September 9, 2013

Black Rock Mountain and Tallulah Gorge State Parks, Tiger Drive In

Filed under: movies,travel — Frederick Noble @ 5:49 pm Share RSS

Honda recently started a contest as part of an effort to save America’s drive in movie theaters. I voted for the two Georgia drive ins on their list, then figured I’d back up my not-really-an-effort in clicking with some actual dollars and head up to Tiger, GA, to visit their drive in. Coincidentally, Georgia’s highest state park is just up the mountain so we decided to make a weekend of it.

Black Rock Mountain State Park features a nice campground atop a mountain with a glimpse of the valley below between the trees. A few years ago, a tornado knocked down some of the surrounding forest, making for gaps along some trails that allow for even  better views. But the best views are from the multiple overlooks they have built around the park, often aided by wooden decks jutting from the hillside. Here’s the view from the overlook a stone’s throw from our tent.

Black Rock Mountain State Park

Row upon row of purple mountains stretch off into the distance until they fade into the sky. We returned to this view time and time again, even lounging on the benches for an hour while reading.

fishGrilled rainbow trout from Your Dekalb Farmers Market, along with some peppers and okra, made for an excellent dinner.

We returned to the overlook, noticing a few lights twinkling down in the valley below. That particular view looks over mostly wooded areas, but there are a few private homes and a church down in the valley.

As high as the park is, the nights were actually chilly, even in early September. We huddled around the fire, drinking and relaxing. The camp was pretty quiet, thanks to the school year starting back. My only complaint is, as is often the case in public campgrounds, about RV’ers. I don’t understand why people go “camping,” then sit in the AC with the TV blaring. “South Carolina just scored a field goal!” Aluminum and fiberglass are flammable, right? Hmmm…

In the morning, it’s more grilled delights in the form of chorizo and egg burritos, topped with homemade roasted tomatillo salsa.


The valley below was filled with early morning mist, obscuring almost all signs of civilization. Lovely.

Black Rock Mountain State ParkWe wandered around the campground, checking out the trading post, a small amphitheater, and a little community center where Thursdays they have a camp potluck party. Nifty.

Black Rock Mountain State Park

They have more primitive, pack-in campgrounds, or some lovely bungalows if you’re not into the whole camping experience (and don’t own an RV.) Bungalows #2-4 have spectacular views of the valley below, but the others looked out into the woods. Rumor has it these cabins get filled up quickly, so if you’re interested book well in advance.

TigerSomeone abandoned this absolutely beautiful dog we nicknamed “Tiger,” since he is tiger-striped and only a couple of miles from Tiger, GA. If you want a sweet, healthy dog he can be yours for free. Just head to Black Rock Mountain State Park and talk to the park rangers or camp host. They’re looking for a home for the poor guy before it gets too cold for him to stay there and they have to take him to the pound. He escorted us on a couple of hikes. Later, we passed him escorting other people around the park. Someone called him the camp’s dog host.

Black Rock Mountain State ParkThe park features several trails of varying difficulty. The shortest one we found to be the most arduous, a quarter mile climb down the mountainside to get a look at a pretty waterfall, then right back up again. Fortunately, the park installed stairs to reach this one.

WildflowersOther trails form loops around the mountain, anywhere from a tenth of a mile to seven miles long. Just walking from trail head to trail head will give you plenty of exercise, thanks to the vertical nature of the park. You can purchase a guidebook at the trading post or visitor’s center that will give you details on some of the numbered signs along the trails, telling you what kind of plant or natural formation you’re gawking at – or that you hadn’t noticed at all.


I’m guessing we walked five miles, and we didn’t even do the longest hike.

summitWe passed a few people, but had long stretches of quiet solitude even as we trekked to the highest point in the park.


bugsThese caterpillars were having an orgy atop the mountain.  We didn’t see a lot of other critters, though something – probably a raccoon – raided our cooler in broad daylight when we walked away from the campsite for a few minutes. Our neighbors suspect a bear got into their garbage. Make sure you keep your food locked away and don’t put any food in your garbage unless you’re about to take it to the bear-proof garbage hut!

The visitor’s center has a view of Clayton, GA, in the valley below. Maybe it wasn’t practical to build the center on the back side of the mountain with a more natural, prettier view. Or maybe they thought people wanted to look at a Wal-mart parking lot from above.

Clayton, GA

There is a man-made lake in the back side of the park near the foot of the mountain. At the campground, I had asked the park ranger if one could swim in it.
“Well no,” she answered.
“Why not?”
“Because it’s… well…” she stammered. I thought she was about to say, ‘It’s polluted,’ or some other condition unfavorable to human health. “It’s really deep,” she finally said.
We drove down the hill to give it a look. While snapping a picture of these flowers, I was photo-bombed by a dragonfly. Show off.


