- Mary Caldwell For the AJC
Everyone is familiar with Arizona's Grand Canyon, but many Georgians aren't aware of the state's "Little Grand Canyon," which is formally named Providence Canyon.
Compared to its more famous counterpart, it may be relatively small, but by any other measure, the gullies are massive.
Located about 150 miles southwest of Atlanta, the canyon is south of Columbus, about seven miles west of Lumpkin. It's situated in an outdoor recreation area that encompasses 1,103 acres and 16 canyons.
The canyons were formed by poor farming practices during the 1800s, when farmers taking no steps to avoid soil erosion. Ditches several feet deep were formed, and as a result, runoff and the rate of erosion increased. Over the years, the flow of water and sand has helped create amazing pinnacles that are almost vertical.`
Although the reasons for Providence Canyon's formation weren't exactly positive, the result is a spectacular site that includes canyons forged from sandstone as well as chasms, cliffs, and a wide array of colored soil that includes red, white, purple, pink and orange.
In addition to sightseeing and taking photographs, Georgia's Little Grand Canyon offers the following activities:
The state park has 10 miles of trails to hike, with all beginning and ending at the visitor's center.
One of the most popular, the Canyon Loop Trail, circles nine of the canyons and takes about two hours to hike almost five miles. Rated easy to moderate, it travels through a shady forest and reaches the canyon floor at a quarter-mile, according to Atlanta Trails.
Canyon 8 is a favorite at the site. With its towering walls and defined pinnacles, hikers reach it at the 2.75-mile mark. Lightweight, waterproof hiking boots are recommended for the canyon's sandy and wet trails, which can be slippery.
You may want to allow extra time beyond the estimated two hours to explore a historic church and cemetery you'll encounter on the opposite side of the road. The cemetery has gravestones that date back to the 1800s.
You can camp overnight at Providence Canyon by making a reservation at one of three pioneer or six backcountry campsites. Pioneer camps are private camping areas suitable for groups, and they're equipped with pit toilets and usually have water spigots and amenities such as picnic shelters and grills. Backcountry sites are undeveloped, and you'll have to bring everything you need, including water.
Bring a picnic to enjoy at the canyon's two shelters, or attend one of the site's occasional astronomy nights. The lack of light pollution makes Providence Canyon an ideal setting for stargazing. In addition, the park also hosts "Geology Days", with a ranger-led tour of the canyons and their geological history.
What else you need to know
It costs $5 to park at Providence Canyon State Park, and annual passes are available for $50. If you're 62 or older, you can get the annual ParkPass at a 50 percent discount, and active military and veterans with a valid ID can get 25 percent off.
The park is open from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. from Sept. 15-April 14 and from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. from April 15-Sept. 14. The visitor's center is generally open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Picnic shelters cost $35 to rent, pioneer campsites are $40 to $80 and accommodate 50 people per site, and backcountry campsites can be reserved for $10 a person.