Surf’s Up at Don Carter State Park on Lake Lanier!

The sandy beach and grassy hillside at Don Carter State Park on Lake Lanier. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Summer came late to Lake Lanier in 2013, but on Monday, July 15th, Don Carter State Park opened to the public for the first time.

One family arrived at 7 AM to hit the beach early!

A few visitors came out of curiosity, some for a walk in the woods and many brought their kids to hear a Park Ranger present a Show & Tell about snakes … followed by games on the world’s newest beach.

My legs haven’t seen the sun in 20 years, but even I wanted to toss off my boots and dive in with the happy families soaking in the sun, sand and water at Lake Lanier’s first state park.

Don Carter State Park is way up at the north end of the lake, on the Chattahoochee River.  A world away from the busy crowds and raucous rowdies down by the dam, this park will soon be known as a soft spot on the heart of Lake Lanier.

Don Carter State Park is named for a gentleman from Gainesville who served on the board of the Department of Natural Resources for 29 years. Mr. Carter is pictured here with his charming wife, Lucille. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Early birds on opening day were honored to meet and greet Don Carter and his lovely wife, Lucille.  Mr. Carter served on the board of the Department of Natural Resources for almost 30 years.

Mr. Carter worked diligently for the park — which was established in 2002.  When it was time to give the park a name “Don Carter State Park” naturally came to mind.

Mrs. Carter said, “This is a dream come true for us and for North Georgia.”

First-time visitors will be stunned at the size, beauty and amenities at Don Carter State Park.  It’s a haven in North Georgia that is destined to be visited by generations of campers, hikers and outdoorsy folks from all over the world.

The lakeside cabins aren’t ready yet, but before you know it they’ll be booked solid far into the future.  Each has two-bedrooms, a rocking-chair porch, a view of the lake, grills, picnic tables, parking and the best neighbors on earth.

If you think camping is best done in an RV or tent, you can start right away, on a first-come, first-served basis.

Obey the call to go to Don Carter State Park! Resistance is futile. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Stop by the Visitors Center for snacks, hats & apparel, park maps and free smiles.  There’s a Coke machine out front too.

When you visit, bring your boat.  I counted 45 spaces for boats & trailers at the main boat ramp, but there’s room for 15 more at the second boat ramp that’s just for RV and cabin visitors.

Don’t have a boat of your own?  Pffft.  Not a problem.  Don Carter State Park has a giant fishing pier! Every kid is guaranteed to catch a big fish on every cast! (Some restrictions apply.)

Now there’s no excuse not to go fishing on Lake Lanier … with your kids or somebody else’s.

Rick Hamby of Cleveland, Georgia, took Cody & Micah Hanson fishing on the fancy pier at Don Carter State Park on opening day. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

If you really do catch fish and you want to fillet them before you head home to impress you-know-who, stop by the fish cleaning station provided by the park.  You only have to supply the fish and the stuff you’ll need to clean them.

While you’re getting all stinky and gooey, your friends will be basking in the sun at the beach, where there’s a convenient, clean place to change and to wash the sand off your feet before you head home … wishing the day would never end.

There aren’t any lifeguards, so you’ll have to be especially careful, but for wading and splashing and swimming in Lake Lanier, this is the place.

The beachside bathhouse at Don Carter State Park. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Parking is nearby, not a mile away and uphill both ways, as with some areas on the lake.

You will not believe your eyes when you see the beauty of Don Carter State Park.

It’s like your own bazillion-acre lake home, with a gate to keep out the riff-raff and Park Rangers to answer questions and plan cool activities, such as demonstrations about snakes.

The pavilion near the beach — and the empty playground while everybody is attending a presentation about snakes — at Don Carter State Park. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Not a big fan of snakes? Good news.  While everybody’s gawking at the slithery skulkers, you’ll have the nearby playground all to yourself!

Speaking of playgrounds, the park has oodles of them, along with four picnic shelters in the day-use area and more in the restricted portion of the park by the cabins.

Pets on six-foot leashes are welcome in the park and campground, except at the beach.  Please keep in mind the fact your dog’s barking might be music to your ears, but it probably won’t be to neighbors trying to sleep nearby.

Don Carter State Park on Georgia's Lake Lanier 7-9-13 ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland
The Visitor Center at Don Carter State Park on Georgia’s Lake Lanier. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

Paved walking trails give you an unforgettable view of the lake, forest and the park, unless your memory is as bad as mine.

You might also share my joy at seeing comfy benches all along the paths.

Don Carter State Park is open daily from 7 AM until 10 PM.

The Visitor Center is open daily from 8 AM until 5 PM.

We’ll let you know when they have the official grand opening later this fall.

Plan a trip to this heavenly garden on lovely Lake Lanier and bring a friend.  There is no better way to spend $5.00 than a day at Don Carter State Park.

Meet some of folks who made Don Carter State Park a reality.

The astute and friendly Kim Hatcher — Public Affairs Coordinator for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites — and Park Manager Will Wagner were on hand for opening day at Don Carter State Park. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland


Gainesville, GA’s Tourism and Trade Manager Deb Gregson confirms the final details about opening day with Matt Owens, assistant manager of Don Carter State Park. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland
Interpretive Park Ranger Jessica James-Weems and Cindy Reittinger, naturalist with the Georgia State Parks (right), planned the perfect opening day at Don Carter State Park. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland
Mr. Don Carter, Lucille Carter and their son, Doug, at opening day of Don Carter State Park on Lake Lanier, Monday, July 15, 2013. ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland
“Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?” ~~ Photograph by Robert Sutherland

You cannot get lost in Don Carter State Park.  Just follow the signs.

If the arrows confuse you, simply ask one of the many dedicated park professionals who are there to keep you safe and happy.

Better yet, ask a stranger for directions.  You might make a new friend.

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Don Carter State Park
5000 N. Browning Bridge Rd. Gainesville, GA 30506
  • Located northeast of Gainesville, Georgia, on the north side of Lake Lanier.
  • From Clarks Bridge Road, go south on North Browning Bridge Road.
  • At the “Y,” take the left fork and continue for one-half mile to the park entrance.
  • Coordinates:  N 1596520, E 2423230

Contact Info

Park Hours

  • Visitor Hours are 7 AM until 10 PM daily.
  • Visitor Center Hours are 8 AM until 5 PM daily.

About Author

Robert J. Sutherland is a travel writer enjoying life in Gainesville, GA.
Robert has two adult daughters, seven practically perfect grandchildren and a zippy Kawasaki. Contact Robert at [email protected].

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