For a weekend adventure in the southeast United States that rivals the beauty of the actual Grand Canyon, if not the size and scope, Providence Canyon is a great option. Known as Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, Providence Canyon is a 1,103 acre Georgia state park near Lumpkin, Georgia, about two and a half hours southwest of Atlanta.
With massive gullies and 16 canyons that tower as high as 150 feet, the views of the chasms, plateaus, cliffs, and pinnacles are spectacular. Activities in the park include hiking and camping, along with full facilities, a nice amount of open space, and plenty of picnic tables to feed the family.
While the canyons appear very similar to the grand counterparts in Arizona, the history is sadly a result of poor farming practices in the 1800s. Native forest cover was cleared to make room for farming, but farmers made no effort to prevent soil erosion. We will let bygones be bygones, however, because the result really is beautiful and the local wildlife doesn’t seem to mind.
Tips with kids
Prepare for mud
One of the main attractions of visiting is hiking through a light stream on top of the clay and sand soil mixture. Kids will have a great time splashing in puddles and drawing things with sticks in the mud. The more sandy canyon soil near the canyon walls is also cool to run your hands through and examine the different colors with glittery shine.
As a result, one thing that stood out to us at the park was how dirty our kids got. We have three boys so they had the time of their lives. I would wear pants that you are OK getting dirty and definitely wear hiking shoes or boots.
Pack a lunch
The park office does have a few snacks like trail mix and ice cream, but otherwise, there is not much around the park. Plan to spend at least a few hours in the park including hiking and exploring, and eat a meal on-premise at one of the picnic tables overlooking the canyon.
Georgia State Parks Junior Ranger Program
We are big fans of Junior Ranger Programs at state and national parks and true to form our kids were all over the program at Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. As a quick overview, these programs are designed to engage young children in educational experiences in the parks. The programs typically require kids to complete activity books in exchange for a pin or a badge.
The activities at Providence Canyon were not broken down by age group so a few, like the crossword puzzle, were a little advanced for our 4-year-old. Everyone, however, loved the instruction to drag sticks in the mud. Even the adults end up learning something with these programs so they are a great addition to any trip.
The park offers excellent hiking trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
The most accessible option is a dirt trail around the rim of the canyon that is accessible via one of the parking areas. We originally walked right past this trail eager to get dirty hiking through the canyon floor, only to discover that the views from the top are probably the best views of all! Even if you plan on going the distance on the longer hikes, do not miss out on observing the stunning landscape from above.
Canyon Floor Hike
Beyond the accessible hike, other trails require a short 0.25-mile descent from the Park Office to the canyon floor. Once you get to the bottom, the trails are completely flat, albeit very muddy. The boys had the time of their lives dragging sticks in the clay and muddying their boots in the water.
The most popular of the trails are for canyons 1-9. We were told by the park ranger that Canyon trails 4 and 5 are the most popular and most stunning and were not disappointed. We were able to casually walk at a 4-year-old pace and viewed canyons 4 and 5 in about 2 hours time. This included a few stops to dig and hide within the canyon walls.
The canyon loop trail on the park map provided at the ranger station is a 3-mile loop that circles the canyons. It includes descent to the canyon floor and the accessible flat areas above the rim of the canyon. This trail is great, but if you make it to the canyon floor, be sure to check out canyons 1-9 while you are down there.
The backcountry trail is a 7-mile loop into the forest for access to the backcountry campsites. Information on the Georgia state parks website may lead you to believe these trails are treacherous, but we walked about half of the trail, mostly with kids and had no problems. The trail does get quite narrow at a few points with light brush hanging overhead, but we would classify the half we walked as easy to moderate in terms of fitness requirements.
Providence Canyon Camping
Providence Canyon state park offers either pioneer camping or overnight along the backcountry camping options.
What is pioneer camping?
Pioneer campsites are basically a step between backcountry camping and your amenity-rich KOA style campsites found along the highways. At the Grand Canyon of Georgia, there are three pioneer campsites. Each is accessible by car or truck only (no RV hookups and bumpy winding roads) and includes a lean-to shed, two picnic tables, a fire pit, and an outhouse. The outhouse at Pioneer campsite 2 where we stayed had an unbearable stench of ammonia so we ended up digging little holes and burying our waste.
Pro Tip: One great tip about pioneer campsite two is the backcountry trail is accessible directly behind the campsite and is about a mile walk to the canyons.
We did not backcountry camp, but we did manage to hike to a few of the campsites to check them out. The pictures are below. Campsite #6 has a huge lean-to shed, but as far as we could tell, the others are standard backcountry sites.
The visitor center is a good first place to start with a really nice outdoor recreation area. Inside you can get a map of the canyon as well as advice on what trails to hike.
If you want to skip the chit chat, walk past the visitor center to the trail overlooking the canyon and turn right. Once you reach the canyon floor, follow signs to the canyons 1-9. We were told by the interpretive ranger that canyons 4 and 5 are the most scenic and we agree.
In addition to the restroom facilities and the good conversation, there are several picnic areas in the park with plenty of green space to hang out, but please ensure you maintain appropriate social distancing.
Canyon Climbers Club
For southeast residents or long time visitors, don’t stop with a visit to Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon, consider joining the Georgia Canyon Climbers Club. Buy a t-shirt in the park office for $20 online. Once participants hike all four canyons, the park will send a certificate of completion.
Things to do near Providence Canyon
If you decide to spend a few nights near Georgia’s little grand canyon or are looking for another activity on your way to Atlanta and beyond, below are a few things to do in Columbus, GA.
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site and Museum is a fascinating peek into the upbringing that influenced the 39th President of the United States
The Coca Cola Space Science Center hosts the largest collection of NASA Space Shuttle artifacts in Georgia. Plan on enjoying a show in the Omnisphere Theater, stargazing in the planetarium, and expanding your knowledge at the interactive exhibits.
The National Infantry Museum covers almost 250 years of American history via immersive exhibits
Florence Marina State Park is another nearby state park with additional campsites.
The Kolomoki Mounds is the oldest and largest Woodland Indian site in the southeastern United States.
The Civil War Naval Museum is also located in Columbus, GA. Why a naval museum is located over 250 miles from the Atlantic Ocean is a great question I would love someone to ask at the museum and report back in the comments of this post. It does look like a fun place to visit with the kids though.
Providence Canyon was a fun sidetrack on our road trip to Atlanta to visit friends, well worth the 4-hour detour for a few days of camping and exploring with the kids. It really was a pleasant surprise. Let us know in the comments your favorite hidden gem from road-tripping!