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Best Holiday Celebrations at US Theme Parks

By BT Editor
November 21, 2022
Dollywood Showstreet
Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas - Courtesy of dollywood.com

Smoky Mountain Christmas at Dollywood

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee - Nov. 5 - Jan 1, 2023

With several new lighting displays across its 160 acres, Dollywood theme parkthe 14-time winner for Best Theme Park Christmas Eventnow boasts more than 6 million shining, shimmering lights as part of the popular Smoky Mountain Christmas presented by Humana.

"I believe each season in the Smokies is a precious gift from above, but I also know there is no better time than Christmas to experience the magic of this special place,” Dolly Parton explained. Christmas is a time for new memories to be created, cherished family traditions to be celebrated and the love of the holidays to warm us all.”

Guests will find hundreds of lighted trees throughout the park this year, as well as more new décor elements and eight different light zones to provide each area of Dollywood its own unique look and feel. Glacier Ridge fills Dollywood’s Timber Canyon, Wildwood Grove, Wilderness Pass and Upper Craftsman’sValley with an expansive arctic experience sure to inspire and delight guests. Wilderness Pass serves as one of the highlights of Glacier Ridge thanks to the Wonderful Christmas! Plaza Tree Show, which features a 50-ft. tall animated tree sparkling to life to present a fully-synchronized, dazzling light show throughout the evening. Each show is capped by an immersive snow finale!

Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas
Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Christmas - Courtesy of dollywood.com

Additionally, Dollywood features indoor and outdoor stages with special shows. The festival’s headliner, “Christmas in the Smokies,” has been a must-see for families every Christmas season since it began in 1990. Many other Dollywood Christmas classics return including “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “O’ Holy Night,” “Christmas with the Kingdom Heirs,” “Heart of the Holidays,” “Candlelight Carolers,” “The Mistletones,” “Appalachian Christmas with the Smoky Mountain String Band,” “Holiday Wild Roots” and more.

Returning this year on Friday and Saturday evenings is the “Merry & Bright!” fireworks display, which provides a sparkling ending to the day. And for those looking to celebrate the holidays with the perfect family meal, Dollywood’s team of chefs have a menu full of culinary surprises sure to delight. From herb-roasted turkey breast and citrus-glazed carved ham to chicken pot pie in a bread cone, there are a number of savory items to satisfy every appetite. A number of unique items abound including eggnog cupcakes, gingerbread-dusted funnel cake, holiday limeade and more.

An Olde Time Christmas at Silver Dollar City

Christmas lights in Silver Dollar City
Christmas lights in Silver Dollar City - Courtesy of silverdollarcity.com

Branson, Missouri - Nov. 5 - Dec. 30

Bright lights line streets, buildings, pathways and trees during Silver Dollar City's An Old Time Christmas. This season marks the debut of a new production show Coming Home For Christmas, along with over 6.5 million lights, an elaborate 8-story animated Christmas tree, a light parade, holiday foods and more.

Throughout the streets of The City carolers sing and stroll, while the centerpiece of Joy On Town Square, an 8-story Christmas tree, and surrounding lights glow spectacularly. Even brighter is Christmas in Midtown with its remarkable display of light tunnels, wreath portals, flying angels and special effects 9-stories tall. For thrill seekers, rides soar under the Ozark Mountain starlight with all the Christmas lights visible below. Plus, craftsman in the Christmas spirit demonstrate glass-blowing wood carving and pottery, creating one-of-a-kind heirlooms.

The City's stages offer more than 30 shows each day and night including the longtime favorite production, A Dickens' Christmas Carol. The all new show, Coming Home for Christmas, features a live band and a cast of 14 singers and dancers presenting holiday music, stories and family traditions. Other productions include The Living Nativity and the Saloon Frontier Fa-La-La Follies. Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade winds through The City each evening with lighted floats, characters, dancers and performers.

To add to the festivities, menus offer a variety of seasonal treats such as a Holiday Dinner with smoked turkey, ham, prime rib and trimmings; specialty soups like potato leek; Silver Dollar City's Miner's Beef Stew; plus, a variety of sweets such as hot chocolate and wassail, s'mores or warm apple dumplings with homemade cinnamon ice cream. Tasting Passports let guests sample their way through The City.

