Waterfalls, tunnels and even a rock garden - these are our favorite places we visited in 2020

ATLANTA — Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel and tourism have drastically dropped across the country and here in Georgia.

You may have noticed over the last few months that we’ve done a series of quick getaways or nearby day trips you and your family can take within the state or destinations close to Georgia’s borders. And they’re all outdoors to keep with social distancing standards.

We know that sometimes you just need to get away from the hustle and bustle, even if it’s for just a couple of hours.

We went through all the places we visited and here are some of our favorite destinations of 2020:

Providence Canyon State Park

It is hailed as Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.” Providence Canyon State Park is about two hours southwest of Atlanta and makes for the perfect day trip to see something really extraordinary.

The canyon was formed by bad farming practices, causing the ground to erode away to the massive gullies that now make up the canyon.

The park includes more than 10 miles of hiking trails along the canyon floor and around the rim of the canyon itself; there are spectacular views of the red, white and orangish soil that make up the canyon walls.

“The rare Plumleaf Azalea grows only in this region and blooms during July and August when most azaleas have lost their color,” the park’s website said.

There is a $5 parking fee.

Read more about the park here.

James H. Floyd State Park

Surrounded by rural countryside and the Chattahoochee National Forest, James H. Floyd State Park features one of the state’s best kept secrets.

Named for the late Georgia state Rep. James H. “Sloppy” Floyd, the park sits in Summerville in Chattooga County.

When you enter the park, it doesn’t take long to get to a beautiful lake with access to boating and fishing.

But probably the most well-known part of the park is the old abandoned marble mine. Follow the Marble Mine Trail and it takes you up to the entrance of the mine.

The spring and winter rainfall generates a small 35-foot waterfall that cascades over part of it.

The park also charges a $5 parking fee.

Read more about the park here.

The Calhoun Rock Garden

From castles to cathedrals, and even the Colosseum in Rome, you can take a stroll through an imaginary world as you wander through the Calhoun Rock Garden.

A little off the beaten path, the garden sits behind the Calhoun Seventh-day Adventist Church, located at 1411 Rome Rd. SW. in Calhoun.

Among the 50 structures throughout the garden, you can visit places like Notre Dame Cathedral, castles and small villages. You may even find little porcelain figurines throughout some of the structures.

The garden is open from dawn till dusk.

Read more about the garden here.

Constitution Lakes Park

Tucked away on the edge of Atlanta and DeKalb County is a scenic wetlands park that will provide the perfect quick getaway.

Constitution Lakes Park “was once the site of a brickyard, the lakes were created when water filled the clay excavation pits. The brick operation was shut down nearly 50 years ago, and now the property has been restored by nature to a wetland habitat capable of sustaining birds, fish, wildlife, and a wide range of plant species,” the Friends of Constitution Lakes Facebook page says.

DeKalb County bought the property in 2003 and “added a parking lot, a paved walkway down to the lakes and a boardwalk around one end of the lakes. It’s a good spot for birding, with water and shore birds as well as forest birds in the woods around the lakes.”

The park is also home to one of the weirdest, and some may say creepiest, trails in the metro Atlanta area, the Dolls Head Trail.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Constitution Lakes Park or the Dolls Head Trail.

Arabia Mountain

Not far off of I-20 in DeKalb County is one of the area’s most unique places to hike, bike or just enjoy the beauty of nature – Arabia Mountain.

The mountain itself is a 2,550-acre greenspace that includes large formations of exposed granite, wetlands, pine and oak forests, multiple streams and two lakes.

Arabia Mountain is also home to rare native plants like the red diamorpha, which is a type of succulent that blossoms in patches across the mountain in the spring.

“The area is also very much influenced by human hands. The evidence of quarrying activities are apparent in the industrial debris left on the mountain and of the abandoned structures once used by workers for storage, offices and shelter. The ruins of quarry buildings are found interspersed throughout the park and metal spikes that were used to split the granite are still embedded in the rock,” the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area website said.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Arabia Mountain and all that it offers.

Yellow Branch Falls

If you’re looking for a great day trip and don’t mind a bit of a hike, you will want to check out Yellow Branch Falls.

Located just across the Georgia border in Walhalla, South Carolina, the falls are a two-hour drive from Atlanta and free to visit.

There is a parking lot at the trail head with a decent amount of parking spots for visitors.

Once you start on the trail to the falls, you will hike about 1.3 miles to get to them.

The trail takes you along a beautiful path that zigzags across a creek, and is relatively easy to hike. As you approach the falls the path narrows a bit, but the path itself is fairly clear and well kept.

Yellow Branch Falls is a 50-foot vertical cascade that flows over a series of ledges. Many people use these falls as a place to cool down and swim on a hot day.

It is also pet-friendly. Read more about the falls here.

The Stumphouse Tunnel

Just up the road from Yellow Branch Falls, you will find the Stumphouse Tunnel.

According to a historical marker outside it, the Stumphouse Tunnel was the largest of three that were started before the Civil War for the Blue Ridge Rail Road.

The rail line was supposed to connect Anderson, South Carolina, to Knoxville, Tennessee, but was never completed.

The tunnel is wide open to walk into and check out. The tunnel is 25 feet high, 17 feet wide and extends just over 1,600 feet into the mountain.

Further in you will find a barrier that will prevent you from going any deeper into the tunnel.

You may want to use the flashlight app on your phone to help see the path ahead of you as you walk through the tunnel.

Read more about the tunnel here.