The charms of the Peach State are many. Gorgeous waterfalls tumble down rugged mountains. White sand beaches ribbon along barrier islands. Small towns spotlight public art and eco-minded parks. And it’s all anchored by the cosmopolitan cool of Atlanta.
Unfortunately, park fees, museum admissions and ferry tickets are required for many attractions and activities which could lead to an expensive trip. We’ve done some digging, however, to scope out the best free activities in Georgia, from the Appalachians to the Goldens Isles.
Dance with the waters at Centennial Olympic Park
Strike your best athletic pose in front of the Spectacular, an 11 ft-high sculpture of the five Olympic rings. The rings are one of the newest attractions at Centennial Olympic Park, a hub of culture, history and entertainment in downtown Atlanta.
Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics and the 22-acre greenspace pays homage to the event across 22 well-manicured acres dotted with gardens, commemorative plazas and striking sculptures, including the 65ft-high Hermes Towers. The Fountain of Rings and its dancing waters double as a splash park for the kids.
Find inspiration at the Georgia Museum of Art
As you stride across the quad, give a nod to the elegant optimism of Beverly Pepper’s Ascension, which curves gracefully skyward outside the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens.
The state’s official art museum, this sleekly modern repository is part of the University of Georgia's Performing and Visual Arts Complex. Inside, try to decipher the secret that’s whispered in Elizabeth Jane Gardner’s earthy La Confidence. The niece of Beauford Delaney looks ready for conversation as well in his compelling Portrait of Imogene Delaney. Or maybe not.
Take a moment to consider. George Cooke’s 19th-century depiction of northeast Georgia's mighty Tallulah Falls is an inspirational impetus for further adventuring.
Explore the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
Immersing in the life and legacy of Civil Rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta reveals – quite powerfully – how a leader with vision, passion and perseverance can effect transformative social change.
Pick up a map of key sites at the visitor center, where you can also sign up for a guided tour of King’s childhood home. From here, visit the International World Peace Rose Garden then continue to the sanctuary at the Historic Ebenezer Church, where you can listen to King’s sermons and speeches.
Pause at the Eternal Flame and the tombs of Dr. & Mrs. King at the King Center. Before your home tour, stroll his Birth Home Block, where exhibits share stories about life on Auburn Ave.
Hike to the summit of Blood Mountain
You’ll scramble up boulders, navigate rhododendron tunnels and huff-and-puff with abandon on the climb to the summit of 4,458ft Blood Mountain, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Georgia and a popular day hike.
The steep 2.1-mile hike follows the blue-blazed Byron Reece Trail to the white-blazed AT, which climbs to the rocky summit of the mountain.
At the top, unpack a picnic on the boulders near the stone shelter and soak up unobstructed views of the forested slopes of the Blood Mountain Wilderness and the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the shelter in the 1930s.
The trail is in the northeast corner of the state about 90 miles north of Atlanta.
Soak up the sun on St. Simons Island
Four gorgeous barrier islands hug the coast midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. Dubbed the Golden Isles, these coastal jewels are thick with maritime forests, soggy estuaries and golden beaches. And plenty of golf courses.
Ferry fees and park admissions, as well as overnight reservation requirements – we're looking at you Little St. Simons Island – can make free beach access a challenge.
One exception? St. Simon’s East Beach, where scrubby dunes flank a wide swath of white sand that stretches more than a mile. Access the beach from Massengale Park, which has parking. East Beach is also dog-friendly.
Wander Savannah’s public squares
As you stroll toward the pretty fountain anchoring Forsyth Park in Savannah's historic district, it’s hard to shake the neighborhood’s Southern Gothic vibe – even on a sunny day. Live oaks draped in Spanish moss cast shadows across the sidewalks.
Exuberant gardens and enormous magnolias press in tight as well, allowing only glimpses of the staid historic homes lining the narrow streets. It’s lush and languid but also filled with portent.
Forsyth Park is the largest of the historic district’s 22 public squares, which stretch south from the Savannah River within an orderly grid. Dotted with gardens, statues and monuments, most are quite small, and it’s an easy 20-minute walk from the river to Forsyth Park at the southern end of the district.
Grand homes, small museums and quirky restaurants line the narrow streets. Wander the Forsyth Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9am-1pm.
Hike, bike and paddle in the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area
The Savannah River tumbles over granite ledges beside the northern terminus of the Augusta Canal Towpath, a wide, multi-use trail that rolls nearly seven miles south into Augusta. The canal’s photogenic headgates are also here.
Unfurling between the river and the historic Augusta Canal, the towpath tracks the path once used by draft animals to pull cargo boats upriver. The leafy upper section is a haven for wildlife and birds, and maybe alligators, while sights are more industrial further south.
Enjoy a shaded picnic at The Clearing then continue south to Sibley Mill, a neo-Gothic textile mill completed in 1882. Side trails can extend your hike or ride. The canal, built in 1845, is open to paddlers.