WinterFest at Kings Island

WinterFest Wonderland Parade at Kings Island
WinterFest Wonderland Parade at Kings Island - Courtesy of visitkingsisland.com

Mason, Ohio - Nov. 25 - Dec. 31

WinterFest is an unforgettable holiday experience where Kings Island transforms into 11 enchanting winter wonderlands. Voted in 2021 as one of the top Theme Park Holiday Events in the country by USA TODAY readers, the annual event features ice skating on the Royal Fountain, the Eiffel Tower turned into a magical Christmas tree, the WinterFest Wonderland Parade, more than five million lights and live entertainment throughout the park. Plus, experience up to 20 rides including Mystic Timbers and Kings Mills Antique Autos. Cincinnati’s premier holiday event is open select nights in November and December.

Guests will be treated to a grandiose showcase of dazzling displays and extravagantly decorated floats with the WinterFest Wonderland Parade filled with classic holiday themes such as toy boxes, gingerbread houses, choo-choo trains, and more. This year, special live entertainment acts include the all-new Swingin’ Into Christmas, plus Tinker’s Toy Factory, Jingle Jazz, Cool Yule Christmas and so much more. Visitors can participate in holiday fun like skating on Snow Flake Lake, decorating cookies with Mrs. Claus and getting a family photo with the big man in red himself!

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens Williamsburg - Courtesy of buschgardens.com

Williamsburg, Virginia - Nov. 11 - Jan 8, 2023

The World’s Most Beautiful Theme Park is once again transformed with over ten million twinkling lights, one of the largest holiday displays in North America. Enjoy heart-warming holiday shows and classics such as Santa’s Workshop, the Christmas Town Express and ‘Twas that Night ice skating show. Over 20 rides and coasters pair thrilling moments with holiday cheer.

During "Santa’s Fireside Feast" presented by Coca-Cola, guests gather around the majestic castle as Santa recounts a classic Christmas story while elves prepare a scrumptious all-you-care-to-eat meal and Mrs. Claus dazzles the dining room with holiday cheer. Visitors can also find a number of seasonal characters in the park's different sections, which are themed after various countries. In England's Kidsington Palace, families can snap a photo with Father Christmas and enjoy a drink in front of the fireplace. In Festa Italia, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Clarice can be found in Rudolph's Winter Wonderland, while Frosty the Snowman & Gingy the Gingerbread Man can be found in France.

Families are invited to participate in an all-new holiday scavenger hunt celebrating traditions around the world including Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Pick up a clue sheet in England to identify holiday symbols throughout the park and redeem a sweet treat at Emporium once all have been found. Throughout the park, festive treats, holiday shopping and special photo opportunities complete this holiday tradition for friends and families.

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens

Christmas on Ice
Christmas on Ice - Courtesy of buschgardens.com

Tampa, Florida - Nov. 14 - Jan. 9, 2023

Just like its Virginia counterpart, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay puts on its own spectacular Christmas festival. Visitors can experience the joy of the season up close with animal encounters, thrilling rides, holiday inspired culinary delights and festive shows.

The park's longest running classic holiday show, Christmas on Ice, returns this year to the Moroccan Palace Theater. This inspiring skating production transforms the stage with incredible feats of skating athleticism for a truly unmissable show set to holiday classic songs. At night, enjoy classic holiday tunes and watch festive bursts of Christmas colors as they cover the sky in a dazzling fireworks and fountain display (offered on the Festival Field every Saturday and select nights of the event).

Visitors can ride the Holly Jolly Express and celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with favorite songs of the season and wild views of Busch Gardens' 65-acre veldt, home to giraffes, rhinos, zebras and more. In the Pantopia section, Rudolph's Winter Wonderland features the famous reindeer and all his friends. And, in Santa's North Pole Experience, jolly elves guide guests to see Santa in his workshop as he prepares for the holiday season. Great for Christmas photo opportunities, this fun and festive activity is perfect for making memories with your family and friends. Other memorable shows include Storytime with Mrs. Claus, Three Kings Journey, and Elmo's Christmas Wish.

