Scouting Report – Panola Mountain State Park

Panola Mountain State Park is located fifteen minutes south of Atlanta, Georgia.  I have driven by the entrance to the park several times and have wanted to check it out.  Here is the link to the park’s website:  Panola Mountain State Park.  It was my hope to find a scenic mountain at which I could get some great nature and landscape photos.  Instead, I found a great place to hike. I wouldn’t call PMSP “scenic.”  Interesting?  Yes.

I did some online planning to make sure I didn’t waste my time. There are two trails that originate at the nature/welcome center – the Rock Outcrop Trail and the Watershed Trail.

Panola State Park Welcome/Nature Center

I planned to hit those first, but I stopped by the Nature Center to pay for my parking (only $5) and looked around the gift shop.  Inside I found some static nature displays and several live, non-venomous snakes inside glass habitats. I spoke with the Park Ranger on duty about the guided hikes.  The only way to hike the actual mountain is on a guided hike with a Ranger. They only host one guided hike per month, and, as luck would have it, today is the next hike!  So, I signed up and paid $15 for guided hike. It will be an evening hike, so I verified whether I could take photos. Photographer gear is allowed, but the Ranger made it clear that metal spikes on tripods or walking sticks are not permitted.  I’m good-to-go on both.

I moved out to check out the Rock Outcrop Trail and Watershed trail.  The Rock Outcrop Trail is only 3/4 of a mile and is marked with white paint on trees and wooden markers.  This trail takes you on a loop and at its apex takes you to an overlook of a granite outcropping. This might be a decent spot from some wide-angle, golden-hour landscape photography. On the eastern side of the loop, there are landscape timbers built to provide easier stepping to climb the hill.

The Rock Outcropping Trail

The Watershed Trail is marked in red and is a little over a mile in length.

Water Shed Trail Marker

These trails are easy beginner trails with the Water Shed Trail having about a forty-foot elevation change over a couple hundred yards.

After these two, I went back to the nature center and spoke to the Ranger.  I was excited about hiking out to Alexander Lake to take scout the wooden walkway across the Lake.  I needed specific directions to the trail head.  I was disappointed when she informed me that the lake had been drained to repair the dam. The repair is not scheduled to be completed for another eighteen months.  Thus, the far end of the Alexander Lake Loop Trail is closed for the repairs.  I wanted to scout the area, so I set out anyway.

It took about 1.25 hours to hike the trail to the far end of the Alexander Loop Trail.  The trail is a concrete path on which bikes can be ridden safely. The park provides great signage with distances, elevations, and directions.

Alexander Lake Trail

The park staff cut a nice shoulder on which to hike if you prefer not to walk on the concrete.

About halfway to the lake, an overlook has been built on Panola Mountain.

Panola Mountain Overlook Path. I can see a great black and white photo here.
Panola Mountain Overlook.

Continuing the hike, I finally arrived at Alexander Lake. It has a wonderful S-shaped walkway. I was truly disappointed that I will not be able to photograph the lake from the walkway for a while.

Alexander Lake Walkway.
Alexander Lake Walkway

Unfortunately, this is the only water I saw – a stream winding under the bridge.

What’s left of Alexander Lake.

I am glad I went ahead and scouted the lake.  When it is full again, I would like to return to shoot the lake from the walkway. I will need, however, to get there a different way in order to be able to shoot it during the “blue hour” or “golden hour.”  Instead of parking at the Nature Center, I will have to park in the parking lot by the Parker House on Flat Bridge Road. Overall, I hiked 11.2 miles around the park.


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