Summer guide to Georgia state parks, mountains, rivers and more

We're trapped in traffic, clustered in cul-de-sacs, and hiding out in high rises. Everywhere we turn, there's asphalt, red lights and the constant chirp of our cell phones. Atlanta's a wonderful place but surely there's more to Georgia.

Scattered about the state are countless natural wonders, most of which — cost of gas or river guides excluded — are free to enjoy. And you can find them mere minutes or hours away: from the Appalachian Mountains foothills to the gator-filled swamps near the Florida border; the roaring rapids of the Chattooga River to the scenic stillness of Cloudland Canyon; the wonder of a majestic waterfall to a sanctuary in the middle of DeKalb County. You can walk well-trodden trails for miles through verdant woods and rarely encounter another person. You can stand on a mountaintop and breathe air that's actually clean. And you can rest assured that you can always return to these places because they're protected, and will stay pristine long after we're gone.

AMICALOLA FALLS STATE PARK This popular park, home to the tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River, boasts numerous trails as well as lodging. Len Foote Inn, a cozy lodge that offers hot showers, soft beds, and good food, is sequestered from civilization five miles into the woods and reachable only by foot. If you'd like to toe-touch one of the country's most famous trails, hike eight miles to Springer Mountain, the Appalachian Trail's southernmost point. 418 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville. 706-265-4703. gastateparks.org/info/amicalola.

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(Photo by Joeff Davis)