Grand Canyon of Georgia: Providence Canyon

Recently, Tom and I visited the Grand Canyon of Georgia:  Providence Canyon Outdoor Recreation Area.  Providence Canyon is in the western part of southern Georgia, almost at the Alabama border.  Columbus, Georgia is about 40 miles north and is the largest town close by.

The Grand Canyon of Georgia powerfully shows the influence of people on the land.  Poor farming practices during the 1800’s caused massive erosion that caused the gullies and pinnacles today.  Because the soil is mostly sand, it easily washes away when it rains.  Canyons as deep as 150 feet began when farmers cleared the trees.  By the 1850’s there were three to five foot gullies which intensified the erosion.  Over time those gullies deepened to become the canyons you see today.  Because the canyons have reached clay at their bases, erosion is slowing.  Vegetation growing up the canyon walls is also helping to stabilize the area but pinnacles can still dissolve overnight and the edges of the rim are very fragile.

Tom and I went to Providence Canyon on a Monday and the Visitors Center was closed (but the restrooms were open).  We paid the $5 parking fee and put our ticket in the truck window.  Then we picked up a hiking map, signed the “backcountry” register and headed down into the canyon.

There is one main trail with nine canyons forming spurs off the trail.  The main trail is a three mile loop, but we made it longer by exploring most of the canyons along the way.  Canyons 4 and 5 are the deepest and most spectacular.  Most of the canyons have shallow creeks running along the floors.  You have to walk in these creeks to get up the canyons, so wear old shoes.  They will certainly be stained red by the time you finish exploring.

Take water and some food with you when you go into the canyon.  When we looked at the map, Tom and I felt we had plenty of time to do the three mile loop trail before lunch.  But we had so much fun exploring that we spent a lot longer in the canyons than we expected.  It also got pretty hot as soon as the sun came up over the rim of the canyon.  If we had food and water with us, we would have stayed much longer.

The 1,109 acre park is a wonderful place to wander and explore.  The Grand Canyon of Georgia looks amazingly like the Grand Canyon in Arizona on a smaller scale.  The canyons enticed us to new discoveries around each corner.  Sometimes the steep canyon walls hid how deep the canyon was, until suddenly it would open up and you could see people at the viewing spots on the rim.  The best place to see into the canyon from the rim was from the large picnic area / playground.

One of the interesting features is the old cars along the canyon rim trail.  They remained when the people moved out, and it would have done more damage to the park to remove them.  We also explored the Providence Methodist Church.  The canyon takes its name from this church which was founded in 1832.  The original church building fell into the canyon, but a new church built in 1859 still stands and is open to the public.

The rare Plumleaf Azalea grows only in this region and blooms during July and August when most azaleas have lost their color. The canyon soil’s pink, orange, red and purple hues make a beautiful natural painting at this quiet park.

Visitors can enjoy views of the canyons from the rim trail, taking care to stay behind fences and off the fragile canyon edge.  There are fewer clear overlooks as the vegetation grows around the edges and trees block the view.  This growth is essential to stabilize the erosion.  The best views are definitely from down in the canyons.  Backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail which highlights portions of the canyon and winds through mixed forest.

Camping, cottages and efficiency units are available nearby at Florence Marina State Park on 45,000-acre Lake Walter F. George.  Hotels are available in Columbus, Georgia.  If you go, you might want to check out a 4 Way BBQ in nearby Lumpkin.  Tom and I thought it looked like the perfect place for lunch, but it is only open Thursday through Saturday.

Providence Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Georgia, is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.  It is beautiful, uncrowded and fun to explore.