Hiking Providence Canyon State Park, Georgia’s ‘little Grand Canyon’
Hike Providence Canyon State Park, Georgia's 'Little Grand Canyon', through steep-sided, colorful canyons of carved sandstone in southwestern Georgia.
Reminiscent of a southwestern US landscape, Providence Canyon State Park’s colorful, sculpted canyon walls carve deep through a sandy, stream-filled landscape near Columbus, Georgia. Soft-bedded, sandy hiking trails wind and weave through vibrantly-colored carved canyons, exploring an ever-evolving landscape of loose sandstone and trickling water.
The park’s unusually sculpted, serpentine canyon walls have earned its nickname as Georgia’s ‘Little Grand Canyon’ – and though these canyons are dwarfed by the Arizona giant, this hike is a unique adventure unlike any other in Georgia.
Providence Canyon State Park offers over 10 miles of fantastic hiking trails, including the white-blazed Canyon Loop Trail that treks the canyon’s floor and rim and the red-blazed backcountry backpacking trail. This hike on the white-blazed Canyon Loop offers outstanding views of the sculpted sandstone canyon walls from above, and up-close views within the depths of the canyon. The trail winds through vibrant orange, white, pink and deep purple sandstone walls in nine numbered canyons before circling the rim. It’s a moderate hike, but majorly scenic and ultra photogenic.
Providence Canyon Loop Trail: the hike
The Canyon Loop Trail descends from the Providence Canyon State Park visitor center (view maps and driving directions), switching back through a shady forest. The trail reaches the canyon floor at .25 mile. The trail walks up a sandy riverbed, turning left to hike into canyons 1-5.
The hike follows stream beds on the canyon floor, a nearly-continuous flowing of water and sand between the canyon walls. Grain by grain, sand has flowed away from Providence Canyon’s walls, creating the spectacular rock formations and pinnacles that tower nearly vertically over the trail. Each canyon is unique, carved by water and exposing dramatic, flowing shapes of sandstone carved by continuously moving water.
Unlike the canyon’s exceptionally larger cousin in Arizona, Providence Canyon’s walls are formed of fragile, crumbling sandstone. The canyons were formed in the early 1800s, carved into sandstone that dates to 63 million to 70 million years ago. To preserve the fragile geology (and for safety), hikers should stay on blazed trails and off the canyon walls. And the sandy trail surface is often saturated with water, so a lightweight, waterproof hiking boot is a great choice to grab traction on the canyon’s wet, sandy trails.
After exploring canyons 1-5, the Providence Canyon Loop Trail backtracks to the main loop, hanging a left on the white-blazed trail and rolling elevation southbound through a shady forest. The hike reaches the park’s second canyon set, canyons 6-9, at 1.8 miles. The hike hangs a left, exploring the ever-more-dramatic shapes of canyons 6 and 7. The hike reaches the wide, open canyon 8 at 2.75 miles. It’s our by-far favorite for its towering, sinuous walls and defined pinnacles.
After exploring canyon 9, the hike backtracks to the main, white-blazed loop trail, turning left to climb out of the canyon into a predominantly pine forest. Reaching the canyon’s rim at 3.5 miles, the hike turns left at a trail junction, continuing to follow the white-blazed Canyon Loop Trail. The trail passes through an old homestead, the forest littered with rusted antique autos left to decay.
The Canyon Loop skirts the Providence Canyon Rim, catching views from sporadic overlooks along the trail. From these elevated vantage points, the canyon’s meandering, wavy walls and curvy architecture are even more dramatic.
The hike skirts the park’s road, passing the park’s picnic area, pavilions and playground. At 4.5 miles, the hike passes the historic Providence Methodist Church and cemetery on the opposite side of the road; for a quick stroll through history, cross here to explore the white, wood-clad church and time-weathered gravestones from the early to late 1800s.
Reaching the end of the Canyon Loop, the trail returns to the Providence Canyon State Park visitor center, completing the hike at 4.8 miles.