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom's Main Street at Walt Disney World
Magic Kingdom's Main Street at Walt Disney World - Courtesy of wdwnt.com

Orlando, Florida - Nov. 8 - Dec. 22

Holiday cheer will fill the Magic Kingdom as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party returns this year on 24 select nights in November and December. A 65-foot-tall Christmas tree, adorned with dazzling lights and ornaments, welcomes guests to the park where they’ll discover favorite attractions featuring special holiday overlays, Disney characters dressed in the spirit of the season and seasonal entertainment, seasonal nighttime spectaculars, transformations of favorite attractions, special food and beverages and more.

All the standard entertainment is back this year. First off, Mickey Mouse and his pals appear on the Cinderella Castle stage for the fifth year of the Christmas extravaganza “Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.” The show features singers, dancers and surprises all choreographed to nostalgic and modern medleys of holiday music. And every night, Minnie Mouse orchestrates a sparkling nighttime spectacular with dazzling fireworks, castle projections and seasonal songs in “Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks.” Of course, don’t miss Santa Claus as he joins Mickey Mouse and friends in the classic “Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.”

As well, partygoers can indulge in complimentary cookies and hot cocoa at locations throughout Magic Kingdom. Select Magic Kingdom attractions will get a jolly holiday overlay with Jungle Cruise transforming into Jingle Cruise once again, and special holiday makeovers of Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Speedway, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and Mad Tea Party returning for the first time since 2019! New sweet treats this year include Texas-sized Sweet Potato Pie with Marshmallow Meringue and Candied Pecans found at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café to go along with returning favorites like the Mickey-shaped Cinnamon Roll with White Icing and Holiday Sprinkles at Main Street Bakery.

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Inspiration

Top Historical Sites To Visit This Thanksgiving

Berkeley Plantation, Home of The First Thanksgiving While it is commonly accepted that New Englanders held the first Thanksgiving, many actually contend Thanksgiving in English-speaking America took place in Virginia, at Berkeley Plantation, more than a year before the Mayflower set sail for Plymouth. Records show that Captain John Woodlief led his crew and passengers from their ship to a grassy slope here along the James River for the New World's first Thanksgiving service. Once they disembarked, in accordance with rules laid out by their British company expedition sponsor, the English colonists knelt down and prayed. The date was December 4, 1619. Today on the site where Woodlief knelt, a gazebo contains the following words: "Wee ordaine that the day of our ships arrival at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." While the plantation holds an annual Thanksgiving Festival during the first week of November, visitors can tour this fascinating historic home in Charles City year round. American Indian Heritage Month at Colonial Williamsburg Colonial Williamsburg. Courtesy of colonialwilliamsburg.org. Throughout the month of November, Colonial Williamsburg features special programming to learn more about American Indians in 18th-century Williamsburg, where they were a regular and frequent presence. There were local "tributary" tribes, who were considered subjects of Great Britain by the 18th century, such as the Pamunkey, Mattoponi, and Chickahominy. And there were “foreign” Indian tribes who had a nation to nation relationship with Great Britain, such as the Shawnee and Cherokee, who would come to Williamsburg to discuss treaties with the Royal government of Virginia. These diverse native nations had an influence on American culture, democracy, and its struggle for independence. The explorations of these American Indian nations and their role in our collective story then and now is essential in understanding modern American life. At a special event on Thanksgiving Day, visitors can hear from President George Washington himself during a special reenactment event. Following a resolution of Congress on October 3, 1789, Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789, a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” In setting aside a day for Thanksgiving, Washington established a non-sectarian tone for these devotions. It stressed political, moral, and intellectual blessings that make self-government possible and personal and national repentance. History-lovers will also want to book a traditional Thanksgiving dinner at one of the historic taverns, such as Christiana Campbell's Tavern or the King's Arms. American's Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts Plymouth Thanksgiving parade. Courtesy of seeplymouth.com. Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the most visited places in New England, especially in the fall. Located where the Pilgrims first settled back in the 1600s, many of the town's historic sites have been wonderfully preserved or restored. Plymouth hosts several special holiday events during the weekend before and on Thanksgiving day. This year's festivities include a harvest market, historic village and living historians, children's activities and food trucks, Plymouth Philharmonic concert, as well as American's only historically-accurate chronological parade. On the day of Thanksgiving, the town puts on “Pilgrim Progress," a reenactment of the Pilgrims’ Sabbath procession to worship. Costumed participants representing survivors of the winter of 1621, assemble to the beat of a drum, proceed down North Street, along Water Street past Plymouth Rock, up Leyden Street to School Street where a short Pilgrim worship service is observed near the site of the original fort/meetinghouse. Psalms sung are taken from The Book of Psalms by Henry Ainsworth, used by the Pilgrims in Holland and in Plymouth. Passages read by “Elder Brewster” are from Governor Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation or other sources. After the service, the march continues through town on Main Street, ending at the Mayflower Society House via North Street. Then at noon, the National Day of Mourning March and Ceremonies are held at the Massosoit Statue. Since 1970, Native Americans and their supporters have marched to Plymouth’s Town Square and then gathered on Cole’s Hil. Organized by United American Indians of New England (UAINE), the march has brought about revisions in the depiction of United States history and government as well as settler relationships with Native American peoples. A day of remembrance and spiritual connection, the annual event is held to create a renewed appreciation for Native American culture, and to protest the treatment of American Indians.

