By Virginia Brown
Stone mountain park, Georgia’s most-visited attraction, blends natural with manmade thrills
A Georgia Lure
Stone Mountain is an unlikely gray giant, rising above the leafy Georgia terrain. Like a bald beast, asleep late into a peaceful June morning, the isolated dome is an impressive, if incongruous, accessory to the lush landscape on the outskirts of Atlanta.
At the base of the mountain, dozens of schoolkids buzz aboard the summit-bound aerial tram. Two minutes to the top by cable car, it’s about a mile and some change up the west side by foot. From here, visitors from all over the world can take in views of Atlanta and the Appalachian Mountains — and nearly 60 miles on a good day.
Stone Mountain Park is the most-visited site in Georgia. Over 4 million people visit the park each year, some in search of the slower pulse of the natural setting, and others ready to revel in about a dozen attractions. That’s the yin and yang at Stone.
Built along 3,200 acres of serene Georgia countryside, the park is home to 15 miles of hiking and nature trails, plus a lake where guests can boat, paddleboard, kayak, and fish — bass, carp, crappie and catfish are common catches.
Inside the park, adventure seekers can brave the suspended bridges of the low-ropes course, take in 4D films (this fall the park will air The Wizard of Oz) and pet animals and watch as trained goats do tricks to impress in the Farmyard.
While the kids shriek and giggle beside larger-than-life insects along the MegaBugs! Adventure Encounters walking path (even creepier by flashlight in the fall), parents are educated in the museums and Historic Square, which showcases original structures preserved from the late 18th to late 19th centuries, relocated to the park from around the state of Georgia.
Somewhere between the natural and the manmade lies an impressive bas-relief carving on the side of the Stone Mountain. Impassioned debate swirls around the massive Confederate monument, initiated but not finished by sculptor Gutzon
Borglum of Mount Rushmore fame. The scene shows
Confederate generals “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee mounted on horses along with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The work of several other artists, the carving was completed in 1972 and is the largest in the world.
The attraction to Stone Mountain dates back thousands of years to Native American tribes who settled the land nearby. By the mid-16th century, European explorers had gotten wind of the large rock formation and made their way inland. A couple hundred years later, granite quarrying transformed the awe of the area into something of pure profit.
The federal gold depository at Fort Knox, the Panama Canal and the foundation of the Lincoln Memorial — just to name a few — all sourced granite from Stone Mountain. The Quarry Exhibit at the park today illustrates the process of granite quarrying in the area and the changes in the industry over time.
In late September to early November, yellow daisies transform the grounds as the happy hues take over. The Yellow Daisy Festival — the largest in the Southeast — brings together hundreds of artisans from across the U.S. to cook, sculpt, paint, weave and share their crafts.
From September to November, thousands of carved jack-o-lanterns light up each night for the Pumpkin Festival. Costumes are encouraged as you wander through the park alongside enormous pumpkin displays. Costume contests, a parade and story time with not-so-scary characters like Mother Goose are some of the 40 fall-themed experiences.
With so many things to do, people often stay for days or weeks at a time. There are, of course, a few nice hotels on the property — the Stone Mountain Inn and Evergreen Marriott Conference Resort — or, watch a kayaker calmly paddle by, as you relax on the deck of your yurt. These quaint, wood-and-canvas constructs come complete with a deck, a clear star-friendly skylight, and of course, heating and air conditioning — somewhere between the natural and the fashions of man.
Call your local AAA Travel Agent at 800-374-2865 today and plan your Stone Mountain visit!
(Go Magazine Sept/Oct 2019)