Providence Canyon State Park (3-25-18)
Providence Canyon State Park in southwestern Georgia is a place I’ve had my eye on visiting for years. Do a quick search and you’ll see pictures that are more reminiscent of scenes you may have seen of the Southwest rather than the Deep South. Multi-colored cliffs and pillars of rock rise from the forest creating a maze of 150-foot deep ravines. The place is billed as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” and, though that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is still a fascinating place of amazing and unique natural beauty. I have to be careful of how I use the word ‘natural’ here however. The fact is, the red and white cliffs of Providence Canyon are not entirely the work of mother nature herself. Two hundred years ago this area looked much like any other piece of southern forest…rolling green hills but nothing so dramatic as what exists today. The catalyst for the formation of the canyons came with the arrival of the first settlers to the area in the early 1800’s. As pioneers across the country were want to do they soon set about clearing the forests for agriculture. Unaware of the stabilizing effects on the soil that the trees and shrubs growing there had, it didn’t take long for rains to begin erode the landscape. With each successive year the gullies grew deeper and in a geologic blink of an eye, barely a hundred years, the dramatic cliffs and spires seen today had been carved out of the barren hillsides. Today the forests have returned, filling the ravines and lining the tops of the cliffs, bringing some degree of stabilization to the rampant erosion of years past. This is still an extremely fragile environment, however, so if you do decide to visit please heed park warnings about climbing off-trail. This is a place of incredible natural wonder which would be a tragedy to lose due to the selfishness of inconsiderate visitors. Explore with care and Providence Canyons’ cliffs and pinnacles of red, orange, white, purple, and yellow will be there to enjoy for generations to come.
The 1,100-acre park has around a dozen miles of trails to explore, about half of which center around the canyons themselves. My hike on this visit would center on the three mile loop which circles the nine main canyons. The loop trail is well-marked and well-traveled and is easy to moderate in difficulty. The trailhead is located behind the small visitor center and museum and I’d begin by following along the upper rim for the first mile or so of my walk. The trail is squeezed between the park road and the canyons here so it’s not exactly a wilderness experience but the frequent overlooks that the trail passes make for a scenic walk none-the-less. After about a mile the trail begins to swing around to the south to descend into the canyon passing a collection of old, rusted automobiles which the park has decided to leave due to the cost and difficulty of removing them. Quickly loosing elevation the trail soon reaches a wet crossing of a shallow, sandy stream. This is where the canyon exploration portion of the hike begins. Signs here point up the stream to canyons numbered 6,7, and 8 but you’re not going to find any marked trails by following it. To get up into the canyons you simply have to walk upstream towards the cliffs. Walking up this first stream I soon arrived at another split where the streambed leading up to Canyon #8 splits to the right of the one heading up to #6 and #7. A sign once again marked the junction. Even though these are not established trails I found it fairly easy to navigate my way as all I had to do was head upstream until I could go no further, usually by arriving beneath towering cliffs. After making my way up into this first set of canyons I retraced my steps back to the main trail and continued on, up and over a small hill, before arriving at a second and much larger stream draining from the remaining five canyons. Turning up this wide streambed I soon arrived at another signed split with the stream leading to Canyons #4 and 5 heading right and #1-3 on the left. Exploring the first two, I then backtracked once again to head up to the last three. Pretty simple, right? After that I returned to the main trail for the somewhat steep quarter-mile climb back to the trailhead.
This was as beautiful a hike as I expected. I enjoyed seeing the canyons from above and then getting to see them up close and personal from below. Of the eight canyons I explored #4-8 are unquestionably the prettiest. The floors of these ravines are more open, and the cliffs and pinnacles much taller in these four canyons. Canyons #1-3 are less impressive. For the most part the forest hides the surrounding cliffs…in Canyon #1, for instance, there aren’t really cliffs to see at all. Still it was nice, for the sake of completion, to be able to say I had hiked them all. Overall this was an amazing place to visit. The scenery is so fantastically unique, considering its location, that it’s hard to find a bad word to say about it. Yes, I found it to be quite busy and yes, the disregard for some people staying on the trail and the graffiti carved in the rocks at times annoyed me but the enjoyment I found here is still without question. That all said, I invite you to join me now as I explore a remarkably unique corner of the Deep South…a place where nature has turned man’s ignorance into something beautiful to behold. I present to you Providence Canyon State Park...and, as always, ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 32.068498, -84.914502
Mileage Hiked: 5.2 miles Hike Duration: 2:30
Trailhead Temp: 70'F Trail Traffic: 100+ people
Min. Elevation: 450' Max. Elevation: 650'
Total Vertical Gain: 300' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 58'
Trails Used (blaze color): Canyon Loop (white), Canyon Spur Trails (unblazed)