Don Carter State Park was built in 2013, making it the newest state park in Georgia. The park is named after Don Carter, a real estate executive who served 29 years on the Board of Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Don Carter State Park is effectively the first state park on Lake Lanier. Lake Lanier is a 38,000-acre water source providing water activities for the whole family. The lake offers fishing, boating, swimming, and much more activities for the family to enjoy.
The park offers 1,318 acres of exploration and camping for different visitors. You can hike on over 12 miles of trails or take your kayak on one of the many water trails. The park offers year-round activities geared towards creating a better understanding of the natural resources within the park. There are 44 RV sites to choose from, and some of the RV sites provide water and electric hookups, as well as leveled pads for you to rest your camper.
Don Carter State Park places a heavy emphasis on providing different resources for water recreation and camping. You can rent a kayak, paddle board, or an aqua cycle, but only during peak season from early March to late November. Rentals are available from the camp store and you can also find other books and supplies at the park’s gift shop if you have time to take a look around. The park enjoys hot summers and relatively chilly winters, but if you are from Georgia, you won’t be surprised by the sudden change of temperature in the middle of any season. There’s so much to explore when you bring your RV to Don Carter State Park.
The park is about 10 miles off I-85. Be mindful of your commute, as being near a major city can cause traffic jams and other delays. Driving in and around Atlanta can take a lot of time and gas due to road closures and highway maintenance. On the other hand, this can mean that you are close to shopping malls and other retail outlets. Regardless of whether you drive through Atlanta or not, Gainesville has many attractions to offer.
The road leading into the park has a large gate that separates the main road from the park. You will see a clear sign pointing you in the direction of the main office. Since the park is new, the roads are well maintained and the signs are up to date. Once you are done checking in, you can choose the best spot for your RV. There are no assigned sites unless you choose to have one. A large gate also separates the campground from the main park area. If you plan on arriving later than anticipated, then you should definitely call ahead. A park host or ranger will meet you at the gate and check you in.
Due to the close proximity of the lake, there may be some flooding during the rainy season. The good news is that the park is at a higher elevation than some of its surrounding areas, so flooding is not a huge problem. In the rainy season, you can expect there to be a lot of puddles and the beach might be closed. Other than that, you can fully enjoy your stay. It is recommended that you bike or walk around the park while you are there. If you need assistance due to a disability the rangers and park hosts are happy to assist you at any time.
There are 44 sites available for RV camping. Half of the sites offer a view of the lake while the other half face away from the lake. Each lot is paved with either gravel or dirt and lies flat while also allowing for proper drainage for when it rains. There is a dump station near the campground and an area near each lot that allows the disposal of gray water.
Each site comes with water and electric hookups, but other amenities are also included, such as a fire ring, picnic table, patio, and a lantern post. Additionally, two host sites provide full hookups, which include water, electric, and sewer connections. If you need firewood, you can pick some up at the main office in the park or ask one of the rangers where you may find some. You are prohibited from bringing your own firewood and collecting any from the surrounding campsites.
Since this park is a bit newer than others, there is not a lot of privacy between you and your neighbor. Luckily, the park has taken the initiative to plant trees and shrubs between the sites for future visitors. The majority of the sites can fit a 45-foot trailer or RV, but the larger sites can fit up to a 100-foot trailer or RV. You are allowed to stay a maximum of 14 days at a time and may reserve a spot up to 13 months in advance.
If you are looking for a more rugged and natural camping experience or if the Hammock Campground is full, the Don Carter State Park has 12 primitive campsites. Nine of these are along the Woodland Trail and there are three on the Lakeview Trail, which is closer to the lake and just northwest of the main campground. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire pit with a grill for cooking, but there is no parking pad or place to park the RV except for the main parking lot nearby. You will have to walk to the campsite from there, which is about 270 to 1,230 feet depending on which site you choose. There are potable water spigots available and a pit toilet nearby.
If rugged and primitive is not your thing, the park also offers eight cottages located on the peninsula right on the lake. They are each furnished and have two bedrooms with a full bathroom, kitchen, and living room. If you have dogs, you will have to reserve a dog-friendly cottage well in advance and there is an additional pet fee. Only two dogs are allowed per cottage and they must not be left unattended at any time.
As a relatively new outdoor activity, geocaching is the world’s biggest treasure hunt. If you have not heard of geocaching, you should check it out. Anyone can do it and you do not need any training or special skills. You will not need to buy any uniforms or equipment. Just the thrill of finding something that someone else hid is worth the effort it takes to look for it.
