Article Summary: National Parks Near Atlanta
National Parks near Atlanta. If you’ve got Georgia on your mind then 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.
Atlanta is known for its high-traffic airport, thriving hip-hop scene, and prominent role in Civil Rights history. The city is home to well-known brands like Coca-Cola, Delta, and CNN. Seattle is also famous for being a shopping paradise with lush greenery and beautiful street art lining the streets of the city.
There are also 12 national park sites for you to see on your next visit to the Peach State.
So, What Is A National Park?
We get asked that question a lot because there’s a difference between a “national park” and a “national park site.” To help you understand that difference you might want to check out our article titled: What Is A National Park Really?
If you’re planning a trip to the Peach State one book I highly recommend is: Georgia Discovered: Exploring the Best of the Peach State by Chris Greer.
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.
Table Of Contents: National Parks Near Atlanta
National Parks Near Atlanta
- National Parks Near Atlanta
- More National Parks Near Atlanta
- Learn About Our President Carter Film
- Meet The Parks Brothers
- Map Of National Park Sites Near Atlanta
- We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
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.
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?'”
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.
Explore The Story Of Prisoners Of War
A visit to Andersonville National Historic Site offers a variety of ways to explore the story of prisoners of war in American history.
The National Prisoner of War Museum provides an overview of both the Civil War prison camp and an introduction to the experiences of American prisoners of war through time. It’s the only museum solely dedicated to interpreting the American prisoner of war experience.
The National Prisoner of War Museum is dedicated to all prisoners of war in America’s past who have served their country with dignity and distinction, so that current and future generations will be inspired by their service and sacrifice.
Touring the historic prison site offers an opportunity to contemplate first-hand the hardships faced by Union prisoners of war imprisoned here in 1864-65.
The 20,000 graves in the Andersonville National Cemetery vividly illustrate the continuing cost of freedom. During your visit, the park provides numerous opportunities to better understand the resources found here and the history of prisoners of war through tours, programs, and special events. (Source: NPS)
To Learn More
Before you travel to Andersonville, however, you may want to learn a little bit more about it. If so then you’re in luck. I recommend the following resources:
- Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor. MacKinlay Kantor’s Andersonville tells the story of the notorious Confederate Prisoner of War camp, where fifty thousand Union soldiers were held captive—and fourteen thousand died—under inhumane conditions.
- John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary. A stirring account written by a man who was actually there as a prisoner of war. A whole array of characters are noted through the pages of the diary, from the Andersonville Raiders who were ruthless Union prisoners that persecuted those around them to survive, to more benevolent figures like George Hendryx who was always looking for a way to escape and the Native American Battese who helped Ransom through his darkest days.
- The True Story of Andersonville Prison: A Defense of Major Henry Wirz by James Madison Page. Page was captured on September 21, 1863 along the Rapidan in Virginia and spent the next thirteen months in Southern military prisons, seven of which were at Camp Sumter near Andersonville, Georgia. The prosecution did not call him to testify, but Page felt that he needed to tell his incredible story nonetheless.
- Andersonville and Camp Douglas: The History of the Civil War’s Deadliest Prison Camps by Charles River Editors. This book examines how Andersonville and Camp Douglas became so notorious, and what life was like there for the prisoners.
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, also known as the Appalachian Trail, is a marked hiking trail that extends over 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The idea for a continuous trail along the Appalachian Mountains was first proposed in 1921 by regional planner Benton MacKaye.
Over the next several decades, various organizations and volunteers worked to clear and mark the trail, and it was officially completed in 1937. In 1968, the trail was designated as the first National Scenic Trail by the National Trails System Act, making it part of the national park system.
Since then, the Appalachian Trail has become a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and long-distance hikers, with thousands of people attempting to hike the entire trail each year. The trail passes through 14 states and offers scenic views of the Appalachian Mountains, forests, and other natural features.
In addition to recreational opportunities, the trail also provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife species and contributes to local economies through tourism and outdoor recreation. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, works to maintain and protect the trail for present and future generations to enjoy.
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.
Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park is a protected area in the United States that preserves the sites of two major Civil War battles: the Battle of Chickamauga and the Chattanooga Campaign. The park covers a total of 9,000 acres across two states: Tennessee and Georgia.
