Weekend Get Away Planner for: Don Carter State Park, Gainesville, Georgia
Lake Lanier is a 38,000-acre reservoir that wanders into forests and neighborhoods in the upper reaches of Gainesville, Georgia. On the northern end, in a stretch of the lake that joins up with the Chattahoochee River, 1,300-acre Don Carter State Park hugs the lake shore.
The Park is the newest in the Georgia State Park system and offers a great base for family fun on the lake. With hiking and kayaking trails, campgrounds and cottages, the Park accommodates guests with modern conveniences and stunning views.
On our visit, we enjoyed hiking from the ranger station to the beach. It was an easy hike on a natural surface trail through hardwood forest and over a small creek. The beach area is quite nice with a wide swath of sand, playground area, picnic pavilions, a kayak launch, and floating docks. They even had several porch swings situated on the sidewalks above the beach. We sat there for a while soaking up the sun and enjoying the breeze off the lake.
Even though the park rents kayaks, we were excited to put in our own inflatable kayaks from the sandy beach and get on the water. Lake Lanier is pretty large, so a paddle around the cove is a good start before venturing out into open water. There are several kayak trails and though one leads downstream and the other upstream there is no real current to paddle with or against - it's just a nice paddle!
Where to Stay
The Park offers 8 furnished cottages on the lake. Each has two bedrooms and several have decks that overlook the lake. For those with more rustic tastes, there are 41 sites for tents and RVs in the well-equipped campground as well as 12 additional pioneer campsites for the hardiest campers. For those wanting a hotel, nearby Gainesville has a multitude of budget-friendly hotel accommodations within a thirty-minute drive of the park.
Activities in the Park
The Georgia Park System is well-versed in family activities and, at Don Carter, the rangers can offer a variety of programs to satisfy young adventurers. Check the Park's online calendar for events like the guided "Night Paddle" or stargazing or hiking one of the many trails with a guide.
Hiking: The Park currently offers 4 miles of multi-use trails. Three trails are paved and one is a natural surface trail. All are one mile or less in length. When we talked with the rangers they told us about a new 14-mile stretch of hiking trails that are coming online in the near future.
Kayaking: If you like to kayak, then the 8-miles of kayaking trails are a wonderful way to see the shoreline. You can venture into the open water or take an easy paddle upstream to view the rocky bluffs of the northernmost reaches of the lake. The Dogwood Creek Trail is rated as an easy one-mile loop around a cove. The Flat Creek Island Trail is a more difficult 3-mile trail that leads upstream to the northernmost island in the lake. The Whale Tail Trail is rated as a more difficult 2-mile trail downstream and across open water. The Lost Cove Loop is a 2-mile moderate level paddle that crosses the main channel of the Chattahoochee River and meanders into a tributary cove.
For the Family: A playground and sandy beach make the day for the kids, with a picnic pavilion and porch swings for the whole family. The beach area also hosts a boat launch and dock as well as kayak rentals. Of course, Lake Lanier hosts a multitude of activities around its marinas., while Lake Lanier Islands amusement park is always a hit with the kids.
If you are camping, food is already taken care of! But if you are a day-tripper or just want an evening in-town, nearby Gainesville offers a variety of restaurants. From a Mellow Mushroom housed in Victorian charm to fine dining at Luna's on Main street. Or try the rustic ambiance of 2-Dog with its locally-sourced ingredients.
Don't forget to bring:
- inflatable kayaks (or rent a kayak at the park)
- stuff for s'mores
- telescope for stargazing
- camera for capturing the moment (or use your cell phone!)
- sneakers or hiking shoes and trekking poles
- fishing pole and fishing license
We renewed our annual park pass while we were visiting the Don Carter ranger station. It is a terrific value since we visit so many state parks to hike, kayak, and camp. The Georgia State Park pass is a great value at $50 per year. Good across the state at all State Parks, the pass allows entry without a parking fee. Pass sales fund renovations, trail work, dock replacements as well as other needs to keep the parks ready for visitors. If you like to camp, hike, kayak, explore the forests in Georgia or enjoy touring its many historic parks, this pass is a no-brainer!