So, what is geocaching? You are basically using a GPS (on your cell phone usually) to find a container that someone else hid. The waterproof container typically has a notebook and pen or pencil for you to write your name and date in to show that you found it. Sometimes there is a trinket like a small toy or item like a game piece for you to find. You can take it as long as you replace it with something of your own. Then, put the container back in the exact same place you found it. Don Carter State Park is one of the state parks that participate and even have contests where you can win money.
There are five different walking trails that you can choose from. Whether you want a more difficult trail or a scenic route, each trail will allow you to appreciate the beauty of the park. The Overlook Trail is just several hundred feet and is ADA-accessible. This trail is paved and offers a lovely view of the unique ferns and trees to the area. The trails are open year-round, and some may even offer a biking option. If you plan to walk one or more of the trails in a day, be sure to wear sunscreen and bring water. Pack your favorite pair of hiking boots and a snack in your camper for an exciting day on the trails.
The hiking trails offer a horseback riding option for those who want to bring their horses. There is a long list of what’s considered appropriate behavior for those who bring their own horse which should be followed at all times. Each horse must pass the appropriate tests and have up-to-date immunization records. Only two horses are allowed on each trail at a time. At no point should a horse be left unattended or in any location other than the stables, trails, or with their owner. An area is designated for those who bring their own horse and you may only ride your horse between the hours of dawn to dusk. Be considerate of others on the trails and maintain a slow pace while riding. You are required to clean the stall that your horse used prior to your departure.
Some state parks offer boat rentals, but Don Carter State Park does not. You may, however, find different businesses on the lake that not only offer boat rentals, but boat tours as well. Boating on the lake is followed by a few rules for your safety. Please remember to wear a life jacket and wear sunscreen while on the lake. Lake Lanier allows privately owned boats and rentals as long as you have the appropriate permits. The park also provides a launching dock right next to the cabins near Terrapin Cove Trail.
If you are looking for a nice leisurely ride through the park, you can check out the Woodland Trail Loop, which is completely paved and about one mile long. It starts at the gravel parking lot across from the beach. The paved Lakeview Loop is about a half-mile and starts at the parking lot as well. Veer to the right of the kiosk and turn right again for a fantastic workout or you can turn left for a shorter and easier ride. This trail takes you to a spur trail that meanders along to the boat ramp and fishing pier. You can combine this with the Woodland Loop for a 1.5-mile figure eight trail.
If you are interested in catching a few bass or crappies, then Lake Lanier is a great place to go fishing. The 38,000-acre lake offers an array of water activities. You will need a valid Georgia fishing license to go fishing in the freshwater lake. Keep in mind that there are three to four days each year when you are not required to have a fishing license. You will need to call the park for more information seeing how the dates change each year. Some of the common freshwater fish available at Lake Lanier are largemouth bass, striped bass, black crappie, and walleye. If you forgot to bring your fishing rod or tackle box in your camper, there are many stores in the area that offer fishing supplies. The park also comes equipped with a fish cleaning station to lighten the load when it comes to cleaning your catch. If you plan on going fishing, remember to wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water. Don Carter State Park offers pier, lakeshore, and boat fishing.
The park’s beach is in front of the picnic area. You will be charged a small fee to park there and swim. There is a beach house that you can use to change, and bathrooms nearby. The swimming area is roped off and no motorboats are allowed to operate within 10 miles of the swimming area. There may or may not be a lifeguard on duty depending on the day, so be extra cautious and keep an eye on your loved ones. Pets are not allowed on the beach, but you can take them on the trails as long as they are on their leash. Be sure to wear sunscreen, and pack water and some snacks if you plan to spend the day at the beach. There is a concession stand near the kayak rental area where you can buy food and drinks.
Don Carter State Park provides eight miles of water trails for you to explore. The most difficult trail is the Flat Creek Island Trail. You have to paddle upstream for three miles where you will discover the most northern island in Lake Lanier. The easiest trail is the Dog Creek Loop being only one mile long. If you do not have a kayak or paddle board, you can rent one from the concession stand near the beach. Each of the four trails offers their own unique features waiting to be explored. You can gain access to the trails near the Hammock Campground. If you plan to spend several hours on the trails, be sure to wear a life jacket and sunscreen. If you wish to take a break from paddling, you can go hang out on the beach and stop by the concession stand for a snack.