Around the lake are various signs put up by the park in an effort to get people to exercise. Each one tries to motivate you, or, more likely, you to motivate your kids, by asking you to imitate some of the local wildlife.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

I found it ironic that Coka-cola sponsored the signs. Remember when you couldn’t stop kids from running amok in natural the world? On this particular day, a family brought McDonald’s to the lake-side picnic table. They then piled their hefty butts back in the minivan to drive away without so much as imitating a bullfrog or tortoise.

The lake is in a pretty setting, but somewhat  spoiled by the concrete tower jutting from the center.


There is a pretty trail around the edge of the lake but we didn’t feel like wading through the mud along the edge to get into the water. Besides, I’d heard it was too deep to swim in.


berrieslunchBack up the mountain, we had lunch on one of the other decks overlooking the valley below. Soppressata and cheese with leftover roasted peppers and a fried coconut pie picked up from a roadside farmer’s market along the way – heaven.

Another hike, then a nap, then it’s off to town. Just outside of Clayton is Tiger, which features the Tiger Drive In.

Tiger Drive In

It’s a small, one-screen affair on grass. The first Saturday of every month they host a hot rod roll-in, but even on a regular Saturday night there were several vintage rides. The snack bar has all the expected treats, as well as pizza from a local joint. There’s a playground for the kids and you get a double feature for only $8 a head. Like a lot of independent theaters (both traditional and drive-in), they can’t afford the conversion to digital so help them out by voting on Honda’s site, and/or visit the theater and spend some cash.

Tiger Drive In

Tiger Drive InWe took our little grill and cooked up some lamb steaks, artichoke hearts, okra and peppers. Despicable Me 2 was cute and funny, with a few jokes targeted at the adults in the crowd. I’m guessing the theater does a kids feature first most weekends, followed by the more adult fare. We didn’t stick around for The Conjuring, as we’d already seen it at Starlight Drive In. If you go, make sure to hit the snack bar during intermission or earlier. They close a few minutes into the second feature.

We cruised back through downtown Clayton, noticing several bars that were hopping. Next time, I might sample Clayton’s night life before trekking back up the mountain.

We rose early and packed up, stopping by our favorite overlook for one last view. Gorgeous.


play misty for me

Old Clayton InnWe returned to Clayton in search of breakfast. Small towns on Sunday mornings are sleepy affairs. Old Clayton Inn was one of the few places open, a hotel restaurant that was utterly deserted. Still, it’s hard to screw up eggs, so I was willing to give it a chance. If I’m in town again, I’ll be back. Homemade corned beef hash, and biscuits the size of plates. Oh yes.

Just a few miles south is Tallulah Gorge.

Hey kids, you want to go with daddy to watch a man possibly plummet to his death? Alright, save up your allowance!

Tallulah Gorge

We stopped at the “interpretive center” to check out the Wallenda display and other historical detritus, as well as their stuffed local fauna.

gobble gobble

Tallulah GorgeThough I’ve lived in Georgia for more than 40 years, I’ve never bothered to visit the gorge. Now I want to go back and brave the hike all the way down to the river for a swim. Then I want to hire a helivac to get me the hell out of there because even just a short hike around the place wiped me out.

sign, sign, everywhere a signWe trekked down the 300+ steps to the suspension bridge for a slightly closer look at the river, still a couple hundred feet below us.

Tallulah Gorge

Tallulah GorgeAnd then back up 300+ steps to the rim on the other side.

Tallulah GorgeWe went from overlook to overlook, overlooking one fall after another. The place is immense. Seriously, photos do not do the place justice. You don’t get any sense of the height and scale of the thing. The building in this photo is the rather large “interpretive center.”

Tallulah Gorge

Tallulah Gorge

Those tiny specks on the other side of the gorge? People, standing in front of the concrete block that supported the tower holding the wire used by Karl Wallenda to cross the gorge. And that’s just the top half of the cliff above the water. Below, you can see the suspension bridge we walked down to (and up from.)

Tallulah Gorge

I cannot imagine trekking all the way to the water, having a fine afternoon of swimming, then having to climb back out of there. The park has camping, but it’s just a regular, wooded campground up on the rim of the gorge without so much as a view of the gorge itself. There is a lake, created by one of the many dams in the gorge, just across the road, so you could get a dip in there. But the river features clear water rushing over rocks to create natural pools and slides that beg to be played in – if you have the stamina to get back out again.

Tallulah Gorge

Our next camping/drive in outing may be the Swan Drive In up in Blue Ridge, GA. Next spring, maybe we’ll return to Cloudland Canyon and support the Wilderness Drive In in Trenton, GA (we’d go sooner, but they close for the winter later this month.) Got a drive in/camping idea? Let us know!

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