Wild horses on stunning seashores, ancient burial mounds, gator-filled swamps, a president, civil rights, & more – Georgia National Parks!
As a long-time resident of the Peach State (35 years and counting), I’m delighted to share some of the best places to visit in my home state. Here’s a list of 10+ Georgia national parks.
While Georgia has many national park sites, I should note that it doesn’t actually have any congressionally designated “National Parks”. Nonetheless, there are a whole host of amazing Georgia National Park Service sites to visit.
Native American burial mounds, beautiful gator-filled swamps, wild horses on stunning seashores, presidential sites, civil rights leaders, and so much more await you in Georgia!
Ready to dive in? Let’s go!
About Our Travels Through Georgia’s National Parks
As an educator who has spent over 35 years in the state of Georgia, I’ve seen all of the incredible national park sites the state has to offer (some more than once). I spent my career teaching history as a matter of fact and I can tell you these places have quite a story to tell.
My personal favorite Georgia National Park unit is Cumberland Island. The history of the plae alone is incredible, not to mention the stunning beauty that exists there.
With that being said, all of these places are worth a visit. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them as much as I do!
The Georgia National Parks
1. Andersonville National Historic Site
Andersonville is the site of the infamous Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. There were 150 military prisons and Andersonville was both the largest and the most notorious. Of the 45,000 Union soldiers imprisoned there, almost 13,000 died.
In “Civil War Prison Camps,” author Gary Flavion chronicled the suffering at this camp writing, “Robert H. Kellog was 20 years old when he walked through the gates of Andersonville prison. He and his comrades had been captured during a bloody battle at Plymouth, North Carolina. In the depths of Georgia, they discovered that their hardships were far from over.”
Conditions of the Camp
Robert Kellog described the conditions of the camp. “As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror…before us were forms that had once been active and erect—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin…Many of our men exclaimed with earnestness, ‘Can this be hell?'”
Andersonville is the only national park to serve as a memorial to Americans held as prisoners of war. Andersonville National Historic Site preserves the site of the largest of the many Confederate military prisons that were established during the Civil War.
“As the leaders of the Confederacy realized that it needed additional fortification to imprison Union soldiers, they decided upon Andersonville, Georgia because of its location: In late 1863, the Confederacy found that it needed to construct additional prisoner of war camps to house captured Union soldiers waiting to be exchanged.
As leaders discussed where to place these new camps, former Georgia governor, Major General Howell Cobb stepped forward to suggest the interior of his home state. Citing southern Georgia’s distance from the front lines, relative immunity to Union cavalry raids, and easy access to railroads, Cobb was able to convince his superiors to build a camp in Sumter County.”
― Charles River Editors, Andersonville Prison: The History of the Civil War’s Most Notorious Prison Camp
See The Sacrifices Made By American Prisoners Of War
If you’re a history buff, like I am, a visit to the park provides an excellent opportunity to explore the sacrifices made by American prisoners of war during our nation’s bloodiest conflict. According to the Park Service, most visitors spend at least two hours.
If you have a special interest in the Civil War, however, you can easily spend your entire day at the Andersonville National Historic Site.
2. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail | Georgia National Parks
It’s the longest hiking trail in the world. And, it begins or ends (depending on your perspective) in Georgia. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail is a marked hiking trail that runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Just how long a hike is that? Approximately 2,200 miles.
The original concept for the Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye. MacKaye was a forester, planner and social reformer who wrote a 1921 article in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects first proposing it.
In MacKaye’s original vision, the Appalachian Trail would put back together the various parts of American life that were rapidly coming undone in the early 20th century. It would fuse leisure and industry, environment and labor, community development and wilderness preservation into an interrelated project.
MacKaye wanted to give city dwellers an escape from their humdrum urban existences. His bold proposal was nothing less than a wholesale reinvention of social life, economic organization, and land use.
The trail was built by private citizens and completed in 1937. It is managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, numerous state agencies and thousands of volunteers.
It’s a truly magnificent hiking trail traversing the scenic, wooded, pastoral and wild lands of the Appalachian Mountains.
#3. Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area | Georgia National Parks
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area begins in the southeast corner of Union County, Georgia, in the southern Appalachian Mountains. It flows southwesterly through the Atlanta metropolitan area before terminating in Lake Seminole, at the Georgia-Florida border.
The river runs for approximately 434 miles. Along its journey, it joins with the Flint River as the two flow across the Georgia-Florida border. At this point, it becomes the Apalachicola River, which then flows south to the Gulf of Mexico.
The entire basin is often referred to as the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACT) basin.
