National Parks near Atlanta. If you’ve got Georgia on your mind than be advised that there’s much more to this incredible state than the Varsity and Georgia Tech.
In this article, we’ll familiarize you with the incredible national parks that are within a day’s drive of downtown Atlanta.
There are 12 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Peach State.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as well as full-fledged national parks. To learn more about the difference between the various National Park Service designations check out our article that explains everything!
Now let’s go ahead with 12 reasons why you’ll want to hop in your car and make a day’s drive from Atlanta to one of these amazing places.
Best National Parks Near Atlanta
1. Andersonville National Historic Site
Distance From Atlanta: Two hours and five minutes (126 miles) via I-75 S.
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.
It’s 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.
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. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
Distance From Atlanta: The Appalachian Trail begins at Springer Mountain which is one hour and sixteen minutes (approximately 75 miles) via US-19 N.
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 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.
RELATED: 7 EPIC Arkansas National Parks
3. Chatahoochee National Recreation Area
Distance From Atlanta: Twenty-four minutes (21 miles) via GA-400 N.
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.
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.
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!
4. Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
Distance From Atlanta: One hour and forty minutes (110 miles) via I-75 N.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
5. Congaree National Park
Distance From Atlanta: Three hours and twenty minutes (230 miles) via I-20 E.
Astonishing biodiversity exists in Congaree National Park, the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.
Waters from the Congaree and Wateree Rivers sweep through the floodplain, carrying nutrients and sediments that nourish and rejuvenate this ecosystem and support the growth of national and state champion trees. (Source: NPS)
Congaree has some really cool canoeing/kayaking trails, elevated boardwalks, bald cypress trees (which are quite beautiful), and underrated displays of fall foliage.
While it might be best to avoid Congaree during late spring & summer months (skeeters), other times of the year are fair game.
RELATED: 8 EPIC South Carolina National Parks
6. Cumberland Island National Seashore
Distance From Atlanta: Approximately six hours (345 miles). [Please Note that the only way to get to the island is by passenger ferry (not a car ferry) or private boat.]
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.
7. Fort Frederica National Monument
Distance From Atlanta: Four hours and 35 minutes (316 miles) via I-75 S and I-16 E.
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.
8. Fort Pulaski National Monument
Distance From Atlanta: Four hours and 27 minutes (262 miles) via I-75 S and I-16 E.
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.
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.
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.
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Distance From Atlanta: Two hours and 48 minutes (164 miles) via US-23 N.
One of the best national parks in America and the crown jewel of the eastern U.S. parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park protects a vast swath of the immense beauty of the Appalachian Mountains.
These old mountains, forests, and streams have a character about them that tends to invite one to slow down and imagine a world where this was what much of the eastern United States looked like. Herds of elk freely roam the park and bears, otters, deer, foxes, and woodpeckers are commonly sighted.
Though Great Smoky Mountains is the most-visited national park in the United States, it’s important to note that some of this “visitation” is due to the park having no entrance fees or stations and being home to a highway that serves as a busy commuter corridor.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is flush with amenities like visitors centers and campgrounds and, thanks to the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, has plenty of food and lodging opportunities.
10. Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
History is finally catching up with Jimmy Carter–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.
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.
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.
11. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Distance From Atlanta: Thirty-one minutes (25 miles) via I-75 N.
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.
Today Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is a 2,965-acre National Battlefield that preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign.
12. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
Distance From Atlanta: It’s in Atlanta!
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.
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)
To learn more about Martin Luther King Jr.’s epic struggle for Civil Rights In America, I heartily recommend a three volume series which I consider to be the best history of the Civil Rights Movement ever written. It’s Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63, Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65, and At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68.
All three books were written by Taylor Branch. Branch’s magnificent trilogy makes clear why the Civil Rights Movement, and indeed King’s leadership, are among the nation’s enduring achievements.
Map Of National Park Sites Near Atlanta
national parks near atlanta, atlanta national parks, atlanta monuments, atlanta parks, national parks near atlanta, atlanta national parks, atlanta monuments, atlanta parks, national parks near atlanta, atlanta national parks, atlanta monuments, atlanta parks,
List Of National Park Sites Near Atlanta
- Andersonville National Historic Site
- Appalachian National Scenic Trail
- Chatahoochee National Recreation Area
- Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park
- Congaree National Park
- Cumberland Island National Seashore
- Fort Frederica National Monument
- Fort Pulaski National Monument
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
- Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
- Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
About the Folks Behind this List of National Parks Near Atlanta
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then please sign up below!