InspirationBudget Travel Lists

Best Places to Go for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of America’s most beloved holidays, giving families a chance to share a meal together and reflect on all the things for which they are grateful. The first Thanksgiving dates back to Plymouth, MA in 1621, and each U.S. president declared a yearly celebration of the holiday until Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Thanksgiving into law permanently in 1941. But even though Thanksgiving is centered on family and gratefulness, it’s still become a highly commercialized holiday. That’s apparent from the fact that the next day is Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and a few days later is Cyber Monday, which brings scores of online deals. Last year, consumers spent a little over $300 per person during the five-day period between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Luckily, though, it doesn’t cost too much to make a Thanksgiving feast for your family – around $53 on average for 10 people. To help Americans find the best places to go for Thanksgiving without breaking the bank, WalletHub compared the 100 largest U.S. cities based on 20 key metrics. Their data set ranges from the cost of Thanksgiving dinner and share of delayed flights to volunteer opportunities per capita and forecasted precipitation. Check out our top 5: 5. Gilbert, AZ Downtown Gilbert - Istock/DenisTangneyJr Set in Arizona’s “Valley of the Sun” just a stone’s throw from Phoenix and the rocky San Tan Mountains, Gilbert is the biggest small town you’ll ever meet. Gilbert has a vibrant dining scene and offers something for even the most discerning palate. Patios abound and locally sourced ingredients deliver a uniquely Arizona flavor. Gilbert’s diverse and eclectic mix of retail shops and stores make for great discoveries for yourself or a friend. Meet the local makers and support their craft. There are a lot of prominent places to visit and things to do on Thanksgiving in Gilbert. If you are looking for places to eat then you should go for buffets and Thanksgiving dinners in Gilbert, they serve you a feast and make it a scrumptious celebration. Apart from dinners, you can explore some interesting and unique Thanksgiving events in Gilbert, one of the major and annual events definitely would be the Thanksgiving parade. Indulge in this mind blowing experience where there is food, fun and family. If you don’t want to go conventional then you can even opt for races, dinner cruise, yoga classes and more. Gilbert is packed with action from sports to the theater. Mural-clad brick walls, glowing benches, a solo gopher, waterways art, and a color-changing water tower are a few creations found in the Heritage District. Experience the local Broadway theater, historical museum, and gallery to feed your cultural side. 4. Raleigh, NC Downtown Raleigh - Istock/Mark Howard When it comes to food and drinks, the Raleigh area is home to some of the best-kept secret eateries dishing out and serving up some truly awesome experiences. Downtown Raleigh restaurants are offering dine-in or carry-out Turkey Day meals and treats, so there's no need to worry! Raleigh, the capital city of North Carolina, is one of the South’s most vibrant, eclectic cities – where eclectic meets traditional and historic meets modern. Centrally located along the USA's eastern coast, the city forms part of North Carolina’s famed Research Triangle, a wellspring of education, research and technical innovation. You’ll discover outstanding arts and culture (earning the city the nickname “Smithsonian of the South”), a renowned culinary landscape (including the James Beard Foundation's 2019 Best Chef in America, Ashley Christensen) and a music scene that inspired “Rolling Stone” to call Raleigh one of the top eight emerging music cities in the USA. If you get there early in the week (Nov 19th) be sure to check out Raleigh's best (and biggest) annual traditions—the ABC11 Raleigh Christmas Parade! An event truly made for the whole family. The Raleigh Christmas Parade, the largest such parade between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., marches through downtown Raleigh for more than two hours, drawing nearly 80,000 visitors to the streets to see marching bands, dancers, classic cars, superheroes and Santa Claus. 3. Las Vegas, NV Courtesy Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Bureau Las Vegas is a city that was made for entertainment, carved out of the Mojave Desert with escape in mind. Millions of people visit Las Vegas annually to relax, dine, shop, see performers, experience the nightlife and, of course, enjoy a go at the gaming tables. November is a prime time to visit Vegas, with perfect weather, lots to see and do, and some of the best Thanksgiving dining you could ever hope for. With an impressive collection of world-class restaurants — many from highly esteemed and decorated chefs — Vegas is one of the best cities in the world for dining. Experiencing the destination's dining scene on a holiday is even better, as special menus and seasonal items get added into the mix. Vegas also begins to celebrate the holiday season, so you’ll have the treat of seeing the Las Vegas Strip all lit up with holiday decorations. You can also enjoy the Music/Club Scene as the crowds will be smaller but the clubs will still be open – and usually with a lower cover price. 2. Orlando, FL Orlando Christmas Lights - Istock/Monisha Malli Sridharan If you’re spending Thanksgiving in Orlando, be prepared for a cornucopia of fun things to do. Whether you want to hit the theme parks, plan out your Black Friday shopping or find an amazing foodie feast. Thanksgiving in Orlando is an extravagant affair, with bountiful dining options around every corner. Buffets are a big thing for Thanksgiving, as are gourmet brunches, lavish lunches, and opulent dinner events. An array of restaurants at Disney World offer special menus over the Thanksgiving weekend. You’ll find turkey-inspired options at Disney Springs and across all 4 Disney parks. If you don’t fancy heading out you can stock up on fresh produce and cook a Thanksgiving dinner in the comfort of your vacation home. There are plenty of other entertainment options too, with special events, parties, and celebrations happening all over the city. Also, many department stores open late into the evening for the start of the door-busting Black Friday sales. You can also head over to Disney World for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party which features shows, parades, and special fireworks. Epcot’s Candlelight Processional also kicks off around Thanksgiving time. It features rousing music concerts, nightly fireworks, and a re-telling of the Christian nativity story by a line-up of celebrity narrators. 1. Atlanta, GA Atlanta Thanksgiving Marathon - Courtesy of atlantatrackclub.org Georgia has a diverse and abundant list of things to do any time of the year, but especially around the holidays. Shopping, thrills and festive light displays await you. Start a new Thanksgiving tradition with your family this year by lacing up your running shoes or simply watch from the sidelines at this annual, festive Thanksgiving Day half marathon and 5k. Don’t feel like cooking? Check out restaurants that serve delicious Thanksgiving dinners. After the turkey has been tackled and the food coma averted, it’s time to get out and enjoy all that Atlanta has to offer this holiday weekend. From iconic holiday events to music and more, the possibilities for fun are endless in Atlanta. To see additional rankings and methodology click here.

