New England may think it has the most famous claim on beautiful fall foliage, but Georgia offers dazzling leaf displays, too, thanks to our plentiful ash, birch, gum and oak trees.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources says that this year’s unusually cool, wet summer may cause the leaves to change color a little earlier than their usual late October to early November peak. The DNR has published a map online of some of the best places to see the colors change. Below are some of our favorites, but as you plan your trip, be sure to check the Fall Leaf Color Reports at the Georgia Forestry Commission (soon to resume seasonal updates).
This part of Georgia is home to eight state parks tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the elevation and the isolation work together to make magic when the hardwood groves between to change colors. A favorite, Vogel State Park, is located at the foot of Blood Mountain just outside Blairsville in the Chattahoochee National Forest and is home to a 22-acre lake and a mix of short and long trails that will take you through the trees to the mountain and past the beautiful Trahlyta Falls.
October is the best time to visit northeastern Georgia because it’s the time when you can also enjoy some great local traditions. The Sorghum Festival, for example, celebrates more than 40 years of syrup and biscuits, live music and clog dancing in the town of Blairsville during the weekends of October 12 and 19. If you visit on the last weekend, you also have a chance to visit nearby Tallulah Gorge State Park to walk the suspension bridge over the famous gorge under the light of a full moon.
Cloudland Canyon State Park is a vast 3,500 acre expanse of virgin woodlands that fills the canyon as it runs along the western edge of Lookout Mountain. In the fall, visitors are treated to sweeping views of scarlet and golden leaves as they change across the wide canyon. On Saturdays throughout October, the park is also hosting hikers for walks along the eastern rim as well as family treats like hayrides, roasted marshmallows and hot cider. The park also offers plenty of opportunities to fish, play disc golf and test your geocaching skills, but you may find yourself distracted by the peaceful walks along the waterfall trail.
The Atlanta Area
Whether you’re a long-time Georgian or a transplant, you may not realize that a great place to see the colors change is just outside the Atlanta city limits: Sweetwater Creek State Park. This 2,500-acre park features rocky trails along a wide, boulder-filled series of rapids that flow passed the haunting ruins of a Civil War-era textile mill. As the leaves begin to change, the stands of trees hugging the bluffs of the creek turn brilliant colors, punctuating the remarkable beauty of this history-filled landscape.
This Atlanta-area park also features one of the most active social calendars of any of the Georgia parks, with park rangers leading regular hikes and night-time canoe trips. Consider the October 6th ranger-led tour that highlights the unique geology of the park and its rock quarry as another good opportunity to appreciate the leaves and the land.
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Even though my girls are just learning to spell their names, I know it won’t be long before they’re signing them on a stack of college applications. And the more I hear about the rising cost of tuition, the more important it seems for my husband and I to consider how we’ll finance the twins’ education now — instead of when they’re teenagers. After seeking advice from friends and a few financial experts, we decided that before we start our kids’ college funds, we’d like to have these three things in place:
A solid emergency fund
One of the experts I talked to suggested saving enough to cover six months’ worth of expenses, which seemed like a lot at first. But after she explained how quickly that money would disappear with two kids in the house, it didn’t seem like an option for us to set aside any less. While we have some money saved up in case of emergencies, we’re working hard to meet that six-month mark. One of my friends suggested treating our emergency fund like a monthly bill, which has worked out great. Seeing our contributions as a fixed expense has made us less likely to put off saving until the next month.
One of my friends suggested treating our emergency fund like a monthly bill, which has worked out great. Seeing our contributions as a fixed expense has made us less likely to put off saving until the next month.
A manageable level of debt
We’ve all heard tales about the dangers of too much credit card debt, and while I think we’re pretty good about keeping our spending in check, those finance charges can add up fast. That’s why we’re making a better effort to track our household spending by monitoring online account statements and marking our expenses on a spreadsheet each week. We’ve even set up budgets for groceries, dining out and family fun nights through Mint.com. Having a clear budget to stick to has inspired us to look for creative, low-cost ways to entertain ourselves and our girls. Luckily, our little ones are at an age where the public library is still an acceptable place to spend a Saturday!
Consistent retirement contributions
While college tuition is costly, there are a number of resources for students beyond their parents’ bank accounts. Though we may have to do some searching, I know there will be grants, scholarships and other funds available to supplement our savings when the time comes. But where retirement is concerned, our spending money ends with what we’ve saved. So rather than diverting our retirement savings to our daughters’ college funds, we’re sticking with the contributions we currently have set and are looking for other ways to find some extra money.
Once we have these few goals under control, we’ll be able to plan exactly how we want to build a strong financial foundation for our daughters’ college education. We’re almost there, but for now we’ll just have to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.