Welcome to the Little Grand Canyon! One of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia!
The canyon wasn’t formed like the Grand Canyon. No, it was formed by something that is sometimes much more powerful than nature. What could that possibly be? You find this creature nearly every day, it walks on two legs and sometimes can be thought of as locust, swarming the earth and leaving swaths of destruction in its place. That’s right, humans.
The canyon started forming in the early 1800’s as the result of poor soil-management practices. Bad farming practices were apparently the skill set of particular humans here. Before the canyon, the land was covered by forest and run by the Creek Indians. The non-farming farmers cleared the land so that it could be badly farmed. Then they took absolutely zero measures to avoid soil erosion. In 1850, according to accounts, ditches three to five feet had been cut into the land and with runoff, the erosion rate increased.
Now there are sixteen canyons, some as deep as 150 feet that make up the 1,109 acre park. The erosion exposed geologic record of the area of several million years which is why the colors range from stark whites, pink, purples, reds, yellow and black. Which is pretty cool, so lose one point for humans, gain one point for accidental awesome.
The four major geologic formations are separated by the following: Baker Hill, Clayton, Providence and Ripley. Baker is the youngest and was deposited about 62 million years ago during the Paleogene period. Now, you can’t see the that formation because it’s at the very top of it and the center actually rests upon it. Clayton was 65 million years ago, yes, after the dinosaurs. It’s that red color you see in the canyon which is caused by iron oxide. Providence is the sand-like parts of the canyon you see. That was formed during the Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago. The Ripley formation is basically the canyon floor, about 74 million years ago. It’s the orange color you see around the floor.
Providence is continually eroding but due to the pine trees and vegetation that have flourished at the floor of the canyon, erosion has slowed down vertically. Lateral erosion continues though, and pinnacles can disappear altogether during heavy rains. Which is why YOU NEED TO STAY ON THE TRAILS! Climbing around in areas you aren’t supposed to go isn’t adventurous, you’re just adding to the erosion and that’s just sad. So don’t add to the human mistake at Providence!
I recommend the loop trail which takes you to the many of the canyons on the floor and then up through the woods. In the woods you pass old homesteads and cars that have been left there because nature has adopted them as ecological systems. Then as you round back to the center you get many beautiful views of this mistake of awesomeness.
I also recommend signing up for the Canyon Climbers Club! It’s $10 and if you get Providence Canyon, Amicalola, Tallulah Gorge and Cloudland Canyon checked off, you get a free t-shirt! Well, a $10 t-shirt 😉
Click here for the Canyon Climbers
There is also a back-country trail that is about 7 miles. Contrary to what some websites say, the rangers confirmed with me last week that you no longer need a permit to hike that trail. Also, make sure you visit on a cooler day, as you might suspect the heat creates a sauna on the canyon floor.
Another thing to be aware of is when the center is open. The park is open daily but the center is only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from September 1 – November 30th and March 1 – July 7th. During those times you can get your canyon climbers checked off or signed up with them directly. On the other times, you’ll need to go to the Florence Marina State Park which is down the road from Providence Canyon. Click here for the state park site for Providence. Also keep in the mind, it takes about 2.5 hours from the North Metro area and you will also have a time change in different areas of the park.