Inspiration

Spooky Stats for 2022

It’s the spookiest time of the year, when superstition runs rampant and treats always come with the potential for a trick. But like with anything else, the more you know about Halloween, the less scary it seems. Did you know, for example, that ringing doorbells and lighting candles are thought to ward away witches, ghosts and evil spirits? And how frightening can haunted houses really be when charities operate 80% of them? Even if you’re not prone to spooking, there’s always something interesting to learn about Halloween. For instance, 20% of people plan to put costumes on pets, and 86% of parents admit to stealing candy from their kids. And that’s just the beginning. To ease your fears and help you gain a new appreciation for this hallowed holiday, WalletHub explored a wide variety of facts about Halloween, analyzing the occasion from all angles. Istock/SolStock 10 Facts About Halloween for 2022: $10.6 Billion: Projected Halloween spending in 2022.$3.6 Billion: Halloween costume spending in 2022.$3.1 Billion: Halloween candy spending in 2022.34% of parents think 13 or 14 is old enough to trick-of-treat alone.67% of Americans plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.86% of parents admit to stealing candy from their kids.$5.82: Average retail price of a pumpkin (up 13% from 2021).$300+ Million: Annual revenue from ticket sales for haunted attractions, 80% of which are run by charities.$11 Million: Direct property damage caused by Halloween house fires each year.72% of Americans say they would consider purchasing a haunted house to live in (but less than half would pay full market value for it). For more Halloween facts or see the infographic click here!

