A Last Day of Firsts

Panola Mountain Restricted Area Sign
Entrance to restricted area at Panola Mountain.
I wanted to participate in a First Hike this year—that's where you get out and hike on the 1st of January. I thought it would be interesting to hike somewhere that I've never been and maybe somewhere that isn't as accessible as the regular hiking trails.

I had studied the Georgia State Park website to see which parks were participating. Obviously, I could hike at any state park, but I wanted to be part of a planned hike. There were several hikes through the Atlanta Outdoor Club, but those hikes get filled up really quickly, and I like to wait and see what the weather is going to do before finalizing my plans.

Moss and lichen on granite
Moss and lichen growing on the granite.
Panola Mountain State Park, in Stockbridge, Georgia, is only about 38 miles from my house, but in Atlanta that's almost an hour, so it was important to know what the weather would do ahead of time—especially since reservations were required. I was watching the weather, and it kept changing, which is par for the course in Georgia. But once the prediction for the 1st became 90% rain all day, I figured I would be staying home.

Then I decided I'd switch it up a bit and plan a Last Hike. You guessed it—hike on the last day of the year. I decided to stick with Panola Mountain because you can't actually hike the mountain without a guide, thus it's less accessible. Their current calendar indicates that they have guided hikes every Saturday and Sunday, but I had my heart set on going there this weekend.

Rock sculpture on Panola Mountain
Hmmm, wonder who built this rock sculpture.
There was only a small chance of rain on the 31st, and it was supposed to be well after the hike would end, so I decided to go for it. I called and made my reservation—paid for both parking and the guided hike—and gathered everything I would need to be on my way. I couldn't believe it, as I was driving down the street, it started raining, but I pressed on.

Lithonia is on the other side of Atlanta, so a good chance the weather would be different. After I arrived at the park, and went into the Nature Center to retrieve my parking pass and to check in for the hike, it started raining. I really thought they would cancel the hike, but it was a light rain, and I think they thought it would stop soon.

Yuccas on Panola Mountain
Yuccas growing on top of the mountain surprised me the most.
One of the other participants said they were going to get their umbrella out of their car. I said, "Good idea," and proceeded to get mine, too. It's a little hard to hike through the forest holding an umbrella, but I would have been soaked head to toe if I hadn't. Unfortunately, I also chose to leave my camera in the car.

It was such a gray, dreary day, and I do love bright, colorful landscapes, but when we got to the top of the mountain, WOW, so beautiful! There is so much moss and lichen, and it covers so much of the granite that you have to almost tiptoe. They ask that you do your best not to step on any of it, so photo composition is challenging.

Pavilion at Panola Mountain
Lovely, mossy pavilion next to the lake.
The entire hike was almost three hours, and I think it rained for about two of those. Finally, I was able to close the umbrella and get my cell phone out. My cell phone camera doesn't have the pixels that my real camera does, and without a viewfinder, I just can't see the screen well enough, but I did manage to get a few shots to share with you.

Panola Mountain is a National Heritage Area, and you can actually be arrested and fined if you hike in the restricted part of the park without being on a guided hike. I can't wait to go back during the spring when the Dramatic Diamorpha (a rare plant) turns red and sprouts little white flowers. It should be beautiful!

S'mores anyone? Yes, they have nighttime activities, too.
So, as the title says, it was a last day of firsts. I hiked for the first time at Panola Mountain, I hiked for the first time in the rain, and for the first time I'm sharing photos taken with a cell phone camera. I think I learned that maybe I don't need to worry quite as much about the weather when making plans, but I do need to get a suitable raincoat so I can leave the umbrella behind.

Did you go on a First Hike?
Have you been to Panola Mountain?

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  1. This place looks amazing. I'm definitely adding it to my list. Thanks for telling us about it.

  2. You are welcome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.