Sit down, kids. Let me tell you a little story about the time man negatively intervened with nature and inadvertently tried to further destroy the planet – but it actually turned out kinda okay.
Located in southwest Georgia, in the city of Lumpkin, Providence Canyon State Park (a.k.a. Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon) is a 1,100+ acre state park that is home to 16 different canyons with gullies as deep as 150 feet. But unlike its Arizona namesake, the Little Grand Canyon’s gullies were not sculpted by a river over millions of years, but rather rainwater runoff from farm fields in a significantly shorter amount of time.
The land once owned by the Creek Nation became a hotbed of prosperous cotton plantations in the early 19th century. Unfortunately, the European-influenced farming practices of the time said nothing of crop rotation, contour plowing, and cover crops. The cash crop that once made the area eventually depleted and destroyed the fertile ground, leaving behind poor quality soil that could not withstand natural erosion.
Identified by the Department of Natural Resources as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, there are 16 different canyons exposing 43 shades of soil ranging from white to shades of orange, pink, purple, and red, as well as the browns and blacks of mineral-stained sediment. Millions of years of geological record are on display in its Western-esque chasms, cliffs and plateaus.
The canyon continues to change and erode, though at a much slower pace. The clay content of the floor paired with the return of native pine trees and other vegetation have helped stabilize the soil and vertical erosion. But runoff and groundwater continue to increase the size of the gorge as the rim recedes.
Providence Canyon State Park has ten miles of hiking trails that all conveniently begin and end at the visitor’s center. Rated easy to moderate, the Canyon Loop Trail is a five-mile hike that encompasses nine of the canyons, including the canyon floor. Don’t skip the outer rim of the canyon for a spectacularly scenic view from the top.
You might assume you’re hallucinating from dehydration, but yes, those are deteriorating vehicles in the woods of a state park. A former homestead features nearly a dozen rusted-out 50s-era trucks and cars in various states of decay. Due to the environmental damage that removing the vehicles would cause, park officials determined it was best to let the vehicles return to nature naturally. They now serve as homes to many park animals, as well as points of unexpected interest.
Reader’s Digest named Providence Canyon State Park the best day trip to take in Georgia (but you can make a weekend out of it – see Stay!). The best part is it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than flying to Arizona.
Canyons four and five are considered the most spectacular. Hot tip: leave your squeaky clean white sneaks at home. The canyon floor is below sea level, and anyone who has lived in Georgia knows the havoc wet red clay can wreak.
Campers can hike to one of six backcountry campsites; softies can rent cottages on Lake Walter F. George at nearby Florence Marina State Park.
Across the street from the park is historic Providence Methodist Church and cemetery with headstones that dates back to the 1880s. The original church building stood on the land that now lies between the main canyon gorges.
The park is home to more wild Plumleaf Azaleas than anywhere else on the planet. The rare native fauna grows in the Sandhills region of Georgia, and blooms during July and August when most azaleas have lost their color.