The Battle of Chickamauga took place on September 19-20, 1863, in northern Georgia. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, with over 34,000 casualties. The Union army, commanded by General William Rosecrans, was defeated by Confederate forces led by General Braxton Bragg. The Union army retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, which was then under siege by Confederate forces.
The Chattanooga Campaign began in November 1863, when Union forces, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, began a series of maneuvers to break the Confederate siege of Chattanooga. Over the course of several weeks, the Union army won a series of battles, including Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.
These victories forced the Confederate army to retreat into Georgia, effectively ending the siege of Chattanooga.
After The Civil War
After the war, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga battlefields became popular tourist destinations. In 1888, the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park was established to protect and preserve the sites of these two historic battles.
The park was the first of its kind in the United States, and it set the precedent for the creation of many other national military parks and historic sites.
Over the years, the park has expanded to include other historic sites, such as the Battle of Chattanooga sites and the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
Today, the park is a popular destination for tourists and history enthusiasts, who can explore the battlefields, visit historic monuments and markers, and learn about the important role that the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga played in the Civil War.
5. Congaree National Park
Distance From Atlanta: Three hours and twenty minutes (230 miles) via I-20 E.
Congaree National Park is the largest protected bottomland hardwood forest in the country and is home to a rich and diverse array of plant and animal life, including several species that are endangered or threatened.
The park is named for the Congaree River, which runs through it, and encompasses over 26,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forest, swamp, and floodplain. This unique ecosystem provides habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, otters, and over 200 species of birds.
The park is also home to several species of ancient and giant trees, including loblolly pines and bald cypress, that are over 100 feet tall.
RELATED: 8 EPIC South Carolina National Parks
The Park Has A Rich Cultural History
In addition to its ecological significance, Congaree National Park also has a rich cultural history. The park is located on land that was once used by Native American tribes and later by European settlers for agriculture, forestry, and other purposes.
Today, the park offers a range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and kayaking, as well as ranger-led programs and educational opportunities.
The park is a unique and protected piece of America’s natural and cultural heritage, and continues to be a popular destination for visitors who want to experience the beauty and diversity of the Southern bottomland hardwood forest.
More National Parks Near Atlanta
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.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States and is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and diverse array of plant and animal life.
The park covers over 520,000 acres and includes a wide variety of landscapes, including dense forests, rolling hills, and high peaks.
The Great Smoky Mountains are also known for their distinctive haze, or “smoke,” which is caused by the high levels of organic matter and other pollutants in the atmosphere.
The Park Is Home To A Rich Array Of Plant & Animal Life
The park is home to a rich array of plant and animal life, including over 1,500 species of flowering plants, 100 species of native trees, and a wide variety of wildlife, such as black bears, white-tailed deer, and elk.
The park is also home to several historic structures, including log cabins, grist mills, and barns, which offer a glimpse into the region’s rural and pioneer heritage.
In addition to its natural and cultural resources, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers a range of recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, fishing, and horseback riding.
The park also provides educational programs, ranger-led activities, and other special events to help visitors learn about and appreciate the park’s unique resources.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park continues to be a popular destination for visitors from around the world, offering a chance to experience the beauty and wonder of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
Check Out Our Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4K Film
This video is the culmination of two weeks exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We chose Great Smoky Mountains as our second park because of it’s extraordinary display of fall colors, it’s incredibly diverse wildlife population, and it’s importance as the most visited national park in the country.
This film was shot entirely in 4K UHD.
We chose to capture this park in the Fall as it is home to one of the most wonderful displays of fall foliage on the planet. Fall is also a wonderful time to watch the elk rutting season and experience cooler, less humid temperatures.
There Are No Entrance Fees At Great Smoky Mountains
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.
The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park celebrates the man who has been universally acclaimed as the most successful former president in history.
Decades Ahead Of His Time
Though from a segregated and racist background in Georgia, Carter pushed for affirmative action and prioritized diversity among judicial nominees, including the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Amalya Lyle Kearse.
He startled the globe by personally brokering the critical Middle East peace treaty between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin at Camp David.
He ceded access to the Panama Canal, angering conservatives who thought he was giving away an American asset.
Through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, he doubled the national park system and conserved over 100m acres of land – the most sweeping expansion of conserved land in American history.