There are various ways to explore this beautiful river. If you’re a hiker then you will find beautiful trails winding through the northern suburbs of Metro Atlanta. You can explore the the Chattahoochee at 15 different locations.
Floating the River
If you’re a fisherman then it’s a great place to catch bass and catfish year-round. For 48 miles, from Buford Dam to Peachtree Creek, the Chattahoochee River is a designated trout stream giving those who love to fish some of the best trout fishing in North Georgia!
If you like a lazy trip down the river then tubing might be the way to go. Minutes from Downtown Atlanta, the Nantahala Outdoor Center rents tubes, inflatable kayaks and paddleboards. You can explore up to 8 miles of flatwater and Class I-II whitewater.
If you’re a boating enthusiast, there’s also canoeing and white water rafting available. Whitewater Express, Columbus, Georgia, takes thrill-seekers and families on exciting rafting adventures
4. Cumberland Island National Seashore | Georgia National Parks
Cumberland Island lies off the coast of Georgia and is a place where nature and history come together to tell a most unusual story. It’s Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island, full of pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches, and wide marshes. It totals 36,415 acres, of which 16,850 are marsh, mud flats, and tidal creeks.
The island is best known for its sea turtles, wild turkeys, wild horses, armadillos, abundant shore birds, dune fields, maritime forests, salt marshes, and historic structures.
If you’re planning a trip to this beautiful national seashore retreat then your journey will begin in St. Mary’s, Georgia. You will want to take a ferry to the island itself where there is a visitor center, museum and nearby attractions.
5. Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
From Civil War Generals to Noble Prize Winners, Georgia is a state rich in history. During the Civil War, Chattanooga was the “Gateway to the Deep South.” Battles were fought there and at Chickamauga which proved decisive in the ultimate defeat of the Confederacy.
History buffs remember that it was at Chickamauga that Union General William Rosecrans was beaten by Confederate General Braxton Bragg. The Union Army was saved from annihilation by the stubborn defense of George Thomas and his soldiers. This defense earned Thomas the nickname of the “Rock of Chickamauga.”
A Union Victory at Chattanooga
The battered Union forces were then reorganized under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant. They went on to win battles at Orchard Knob, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. These victories opened the west to Union forces.
After these victories, Ulysses S. Grant traveled east to take command of all of the Union armies. He left William Tecumseh Sherman in the west to take Atlanta. And take Atlanta Sherman did!
Today, you can relive part of this exciting history at the Chickamauga Battlefield Visitor Center. The center is located at the north end of Chickamauga National Military Park. Inside are museum exhibits on the Battle of Chickamauga and Campaign for Chattanooga.
If You’re A History Buff Like Me
Believe it or not, I was one of those guys who sat in class taking notes and, when the professor threw out the name of what sounded like an interesting book, I not only wrote it down, I went out and purchased it. Yes, I am that guy which is why I ended up teaching history.
If you love history as much as I do and you’re particularly interested in how this conflict impacted the men who fought in Georgia then I heartily recommend Scott Walker’s Hell’s Broke Loose in Georgia: Survival in a Civil War Regiment.
Walker is a gifted writer who uses primary sources skillfully to take his readers into the hearts and minds of the everyday soldiers.
Especially moving are the letters, diaries, and other information the author uses to recount the terrible toll this conflict took on the soldiers and families of the 57th Georgia infantry. It’s a deeply impactful account of the horrors of war.
#6. Fort Frederica National Monument | Georgia National Parks
Georgia has more to offer than just Civil War history. Before there was even a United States of America, Georgia’s Fort Frederica played a decisive role in the history of the region.
Georgia, which was named after King George III, was established in 1732 as one of the original thirteen colonies.
Georgia was founded by James Oglethorpe. In 1736, four years after establishing the crown colony, Oglethorpe built Fort Frederica to protect the southern boundary of his new colony from the Spanish in Florida. Colonists from England, Scotland, and the Germanic states came to Georgia to support this endeavor.
Six years later, in 1742, Spanish and British forces clashed on St. Simons Island. At stake was Georgia’s future. Fort Frederica’s troops defeated the Spanish thereby ensuring Georgia’s future as a British colony.
Today you can visit this national monument which is located on St. Simons Island. A trip to the visitor’s center, which contains some fascinating exhibits and an interesting 23 minute film on the fort is recommended before going on to explore the fort itself.
#7. Fort Pulaski National Monument
The Fort Pulaski National Monument is located on Cockspur Island between Tybee Island and Savannah. The fort was originally built after the War of 1812 when President James Madison ordered a new series of coastal defenses to protect the United States against future invasions.
Interestingly, the fort’s construction began in 1829 under the direction of Major General Babcock and a recent West Point graduate by the name of Robert E. Lee.
