Thursday, February 13, 2014

Providence Canyon State Park- Georgia

Red sand is everywhere throughout the south, but rarely do you get the chance to see sand as interesting as it appears in Providence Canyon State Park in Georgia. Here the sand has been eroded into beautiful canyons and cliffs. Water flows through the canyons allowing trees and other vegetation to grow. Perhaps the most interesting part of the park is the fact that the canyons were created less than 200 years ago through erosion from poor farming techniques.
Location:  About 40 miles south of Columbus, Georgia.  100 miles east of Montgomery, Alabama

Cost: $5.00 for parking

Operating Seasons and Hours: Open daily, generally from dawn to dusk.  The Visitor Center is only open on Saturdays and Sundays during the months of September, October, November, March, April, and May.  Visitor Center hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Official Website:

Date of Visit: Thursday, December 13, 2012

Brandon went to Army Basic Training in the fall of 2012.  I stayed in Utah with our three kids who were all under the age of two.  We're still not sure which one of us had more demanding bosses during that time.  He had to answer to Drill Sergeants, but I had toddlers on my hands.  

My reward for surviving the three and a half months that he was away was a kid-free trip to his graduation at Fort Benning, Georgia.  After the graduation ceremony he was given a 3 day pass away from the barracks.  He and I set out to do some sight-seeing.

Here's a little vacation secret for all of you: Stop at the Welcome/Visitors Centers. You can get free road maps and brochures just by taking a few minutes to go inside a Welcome Center. We went inside the one in Columbus, Georgia and found out about something known as Georgia's "Little Grand Canyon" or Providence Canyon State Park.  The canyon was less than an hour away so we decided to drive there.

The drive from Columbus to Providence Canyon was uneventful. The road was lined with pine trees on either side.  I later heard it described as a "pine-tree tunnel."
We followed our map to the state park.  It's the type of place where you pay by just putting money in an envelope, and then drop in it a payment box.  We paid our money at the pay station.  We could have parked there and walked over to the rim of the canyon, but we were interested in hiking down to the canyon floor.  The trail to the bottom of the canyon was behind the Visitor Center.  So we drove about a mile to the Visitor Center and parked there.  The trail down to the bottom wasn't very long.  We reached the bottom in probably less than 10 minutes.  The trail only switch-backed once or twice.
Providence Canyon didn't exit 150 years ago. That's pretty amazing when you consider that the red rock canyons that I am familiar with in my home state of Utah were all formed over millions of years.  Those canyons were slowly carved by rivers, and wind.  In contrast, this canyon was formed by poor farming practices in the 1800s.  
Back then farmers cleared all the trees from the land in order to make room to plant crops like cotton.  The roots of the trees had helped protect the soil from erosion.  Farmers also plowed up and down hills instead of across the hills.  This caused gullies to form when rain water ran down the furrowed soil.  Without any vegetation it didn't take long for the water to eat away at the top layer of soil which was made of clay.  The sediment under the clay was made up of sand and so eroded easily into canyons.        
There is still a lot of water flowing through the park.  In many areas the trail was covered by a little stream.  We had to carefully step around the muddy water.
The water was really interesting looking.  There was a opalescent layer on top of the water.  I don't know what caused it, but I imagine there was some sort of oil leaching out of the soil.

Providence Canyon State Park is composed of 9 small canyons.  We got there in the late afternoon and so we only had time to explore canyons 1, 2, and 3.  The area reminded us of the many places we have explored in Utah.  This was different though, because there was a lot more vegetation than we were used to seeing.
We wanted to see into the canyon from the rim so we hiked back up the trail to the Visitor Center.  Then we drove back to one of the small parking areas near the rim.  The view was spectacular.  
Even if you don't hike down into the canyon the view from the rim alone will make this place worth the trip.

Recommendation: Great place to see awesome red rock scenery in the Southern part of the United States.

Directions: Take Georgia Highway 27 south from Columbus or north from Eufaula to Lumpkin.  Turn west on 39C.  You will see the entrance to the park on your left after 7 miles.  Turn onto Canyon Road at the entrance.  There will be a place to pay your parking fee and to pick up a map. You can either park there or continue driving to the picnic area/canyon overlook.  The Visitor Center is about a mile up the road at the north end of the park.
I think it is interesting that the colors of the canyon walls show up on this Google Maps image.
View Larger Map

Places Nearby: Camping, cottages and efficiency units are available 9 miles away at Florence Marina State Park on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

Additional Information: While I was researching the causes of erosion in the canyon, I came across this article from that uses Providence Canyon as an example of quick geological activity.  I don't really agree with the authors' opinion on the matter, but it is a very informative description of the facts of how the canyon formed.  Read the article here: 

Revisit: A few years later Brandon and I ended up living just a few hours away from Providence Canyon State Park.  We decided to take our kids to visit the park.  Read about that here.


  1. Awesome, thanks! I thought of you on my road trip to New York. I thought I should have read up on your travel tips again before I left :) We did okay, though.

    1. I think you will really like it. I think I'll have to ask you for road-trip advise this year. I'm planning a trip back to Utah and I'm debating whether it would even be possible to do it without a co-driver. Bathroom breaks are what worry me the most.


I would love to hear what you think. Did I get it right, or was I dead wrong? What was your experience like?


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