Jimmy Carter’s Presidency Was Not What You Think
Regrettably, the political narrative surrounding President Carter in the aftermath of his 1980 defeat to Ronald Reagan has largely been shaped by his political adversaries. The reality, however, is quite different.
Kai Bird is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and journalist. He is the author of The Outlier: The Unfinished Presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Bird notes in a New York Times editorial that Carter was probably the most intelligent, hard-working and decent man to have occupied the Oval Office in the 20th century.
As Bird writes, “His [Carter’s] presidency is remembered, simplistically, as a failure, yet it was more consequential than most recall. He delivered the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, the SALT II arms control agreement, normalization of diplomatic and trade relations with China and immigration reform.”
“He made the principle of human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, planting the seeds for the unraveling of the Cold War in Eastern Europe and Russia.”
The President Who Tried To Save The Planet
In an article which appeared in the Washington Post in February of 2023, the newspaper referred to the former president as: “Jimmy Carter, The President Who Tried To Save The Planet.”
The Post went on to note that: “Despite serving a single term, Jimmy Carter ranks as one of the most consequential U.S. presidents when it comes to environmentalism, according to historians, conservationists and several former federal officials.”
To Learn More About Carter’s Groundbreaking Work As A Conservationist & Environmentalist, check out the following articles by More Than Just Parks:
Things To See & Do at The Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
Here are some things to see and do at the park:
- Visit the Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm: This is the home where Jimmy Carter spent his early years, and it has been restored to its 1930s appearance. Visitors can tour the house and see the farm buildings, gardens, and the nearby pond.
- Walk the trails: The park has several trails that wind through the fields and forests around Plains. The trails range from easy walks to more challenging hikes and offer a chance to see wildlife and natural features such as swamps and wetlands.
- Explore the Plains High School Museum: This museum is located in the building that was formerly the Plains High School, where Jimmy Carter attended. It features exhibits on the history of the school and the community, including exhibits on the local African American community and the 1976 presidential campaign.
- Tour the Carter compound: This is the home where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter have lived since they left the White House. Visitors can take a guided tour of the home and see the gardens and the former president’s woodworking shop.
- Attend special events: The park hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including a Christmas festival, a peanut festival, and a commemoration of the March 21, 1965 civil rights march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama.
- Visit the Visitors Center: The Visitors Center offers exhibits, films, and information about the park and the surrounding area. It also has a gift shop and a bookstore with books on Jimmy Carter’s life and presidency.
The Pattiz Brothers With The 39th President Of The United States
Learn About Our President Carter Film
11. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Distance From Atlanta: Thirty-one minutes (25 miles) via I-75 N.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park was established in 1917 to commemorate the Civil War battle that took place there in June 1864. The battle was part of the Atlanta Campaign, in which Union General William Tecumseh Sherman sought to capture the city of Atlanta during the Civil War.
During the battle, Confederate forces occupied Kennesaw Mountain and the surrounding hills, and Union forces launched repeated attacks in an attempt to take the mountain. Despite their best efforts, the Union forces were unable to take Kennesaw Mountain, and the battle ended in a Confederate victory.
After the war, the park was established to commemorate the soldiers who fought and died in the battle and to preserve the historic battlefield for future generations.
The park includes monuments, historic markers, and preserved battlefields that provide a glimpse into the events of the Civil War. In addition to its historical significance, the park also offers recreational opportunities, such as hiking and picnicking, and serves as an important wildlife habitat for a variety of species.
Today, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park continues to be a popular destination for history buffs, Civil War enthusiasts, and outdoor enthusiasts alike, offering visitors a chance to learn about the history of the Civil War and experience the beauty of the Georgia landscape.
CHECK OUT: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
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 The Struggle For Civil Rights In America
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.
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.
Check Out: 10 BEST Civil Rights Sites In America
National Parks Near Atlanta FAQ
According to a list compiled by Stacker, the closest national park to Atlanta is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. The North Carolina section of the park is just shy of 150 miles from downtown Atlanta. It is around a four hour drive and saw over 12 million visitors in 2020 alone.
In addition to 12 national parks, Georgia is home to a wealth of National Park Service sites, including dozens of historic and natural landmarks, legendary trails, significant heritage areas, and thousands of properties on the National Register.
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Why Trust Us About National Parks Near Atlanta?
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, USDA, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
Map Of National Park Sites Near Atlanta
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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
We Hope You’ll Follow Our Journey
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!