Lee was a young lieutenant at the time who would distinguish himself in the Mexican American War before moving on to even greater accomplishments in the American Civil War.
Pulaski in the Civil War
The fort figured prominently during the Civil War. The only battle at Fort Pulaski occurred on April 10th & 11th, 1862, between Union forces on Tybee Island and Confederate troops inside the fort. Union forces occupied the fort beginning in April of 1862.
It was used as a place where the Union tested new weaponry including a rifled canon. The fort also held Confederate prisoners of war.
Today the fort, which is only 20 minutes east of Savannah, offers its visitors an incredible series of outdoor exhibits. Discover rooms housed with period furnishings and beautiful nature trails. It’s definitely worth a trip especially if you love history, nature or both.
#8. Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
History is finally catching up with a visionary president who today is recognized as having been decades ahead of his time.
From his historic achievements in conservation and the environment to improving relations with Latin America and brokering peace in the Middle East to promoting racial justice and gender equality, America’s 39th President of the United States has an amazing story to share.
And that story begins in the small town of Plains, Georgia.
At the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, visitors will learn how Carter’s early years formed an integral part of his character.
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site includes the Plains High School which serves as the park visitor center and museum. Here visitors will find a restored and furnished classroom, principal’s office, and auditorium.
Visitors will also be able to see exhibits on Carter’s life and accomplishments and watch his friends, neighbors, and family talk about the Jimmy Carter they know in a 25-minute video.
A Self Guided Museum
There’s also the Plains Depot, which is a self-guided museum with exhibits focusing on the 1976 presidential campaign.
If you’re as fascinated by the forward-thinking and visionary presidency of Jimmy Carter as I am then I would recommend two wonderful books. His Very Best by Jonathan Alter and The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter by Kai Bird.
#9. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park | Georgia National Parks
Like so much of Georgia, Kennesaw Mountain is rich in history. It’s the site of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain which took place in 1864. The battle pitted Union General William Tecumseh Sherman against Confederate General Joseph Johnston.
The battle fought at Kennesaw Mountain was part of a campaign which lasted from June 19, 1864, until July 2, 1864. Sherman’s army consisted of 100,000 men, 254 guns and 35,000 horses. Johnston’s army had 63,000 men and 187 guns. More than 67,000 soldiers were killed, wounded and captured during the Campaign.
Today Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is a 2,965-acre National Battlefield that preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign. The visitor center provides information about the battle. There are 17.3 miles of trails which include historic earthworks, cannon emplacements and various interpretive signs.
#10. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
Described as the “conscience of the nation,” Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist Minister who became the leading spokesperson of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Dr. King advanced the cause of Civil Rights through nonviolence. His marches and protests helped to build pressure to bring about landmark civil rights and voting rights acts.
On October 14, 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in combating racial discrimination and injustice. He was one of two influential Georgians to receive this honor. The other is Jimmy Carter.
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park consists of several buildings in Atlanta, Georgia. It includes Dr. King’s boyhood home, the original Ebenezer Baptist Church and The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change (“The King Center”).
The National Park Service has restored many of the neighboring buildings to reflect their appearances in the 1930s and 1940s — the period of time when Dr. King grew up there.
Visitors today can step into that era and imagine themselves walking with the residents, hearing the noise of this lively neighborhood and experiencing what life was like in those tumultuous times. (Source: National Park Service)
#11. Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park | Georgia National Parks
Instead of nineteenth century America, how about visiting a site that has evidence of 17,000 years of continuous human habitation? Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, located in Macon, Georgia, offers over ten millennia of culture from the Native Americans of the Southeastern Woodlands.
Visitors can walk the grounds and see ceremonial mounds, burial mounds and defensive trenches. It took skilled laborers many years to construct these marvels.
In the 1930s and 1940s, workers excavated portions of eight mounds, finding an array of archaeological artifacts which document a trading network and sophisticated culture.
Ocmulgee features a visitor center which includes an archaeology museum. It displays some of the artifacts that have been discovered there as well as interpreting the successive cultures of the prehistoric Native Americans who inhabited this site for thousands of years.
There’s also a short orientation film plus a gift shop which has a variety of craft goods and books related to the park.
Map of Georgia National Parks
List Of 11 (Must-See) National Park Sites In Georgia
- Andersonville National Historic Site
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Chatahoochee National Recreation Area
- Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
- Cumberland Island National Seashore
- Fort Frederica National Monument
- Fort Pulaski National Monument
- Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
- Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
- Ocmulgee Mounds National Monument
Check Out Our Comprehensive Guide
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some amazing places to visit in Georgia. If you’re interested in learning more about our national parks please check out our comprehensive guide to all 63 of them.