Summer travel: Experience Georgia, region’s hidden gems without big crowds

Did COVID-19 cancel all of your travel plans over the last year? Looking to travel now but not sure where? Want to go somewhere fun but avoid big crowds?

Summer travel is here. Between canceled trips, vaccinations and the kids on summer break, many people will hit the road this summer for some time away.

Many of the state and region’s most popular places will be packed. But if you’re looking for something a little more quiet, check out some of these options.

Visit one of Georgia’s state parks. With nearly 50 parks scattered across the state, travelers are bound to find one that offers something fun for the family.

“People are tired of being at home,” Unicoi State Park and Lodge general manager Bill Mish told WSBTV.com’s Nelson Hicks. “They want to get out into nature. They want to get on the trails. They want to get on the water and go fishing. There are some beautiful trout in our creeks and our lake. So getting back to nature is just critical at this time.”

Unicoi State Park in Helen offers many activities including kayaking, archery and zip lining.

“It is beautiful sites, a wonderful feeling of being able to fly across the lines without being restricted maybe like a roller coaster. You feel a lot more free into the air,” Unicoi Zipline Tour guide Tristan Carroll said. “It’s exhilarating because you get a lot of those speeds and you’re high up into the trees.”

State parks offer great hikes, scenic waterfalls and affordable lodging — all without huge crowds.

Looking for a little time on the beach? St. Simons Island and Tybee Island always prove to be popular spots during the summer, but how about something a little different? Check out Little St. Simons Island.

“Because we have these really untouched habitats and ecosystems here at Little St. Simons, we’re able to support a really diverse assemblage of animals and plants,” Scott Coleman, from Little St. Simons, said. “So it’s just this really unique combination that separates Little St. Simons apart from places across the southeast.

Little St. Simons includes 10,000 intrusion-free acres of maritime forests and marshlands and 7 miles of shell-strewn beaches. Only a handful of people can stay on the island each night.

Outdoor adventures, great food and plenty of private time await on a visit.

Lake Oconee offers another option. There’s golf, kayaking, hammocks, swings and jet skis in and around the 19,000-acre lake at the Ritz Carlton Reynolds-Lake Oconee.

“Lake Oconee is really just a pure destination lake resort that is really unparalleled anywhere in this region,” Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee general manager Ralph Vick said.

“(We have) 6 1/2 golf courses, fantastic golf courses,” Mike Scully, from Reynolds Lake Oconee, said. “(We have a) Jack Nicklaus-designed (golf course), Rees Jones-designed, Tom Fazio, Bob Cupp, Jim Engh, we touch all the bases there. Obviously with the lake life that we have here at Reynolds, with boating access, fishing. We have the ability to go out, you can go out shoot guns (and) you can shoot bow and arrow. We check all the boxes.”

If a theme park adventure sits atop your to-do list, leave the long lines behind and head to Discovery Cove in Orlando. There, you’ll smooch dolphins, swim with stingrays and snorkel with thousands of fish.

Discovery Cove caps the number of guests each day, so even in the middle of peak season, everyone has room to explore. Meals, snacks, drinks and adult beverages are all included.

If you decide to travel this summer, have a safe trip and an awesome adventure.