Take a really big rock 16 miles east of Atlanta. Carve likenesses of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on its side. Add a train, a paddlewheel riverboat and cable cars. Mix in a 4-D theater and miniature golf. Season with a re-created 1870 village bristling with shops and restaurants, a museum filled with antique cars and other treasures from yesteryear, and an antebellum plantation house and outbuildings circa 1783-1875. Bring to a boil with a nighttime laser light show – one of the largest in the world – and fireworks. The result: Georgia's Stone Mountain Park – currently celebrating its 50th year of operation – and a family outing grand enough to make any day a holiday.
Stone Mountain Park is about a 41/2-hour drive from Charlotte, one way.
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Take Interstate 85 South to metro Atlanta; head south on Interstate 285 East. At Exit 39B, take U.S. 78 East; follow U.S. 78 East to Exit 8, the main entrance to Stone Mountain Park.
To see and do
To take advantage of everything, you'll need to start early and stay late.
The main attraction is the 90-foot-high, 190-foot-wide carving of Confederate leaders Lee, Davis and Jackson (on their respective horses: Traveler, Black Jack and Little Sorrel). Take time to visit the park's museum, where exhibits and a brief film tell the fascinating history of the project, which was begun in 1917 but not completed until 1970. Gutzon Borglum, later responsible for the carvings at Mount Rushmore, was the sculptor originally hired to do the Confederate memorial. He left the project in the 1920s. Sculptor Augustus Lukeman then assumed work on the project, but money ran out; work was on hiatus until 1958, when the state of Georgia purchased the mountain. Work resumed in 1963.
Rising 825 feet and covering 583 acres, Stone Mountain is the largest piece of exposed granite on Earth. If you're up for the challenge, take the 1.3-mile walking trail up the north side of the mountain. It's a strenuous climb, and there's not much shade on a hot summer day, but the trip is worth the effort. Over the years, many people have left their mark on the stone. Some carvings are simple and faint; others are intricate and deep. Although it is against the law to deface the mountain today, the graffiti from a century or more past has a history of its own. From the summit, Atlanta's skyline is easily seen, as is the separate and distinct skyline of suburban Buckhead. If you don't want to make the walk, take the easy way up to the top: The Summit Skyride, which runs continuously throughout the day, offers a quick trip up and down, providing a stunning view of the carving along the way.
Almost all of the park's attractions – train, riverboat, miniature golf, antique car museum and so on – are included in the one-day Adventure Pass. The newest attraction, Sky Hike, has you use ropes and wooden bridges to traverse a quarter-mile adventure “trail” that goes as high as four stories.
One of the park's most entertaining pastimes comes after dark. Bring out your blanket, folding chairs and a cooler, and relax on the lawn. At dark, the laser light show gets under way. Stone Mountain becomes the “screen” for an imaginative, colorful show. One of the most moving moments – no pun intended – comes when the figures of Lee, Davis and Jackson seemingly come to life. The climax of the show is a fireworks display, set to a stirring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Gary McCullough