Although the majority of Georgia’s hiking trails are located in the northern part of the state, almost all the state parks have trails. Many feature waterfalls — like Amicalola Falls near Dawsonville; amazing lakes — like Carters Lake near Ellijay; beautiful wildflowers — like Black Rock Mountain State Park outside Clayton; and even canyons — like Cloudland Canyon, near Chattanooga, and Providence Canyon west of Lumpkin.
Use Walk Georgia to get in shape for those more strenuous hikes. If you plan to carry a backpack, wear it walking so you get used to the weight. Begin drinking and carrying plenty of water in preparation.
The Georgia State Park System recommends these safety precautions for all hikers:
- Avoid hiking alone.
- Tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Check in with them when you get back.
- Pay attention to trail blazes (paint marks on trees) and landmarks. A double blaze indicates a change in trail direction or intersection.
- Never climb on waterfalls.
- Always carry rain gear. Turn back in bad weather.
- Dress in layers and avoid cotton. Many experienced hikers wear a lightweight shirt that wicks moisture and carry a fleece pullover and waterproof jacket.
- Carry a whistle. Three short blasts is a sign of distress.
- Take plenty of drinking water. Stream water is not safe to drink without filtering or treating.
- Don’t rely on cell phones to work in the wilderness or on a GPS to prevent you from getting lost. Batteries can die or the equipment can become damaged or lost.
- Invest in good hiking socks and boots. Avoid blisters by carrying “moleskin” (available at drug stores) and applying it as soon as you feel a hot spot on your feet.
- Wear bright colors.
- Carry an emergency kit.
Each hiker should have drinkable water, a first aid kit, a whistle, a small flashlight with extra batteries, a glowstick, food, a brightly colored bandana, a trash bag (poke a hole for your head and wear it as a poncho to stay warm and dry) and aluminum foil (strips can be tied into tree limbs to reflect searchlights, and it can be molded into a bowl for water).
Before hiking with children:
Talk to them about what to do if they become lost.
Teach children that they won’t get into trouble for becoming lost.
Reassure children that people (and possibly dogs and helicopters) will look for them if they become lost. Tell them not to hide from searchers; answer their calls.
Do not run. Instead, hug a tree and make a nest.
Do not be afraid of animals or strange noises. If something is scary, blow the whistle.
Come up with a password a child will respond to if a stranger needs to pick them up.