Inspiration

Why you have to see Georgia's 'Little Grand Canyon'

A steady flow of water runs through the bottom of Georgia’s Providence Canyon, but unlike other canyons, that’s not what carved it out of the earth. Formed by enslaving plantation owners who improperly managed the land about 200 years ago, it’s now a state park with hiking and camping options. Known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,” it’s been a popular spot since Covid. If you’re in the southeast U.S., you don’t have to travel far to feel like you’re in the American West. Providence Canyon is a geological wonder of its own. Located about 150 miles southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama border, the canyon sits in one of Georgia’s least-populated counties. It’s named for the Providence Methodist Church, which was swallowed by the newly forming canyon gorges in the 1800s. A new church was constructed across the road after the chasms started to form. From observation decks near the parking lot, you can see the islands of remaining ground-level earth with a few pine trees that dramatically drop off into the canyons below. But to really experience Providence Canyon, you’ll want to take a hike along the canyon floor. Walking down into the gullies is like entering another world. After a short tree-lined descent, you’re on a flat plane looking up at the layered pink, yellow, and purple canyon walls. You’re now more than 100 feet below where you started. Istock/SeanPavonePhoto The ground has eroded away so much that it’s hit the water table, so rain or shine, there’s a stream of water pulling silty soil along the floor of the canyons. You’ll want to wear ankle-height hiking shoes and be prepared for that iconic Georgia clay dirt to get on your shoes, pants, and inexplicably other parts of your clothes or body where you didn’t expect to find it. From the main loop trail, you can fork out into individual paths to nine canyon walls. A backcountry trail through the shallow creek leads to the primitive campsites. The canyons were formed in the early 1800s, after the Muscogee (Creek) indigenous people were forced from their land and plantation farms growing cotton took over the area. The plantation model of agriculture, reliant on enslaved labor, didn’t take precautions to prevent erosion. They couldn't have been prepared for how quickly and dramatically the land would change. Year after year, the cotton and other crops washed away along with clay and topsoil every time it rained. Within 20 years, enough of the ground had sloughed away that gullies four feet deep had formed. This erosion continued over time, and the gullies are now as yawning as 150 feet deep and 350 feet wide. The canyons are still evolving today. Every year, rain and erosion wear away another two to five feet of land. Their sandy sides are fully exposed, so there’s not much the park staff can do to stop it from continuing to slough off. Most of the erosion these days is horizontal, widening the gullies: the canyon floor now has pine trees and other vegetation that keeps the soil from running off, and there’s not much deeper it could go. In the 1930s, the local paper in nearby Columbus, GA, started to make Providence Canyon a national park, hoping to bring tourists driving in to see “the natural wonder and beauty. . .instead of having it principally a discussion of erosion.” But despite the newspaper campaign emphasizing the “natural wonder,” its unnatural origins kept Providence Canyon off the national parks list. Georgia made it a state park in 1971, and it’s presented as the human-created formation that it is. Although Providence Canyon wasn’t naturally formed, it reveals parts of the natural world that are normally hidden. There are 43 different shades of sand that create sunset-like patterns along the canyon’s walls. The shades come from four base colors created by minerals in the soil. In addition to the classic red Georgia clay, which gets its pigmentation from iron, there’s white from kaolin, yellow from limonite, and purple from manganese. Istock/Jacqueline Nix Above the canyon walls, there are other unnatural features: walk up the loop trail and you’ll emerge to the ridgeline where a small collection of cars has been slowly reclaimed by nature. The cars date back to the ‘50s, and only the rusted-out bodies remain — no glass, no tires. Leaves cover the interior, and root structures grow in the tire wells. The park managers have determined that it would be more harmful to the wildlife to remove the cars than to leave them as they are, slowly becoming a part of their surroundings. The canyons are a reminder that everywhere on earth has been shaped by humans in one way or another. Whether by plantation farming practices or pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or moving plants from one continent to another, human life has completely altered the planet. Providence Canyon just makes that impact more visually obvious. It’s a state park for the Anthropocene, and a fantastic day trip.

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