Outdoors,  State Parks

Panola Mountain: State Parks Within 60 Miles of Atlanta

The northern part of Georgia is known for its scenic mountain views, cascading waterfalls, pristine forests, and hiking trails. In fact, the southern terminus of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail (AT) is located at Springer Mountain. More than three thousand people a year start their journey at Springer Mountain to attempt a thru-hike of the entire AT. The Blue Ridge and Appalachian Plateau regions are great for day hikes, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, and more. Yet, if you live in Atlanta, you may not always have the time to drive an hour and a half or more to enjoy the outdoors. The good news is you don’t need to make a trek all the way to the Blue Ridge mountains to get your nature fix. There are five state parks within 60 miles of downtown Atlanta. In this post, we will take a look at Panola Mountain State Park.

Panola Mountain is 20 miles southeast of Atlanta. The park’s 1,635 acres are located in Henry, Rockdale, and DeKalb Counties. Panola Mountain is one of three granite monadnock in the area. Unlike Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain, it has never been quarried. To preserve the rare monadnock ecosystem of Panola Mountain, 471.5 acres of land was acquired and converted to a conservation park in 1974. Over the years more land was donated, adding to the park’s acreage. Although the park is dedicated to preserving the rare and fragile plant species of Panola Mountain, it offers several activities such as archery, biking, birding, bouldering, fishing, hiking, tree climbing, and geocaching.

Area in front of the Nature/Vistors Center

During my recent visits to the park, I walked the Rock Outcrop Trail and the Watershed Trail. Both trails begin behind the Visitor Center and are easy to walk. The trails are well-groomed, have low inclines, and are relatively short. They are perfect for young kids and those concerned about avoiding falls.  

The starting point of Watershed and Rock Outcrop Trails
Viewpoint on the Rock Outcrop Trail

On a separate visit to the park, my mom and I walked a portion of the PATH trail. If you are not familiar with the PATH, it is a network of over 300 miles of paved trails throughout the state of Georgia. Motorized wheelchairs, electric scooters, and electric bikes are permitted on the PATH, but Mopeds are not. I have posted a link below for more information about the PATH Foundation and trails near you. We started on the PATH from a gravel parking lot near the park entrance. On that Friday afternoon, the trail was quiet except for the sound of an occasional car.  

PATH Trail at Panola Mountain State Park

We walked just under two miles before reaching the Alexander Lake Trailhead and Alexander Barn. Conservationist and landscape architect Edward Alexander donated 155.8 acres of his property to the park in 2003. His home still sits on the property.  Taking the Alexander Lake Loop Trail to the right, the path curves towards a wooden boardwalk at the edge of the lake. We followed the trail around, catching views of the lake until we reach Alexander Barn once again.

Alexander Barn
Boardwalk at Alexander Lake
View of Alexander Lake
Old sign found at Alexander Barn

On our way back to our starting point we detoured left down a long boardwalk leading to a platform where we found moss and lichen-covered granite. The plant life on the granite surface is fragile, rare, and slow-growing. So when you visit the park, please don’t hop over the wooden platforms.

Wildlife View

Our mini-adventure at Panola Mountain was just over five miles. However, there is much more to see at this park. On the Dekalb County side of Panola Mountain, sits Vaughters’ Barn. DeKalb County was once the leading producer of dairy in the state and S. B. Vaughters, who purchased 144 acres of land in 1947, was the most successful dairy farmer in the area. Vaughters donated 141 acres of farmland to the park in 2003. The barn underwent a $200,000 restoration in 2018, preserving the historic structure for years to come.  On a future visit, I plan to reserve a ranger-led guided hike, which is required to access the granite mountain. On these guided hikes participants learn about the unique ecology of the mountain and how outcrop plants thrive in this harsh environment. I’m looking forward to seeing all this Metro Atlanta park has to offer.

PATH Foundation


Panola Mountain State Park info