Chase waterfalls at Helton Creek
The trail to the upper and lower falls at Helton Creek Falls is under a half-mile, but it packs in the fun as it cuts through Chattahoochee National Forest. You’ll tackle steps, navigate ups-and-downs and clomp across a boardwalk, with the crash of tumbling water as your soundtrack.
The 40ft lower falls are a photogenic warm-up for the spectacular upper falls, which burst from the forest before dropping 50ft down a rocky outcrop to a small pool. Be careful though – the rocks around the falls are deceptively slick.
Two hours from Atlanta, the falls are in the Appalachian Mountains of northeast Georgia, a region filled with pretty cascades.
Walk in the footsteps of a president in Plains
The rapid pace of modernization hits home at Jimmy Carter’s Boyhood Farm, where the 39th president of the United States lived between 1928 until 1949. Just west of downtown Plains, the farmhouse didn't have electricity until 1938, and it's been restored to reflect these simpler times.
Self-guided tours explore the house and farm, where Carter’s father grew peanuts, cotton and other crops. Kids can check out the live farm animals. The former president talks about his childhood in recordings at various stops.
The farm is an integral part of the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, which is headquartered at Plains High School, where Carter graduated in 1941. Exhibits in several school rooms delve into his life. Another unit of the park is Carter’s current residence, but it's closed to the public.
Carter is the only president, other than the current president, to live in a national park. Now 97, President Carter teaches Sunday School twice a month at Maranatha Baptist Church, as Covid precautions allow.
Hunt bronze birds on the Thomasville Quail Trail
If you feel like you're being watched while strolling historic downtown Thomasville, blame the birds. Nestled in pergola vines, tucked under benches and perched on rooftops and ledges, the 18 bronze birds on the Hunt the Lost Quail Tour are all hiding in plain sight.
Look up and down to find each member of the covey. A fun scavenger hunt for families, the Quail Trail gives a nod to Thomasville’s status as the quail hunting capital of the world. Pick up a map and clues at the visitor center or download the Thomasville tourism app.
Once you find all 18, return to the visitor center for a coloring page. The birds were sculpted by wildlife artist Paul Rhymer.
Cycle past art and breweries on the Atlanta BeltLine
Your bike tour on the Atlanta BeltLine starts and ends at a brewery if you kick off at Lee + White in the city’s West End. This buzzy mixed-use development borders the Westside Trail, a three-mile section of the BeltLine that ribbons past a mix of permanent and temporary art exhibits, from murals and sculptures to live performances. The trail also cuts through parks and the leafy BeltLine Arboretum.
A redevelopment success story, the greenway is an ongoing project along a 22-mile rail corridor encircling the city.
Free bike tours on the Westside Trail are offered Saturday mornings from April through mid-November, with plans afoot for more dates and locations. Bring your own bike, or rent one nearby for a fee.
Commune with swamp creatures at Phinizy Swamp Nature Center
Jurassic Park comes to mind as you wander the boardwalks that ribbon through the lush wetlands and floodplain swamps comprising the 1100-acre Phinizy Swamp Nature Center in Augusta.
Alligators lurk in the soggy terrain, drawing visitors to the park, but the grounds are thick with a fascinating range of reptiles, mammals and birds – making Phinizy a fun and free destination for families and wildlife watchers alike.
Constructed in the 1990s to filter partially treated wastewater from the rapidly growing city, the wetlands are now a habitat for river otters, beavers, egrets, heron, red-shouldered hawks, tree frogs and more.
Check the calendar for guided hikes, family camping events and gatherings geared to toddlers.
Spend a day at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park
The wood-framed door into the Earth Lodge – which is burrowed deep inside a grass-covered mound at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park – is a portal to early American Indian life who lived on the land for thousands of years.
After crouching through the entrance-way tunnel, you’ll step into the lodge, where a timber roof overhangs a council chamber of the Mississippian culture, one of four cultures that lived here before the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.
The Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Project Administration reconstructed the lodge in the late 1930s, but the clay floor, with its 50 carved seats and bird effigy, dates to 1015 CE. The Earth Lodge is one of seven surviving mounds in the park.
You’ll cross an ancient ball field on the walk to the Great Temple Mound. Climb to the top for views of downtown Macon. The park borders the Ocmulgee River 90 miles southeast of Atlanta.
Admire the military’s coolest aircraft at the Museum of Aviation
At first glance, you might feel a need for speed when looking up at the sleek S-71A Blackbird parked at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins. But then you learn the specifics of this long-range advanced strategic reconnaissance aircraft.
The plane set an absolute speed record of 2,193mph – which sounds more nausea-inducing than ridiculously fun. The museum, which is adjacent to Robins Air Force Base, shares Air Force history across four large exhibit buildings. Scavenger hunts are available for kids, and future pilots can climb into open cockpits on Family Aviation days.
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