Sunday, May 17, 2020

Georgia's Little Grand Canyon

Providence Canyon State Park in Lumpkin, Georgia, just south of Columbus, is the result of poor farming practices dating to the 1800s. In fact, 200 years ago you'd have seen erosion already affecting the landscape by about 4-5 feet. Today, the canyons, which take up approximately 300 acres of the park's 1,003 acres, are up to 300 feet wide and 150 feet deep. And they're stunning!


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Whether a geology enthusiast, a hiker, photographer, or nature-lover, you'll love this outing. Having visited the Grand Canyon out West, although Providence Canyon is nicknamed "Georgia's Little Grand Canyon", the two are totally different experiences and should be enjoyed for what they are, not as a comparison. I think you'll enjoy it much more that way.


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The nickname is not undeserved, though. Providence Canyon is stunningly beautiful! If on your first visit you're not sure how to explore the canyon, I recommend starting at the bottom, explore as many of the canyons as you're comfortable doing, and then go around the rim trail for a bird's eye view of what you just experienced! 


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Yes, yes, I know. The catalyst for the canyons was man-made, but the resulting canyons are a natural process, thus Providence Canyon being included in Georgia's Seven Natural Wonders. Speaking of wonderful, the base of the canyons is the only place in Stewart County you'll find the blossoming gem bigleaf magnolia tree, which has leaves up to three-feet long! In the fall, you can see the stunning plumleaf aza! The amazing colors aren't just on the canyon walls.


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Within the canyon walls you'll see 43 different colors and shades! The soil here is mineral rich. The red color comes from iron, the purple from manganese, and the white from kaolin, which is mined widely in Georgia. It's beautiful year-round, but come in the autumn and get the extra burst of color from the fall foliage


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Travis at Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

When you read or hear that the canyon is still eroding, that's your red flag to listen to and observe the park's safety rules! In fact, that little church you see when you drive into the park used to stand where Canyon #2 is now! The canyons are currently eroding approximately 3.5 feet every year, so do be careful and stay on the paths and behind the fences, for your own safety.


Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

There are various campsites, a museum, a visitors center (seasonal hours), hiking, picnicking, stellar photo ops, and there are geology and astronomy programs. If you're a serious or adventurous hiker, check out their Canyon Climbers Club, which entails excursions to four parks throughout Georgia, a completion t-shirt, and phenomenal bragging rights! And of course, experiences you'll carry with you for a lifetime. 

Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you do want to picnic here, but sure to get your supplies well before you arrive. Stores that would have what you want are not nearby, so a little planning ahead will go a long way to ensure you have the best visit possible.

Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Beautiful canyons and interesting plant-life isn't all you'll find here. There's lots of fun to be had, but there are also other remnants from days gone by. When the area became a state park, the old cars that were on-property would have caused too much damage to the park to remove them, not to mention the creatures that had made the antique modes of transportation their homes. Unexpected in the natural setting, they make for great conversation pieces and fodder for photographers.

Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you're visiting Providence Canyon from Atlanta, while it's only a 2-hour drive from downtown, it makes for a great long weekend or longer! On this particular trip, we stayed in Columbus, where I'd not been since at least the 90s. Had a magnificent time exploring and dining in the city! There are plenty of other small to medium size towns, as well as parks, nearby with lots of things to see and do.

Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Be sure to get a map at the Visitor Center before descending into the Canyon. The first three are relatively easy while 4 and 5 are for the more adventurous. For all of them, you'll want to wear shoes that you don't mind getting wet and muddy. Because of the canyon floor's proximity to the water table, there will be water on the canyon floor, even during droughts! 

Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Of note, Lumpkin, Georgia, is named for the two-term governor of Georgia, Wilson Lumpkin, as is Lumpkin County in the northern end of the state. Before Atlanta became the capital of Georgia, it had the names Terminus - for its role in the thriving railroad industry, and Marthasville - changed by Samuel Mitchell in mid 1842 to honor Wilson's youngest daughter, Martha. Martha Lumpkin Compton (1827-1917), namesake of Marthasville and daughter of Governor Wilson Lumpkin, is buried in Atlanta's Historic Oakland Cemetery.

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