Sunday, July 19, 2020

Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain State Park, dedicated in 1974, is the the most pristine monadnock in the Eastern Continental United States. The 1,600+acre park features a 100-acre granite mountain and offers hiking (7 miles of trails within the park), picnic shelters, a playground, bike rentals, an archery program, and a tree-climbing program, and that's just the "tip of the monadnock"!

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Whether a nature-lover, tree-hugger, or just a fan of the great outdoors, look for these tulip trees! These four trees fused at their trunks ages ago and now stand as a majestic quartet. The largest trunk comes in at 5'4" in diameter. One of the features in the book Hiking Atlanta's Hidden Forests, by Jonah McDonald, is notes on sentinel trees and birds you might see on specific trails—a feature I like quite a lot.

The tree-climbing program is ranger-led (Please don't climb trees here on your own!) and they offer an overnight experience allowing up to 8 guests to sleep in the trees! You're in a special kind of hammock—a "treeboat"—and tethered to your tree-climbing ropes, for safety. Sounds like great fun, right?

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

This is the second overlook, relatively close to the beginning of this 2-mile hike. The first one is pictured further down in this post. This one is the one you may have heard about, the one that offers vistas of Stone Mountain (left) and Panola Mountain (right).

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Among the many offerings at Panola Mountain State Park is Night Hikes! You'll need to make reservations, of course. You'll be led by an Interpretative Ranger who will discuss Panola Mountain and the rare animals and plants that live here. You'll get to see the sun set and an awesome skyline view of Atlanta! That'll take place on the nature preserve part of the mountain. I didn't see Atlanta on this trail.

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The hiking paths are well marked and have lots of informational placards along the way that teach about the flora and fauna residing on Panola Mountain. This park has one of the highest concentrations of placards I've seen, but they're placed in a way that does not detract from the beautiful natural surroundings.

All are welcome, at their leisure, to enjoy the Rock Outcrop Trail and the Watershed Trail during park hours. Those are the ones pictured in this post. They also offer considerably longer ranger-led guided hikes in the nature preserve, but you'll need a reservation for that. You'll get to learn about the rare animals and plants that live on the mountain, some of them found nowhere else in Georgia!

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

This is the first overlook you'll come to. I'd read about the overlook where you can see Stone Mountain, so I was disappointed...at first...because there was no horizon in sight, just forest. The one further ahead on this trail has a fantastic view, but this one teaches so much!

The information placards are awesome, totally worth the few minutes it'll take to expand your craniums! This one discusses the formation of monadnocks—an isolated rock hill abruptly rising from the surrounding level plain. Unlike its sister monadnocks, Stone Mountain and Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain has never been quarried thus giving visitors a pristine monadnock experience! 

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The Prickly Pear Cactus growing here totally caught me off guard...one of the last things I'd expect to find on a granite mountain! I did not know that they're cold-tolerant. And they can grow up to 2-6 feet wide! Perhaps you've seen this species with its redish-purple fruit that sprouts from the edges of the plant's paddles? 

That's one of the things that I really enjoyed about exploring Panola Mountain State Park...there's surprise after surprise!

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Toward the end of my 2-mile hike, I came across this dramatic-looking caterpillar, one that I didn't recognize. Turns out, it becomes the commonly seen Banded Tussock Moth! These can cause irritation for those with sensitive skin, from what I've read, not that I disturbed it.

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I was so happy to visit Panola Mountain State Park on such a beautiful day! I have a pretty high tolerance to heat—even Atlanta summers—but I'm still wholly grateful for all the shaded pathways. 

The moon was bright in the sky and there were vultures flying overhead. 

Vultures get a bad rap, but they're quite important to our ecosystem. The "garbage" (carcasses) that they consume helps keep our environment clean and free of contagious diseases. We can all appreciate that right now, being in the middle of a pandemic. 

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I share this "PLEASE STAY ON TRAIL" sign because I recently, at some point in my more frequent hiking adventures, demonstrated an allergic reaction to poison ivy. When I was a kid I could practically bathe in the stuff, but for a particular angle to get a few photos, I ventured off-path and later found myself at the drug store buying Calamine Lotion for the first time ever. (I'm not trained in the healing arts, so please consult your own physician for recommended treatment should you fall prey to this maniacally irritating plant.)

There are a LOT more reason to stay on the trail, but I'm not here to frighten anyone. Just be sure to use common sense, even before your natural survival instinct kicks in.

Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Panola Mountain State Park is one of the most adventuresome state parks I've visited in a long time. They offer a lot more than just a great hike!

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