7 under-the-radar OTP Atlanta spots for leaf peeping

Autumn colors blanketing Kennesaw Mountain. Photo: Photo by Tom Wilson/For the AJC

Deep hues of leaf life will soon swoop through Georgia and blanket the state.

And the best views to admire the South's striking rainbow of autumn foliage are right outside the perimeter. But when and where to watch is what the avid leaf watcher wants to know as the weather begins to change.

"Exactly when we're going to see these beautiful colors really depends on Mother Nature and the temperature between now and October," said Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks. "That's why we created online site Leaf Watch, which shows real-time information from park rangers and experts who track changes in color."

Leaf Watch also documents the peak times of fall colors and the ideal locations to escape into nature's leaf life across the state. For those interested in traveling for leaf-peeping, Georgia State Parks has designated a list of the top 10 state parks for fall color, which includes parks like Cloudland Canyon State ParkAmicalola Falls State Park & Lodge and Unicoi State Park & Lodge.

"This year we're asking our visitors to help us spot changes in color at these parks and others by not only posting and tagging us on Facebook but on Instagram as well," Hatcher said. "We also encourage travelers to visit lesser well-known leaf-watching locations. You will be surprised at just how much scenery Georgia has to offer in fall foliage all the way up until November."

There are a number of those "lesser well-known" spots for watching fall colors right outside of Atlanta. Here are seven parks, mountains and trails that provide additional picturesque experiences for leaf watching in areas hidden away from the average hiker:


Big and Little Kennesaw Mountains: Visitors can catch stretches of forest colors from these higher vantage points. Colors peak during the fall as a result of less sunlight, lower temperatures and soil moisture. The lack of chlorophyll is why the pigments of the leaves become extremely vibrant and visible in this area. Right now everything is relatively green at Kennesaw Mountain, but when the colors start to change, the location becomes a harlequin attraction.

Stout Park: The 88-acre park offers open meadows and wooded spaces to leaf watch from sunrise to sunset. Journey its trails by foot or horseback as the park accommodates avid hikers to equestrians who enjoy being surrounded by nature.


Chattahoochee Nature CenterThis horticultural haven provides walking and aerial trails for guests to leaf peep from low and high ground. Chattahoochee Nature spans 127 acres and features a river boardwalk, wetland demonstration gardens and five woodland hiking trails. It's the perfect place to see plant and wildlife up close and personal.

Big Trees Forest PreserveA plant, wildlife and tree oasis in one, Big Trees is a 30-acre urban forest open from sun up to sun down. Its three backcountry foot trails lead to hills and cliff views; fern-lined banks; springs and streams; and canopies of hard and softwood forest. Plenty of landscape to capture various leaf-changing sights.


McDaniel Farm ParkWalk through this once working farm of the 1800s and admire 134 acres of country living and the natural world. The park features both soft and pave-surfaced trails. Leaf watchers have lots of shady trees to see that fence and add vibrancy to the property.

Yellow River ParkThis outside-the-perimeter park expands for 566 acres and includes more than 13 miles of equestrian, hiking and mountain biking trails. This location instantly connects leaf lovers to forested landscape and nonstop foliage. Guests can also witness river and waterfall scenes, complementing this quaint woodland area as well.

Caption: The Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area in DeKalb County features a granite outcrop and blooming yellow daisies during September. Credit: Eric Bowles. (Fast Copy News Service)


Arabia Mountain Top TrailExperience majestic summit views once the top of this granite foundation is reached. The trail takes hikers up to 360-degree panoramic outlooks to observe forest life. From a distance, nature's leaves look as though they're painted in vibrant autumn colors across the woodland valley below.

Leaf Watch also documents the peak times of fall colors and the ideal locations to escape into nature's leaf life outside of metro Atlanta.

"The Blue Ridge Mountains are so close to Atlanta, offering some of the most amazing views in the Southeastern United States," Hatcher said, "Our state parks are also nice choices to visit and leaf watch from overlooks and trails."

Georgia State Parks (GSP) are free and open to the public with a $5 parking fee. For more information about leaf peeping in Georgia, visit https://gastateparks.org/LeafWatch.

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