Looking for a resort vacation on a budget? Try Hard Labor Creek State Park, one of the largest in the Georgia State Park system. Swim, golf, fish, boat, hike, bike, even play miniature golf at this park about an hour from Atlanta near Rutledge, Ga.
Hard Labor Creek State Park
An Affordable Family Resort
It’s an unusual name for a resort, Hard Labor Creek. The name comes from the slaves who worked the rocky soil planting cotton – it was hard work. Although the name may not sound very relaxing, Hard Labor Creek State Park offers a ton of recreational activities in a beautiful natural setting. The only hard labor you’ll do here is walk the trails, or maybe take the red line on your mountain bike.
The Hard Labor Creek Golf Course includes 18 and nine-hole options, as well as a driving range and pro shop. I did not golf during our visit, but several folks in our group acknowledged the course was very well designed. It’s a well known fact the course has the hardest starting hole in the state. One woman said her father is a semi-pro golfer that visits the course every time he is in town. That’s some high praise, but if you need something a little more substantial, Golf Digest Frugal Golf magazine rates the Hard Labor Creek golf course as the fourth sweetest deal in the United States. In addition to a full sized golf course, the park also has a new 18-hole mini-golf course in front of the main office where you check in.
Hard Labor Creek Observatory
There is always a starry night at Hard Labor State Park, even when the clouds are out. That’s because there is an observatory on the property. The Observatory is operated by the State of Georgia, not the State Park, but they do have public nights. Be careful heading there though. The Park Ranger mentioned the public nights are very popular and parking is difficult, so if you are walking, be very watchful of cars. In addition, signage to the Observatory is scarce, so it may be worth a trial run when it’s light out before trying to find the Hard Labor Creek Observatory in the dark.
There are 24 miles of trails for hikers and horseback riders at Hard Labor State Park, as well as 17 miles of single track mountain biking. The park does not have a stable of horses or bikes, so if you’d like to do these activities, bring your own horse and bike.
The bike trails aren’t as well known as other parks, and aren’t on the Georgia State Parks Muddy Spokes Club, so we had course designer Bill Pflueger tell us a bit about the mountain bike trails at Hard Labor Creek State Park. There is a 17 mile loop with five smaller loops. At the main parking lot you can take the beginner friendly orange trail to get your bearings. There is a one mile connector trail that takes you to the main trail head, that is beginner friendly too. From there decide if you want to pick up the five mile red trail, which is the most difficult, or the 4.7 mile blue trail which is a combination of beginner and intermediate. The newest addition to the trails is a 5.2 mile green section. This is a mix between beginner and intermediate, but it has a mid-section for speed demons where you can go fast.
Hard Labor State Park is 5,804 aces and has two lakes, Lake Rutledge and Lake Brantley. Locals, as well as visitors frequent the swimming beach along Lake Rutledge. Here guests rent kayaks, canoes, and even paddleboats, and there is a bathhouse if you want to change out of your wet suit to head out on one of the hiking trails.
Hard Labor Creek is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as it was constructed as a Recreation Demonstration Area by the Civilian Conservation Corps between 1934 and 1941 and has been open to the public ever since. You can still see some of the structures the CCC built, including Camp Rutledge. Inside the cabins are historic photos of the construction.
There are several overnight options at Hard Labor Creek State Park, tent camping, campers, or cabins. The park has 20 cabins, eight of which were completely renovated in June 2015. The renovated cabins have two bedrooms and two baths, sleep up to six, and have spacious kitchens and living quarters with new furniture. Older cabins are two-bedroom, one bath and sleep up to eight. My favorite feature of the cabins is the large front porch. I toured a renovated cabin and it had two rocking chairs, as well as a large picnic table perfect for a game of cards or a puzzle. Outside is a fire pit for the requisite s’mores.
Hard Labor Creek State Park Campground Renovations
The park finished a complete main campground renovation in July 2016. There are 51 electric campsites, with water and electrical upgraded on all the sites. Twelve sites also have full hookup sewer services. We’re more tent campers, so for me, the most important upgrade is the two new comfort stations with full amenities, including a handicapped restroom with a completely flat floor. There is also an equestrian camp group, but I have not seen that area of the park.
One of the best things about Hard Labor Creek State Park is the vastness of it all, but that can also be a bit of a drawback. I would prefer to park my car and just let the kids go on their bikes or walk to the beach, the mini-golf, etc., but depending on where you are staying, it can be quite a trek to the beach on busy roads, but then, having so much space can be the best part of the park too.
Fun Tip: When you check in, purchase some some crickets or larva to bring to the kids as a treat. If you really want to see them squeal, bring a lollipop with a tarantula inside!
More Fun Near Hard Labor Creek State Park
Southern Cross Guest Ranch – This is not your normal nose-to-tail trail rides. Most guests ride on the Southern Cross property, but they do offer trail rides with a guide at Hard Labor Creek State Park.
Durhamtown Plantation – My boys LOVE Durhamtown Plantation. We’ve only ridden the ATV’s, but they have motorcycle tracks, hunting, and a whole lot more.
Downtown Rutledge, Ga. – This historic town is only 3.3 miles, but has two superb restaurants and a fun hardware store.