusiast who has worked for Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites for over 20 years, gives us the rundown on a few of the most popular clubs, shares her pro hiking tips and tells us about glamping in a yurt—trust us, it’ll earn you major cool points with your kids.

CanyonClimbers

Hatcher notes that this hiking club is one of the most popular due to its accessibility; there are only four parks to visit and you don’t need specific gear. Challenges in this club include conquering the staircase at Cloudland Canyon, scaling to the top of Amicalola Falls, hiking down Providence Canyon and braving the swinging bridge in Tallulah Gorge. If your little ones aren’t walking yet, several parks have paved pathways perfect for pushing strollers.

Here, Hatcher shares her top tips for making the most of your hiking experience:

Wear comfortable shoes and socks

Check the weather forecast and dress in layers

Bring water and snacks like trail mix, granola bars and fruit

Know and respect your abilities and your children’s abilities

Pause to take in the beautiful scenery

Remember: If you hike down, you must hike back up!

Muddy Spokes

Whether you’re a novice biker or an experienced trail shredder, this mountain biking club offers something for everyone. There are 11 state parks featured, including two parks less than an hour’s drive from Augusta. At Mistletoe State Park, you’ll ride the Rock Dam Trail, a moderately challenging 6.25-mile loop with stream crossings, gullies and rocky terrain. At Magnolia Springs State Park, you’ll cover the three-mile Trooper Trail, which starts near a freshwater spring and passes a wetland overlook where Hatcher says you can spot wildlife like wading birds and alligators. In addition to their biking trails, Mistletoe also boasts one of the best bass fishing spots in the country, and Magnolia Springs is lauded for its crystal-clear springs.

Park Paddlers

Though Hatcher hesitates to play favorites among the clubs, as an avid kayaker she’s especially fond of the Park Paddlers club. She also points out that being on the water offers a different vantage point than hiking or biking—while you paddle, keep your eyes peeled for frogs, fish, birds and even alligators. You can bring your own boat (non-motorized) or rent canoes, kayaks, aqua cycles and stand up paddle boards at several locations. There are six parks in this club, including one of Hatcher’s favorites, George L. Smith State Park (an hour and a half away), whose water trail is known for its beautiful covered bridge, Spanish moss and Cypress trees.

Geocaching

Think of geocaching as the coolest treasure hunt you’ve ever been on—using a GPS device, you’ll look up coordinates online before setting out to find boxes, called caches. Inside each hidden cache are trinkets for players to trade, like small plastic toys, pens and stickers. Since 2010, players have documented more than 35,000 “finds” in the log books tucked inside the boxes. More than 40 parks participate in the Parks GeoTour, and more than a dozen historic sites are featured on the History Trail GeoTour. Caches at historic sites require players to answer questions about Georgia history before they can unlock the box, making them educational too. A.H. Stephens, Elijah Clark and Magnolia Springs State Parks are all located an hour’s drive from Augusta.

Tails on Trails

While pets are allowed on almost every trail within the Georgia State Park system, Tails on Trails is a canine-friendly club with seven designated hikes. Not only do you get a t-shirt when you complete all seven trails, but you’ll also receive a matching bandana for your pup. A few of the hikes are even guided, like Paws on the Falls which takes place on June 3 at High Falls State Park (two hours and 15 minutes away). The mile and a half trail covers a moderately challenging trek through hilly forests and ends with a beautiful view of the High Falls’ waterfall. If you want to turn your trip into a sleepover, you can reserve a dog-friendly cottage at several of the parks—visit www.gastateparks.org/TailsOnTrails for more information.

More Fun at the Parks

Hit the Greens: You don’t have to give up your rounds of weekend golf. Tee off in nature at eight family-friendly Georgia State Park golf courses. Check out Hard Labor Creek and Victoria Bryant State Parks, both about a two hour drive from Augusta.

Become a Junior Ranger: Kids ages six to 12 can have fun learning outdoor skills while they work towards becoming a Junior Ranger. Activities include observing wildlife, visiting museums and historic sites, as well as fishing, hiking, biking and camping. Indian Springs State Park, a little over two hours away, offers a Junior Ranger summer camp that starts in June.

Go glamping: Most parks have cabins and campsites for rent, but for a truly unique experience try staying in a yurt. It’s the epitome of glamping, or glamorous camping, and is the perfect compromise for family members who’d rather stay in a hotel than pitch a tent. The canvas and wood huts come equipped with ceiling fans, heaters, and furniture inside, as well as a deck, picnic table and fire pit outside. For the best views, Hatcher advises checking out Fort Yargo State Park near Athens, where all the yurts are located on a peninsula. Visit www.gastateparks.org/Yurts for more information.

This article appears in the May/June 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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