Um, What’s up with Stone Mountain?
Georgia, ooohhh Georgia… Yep, it’s on our mind a lot because we love it. Or at least we love most of it. And we always think it’s hot in the South. Like, always. It’s not though. Did you know they can get snow and frost and stuff? OMG! Okay, that’s an extreme reaction to standard weather, but when we travel to the Southeast we are counting on sunshine, humidity and thunderstorms, and we expect this any time of year. Recently we were seeing the sights with our family that live in Atlanta and we all went to Stone Mountain, who graciously welcomed us. It was a sunny day…but stone cold. We went to stone cold Stone Mountain. We froze; we rode a gondola; we froze; we rode a train… It was an experience to learn from. Besides the cold what other unexpected surprises did Stone Mountain offer us?
What you'll find...
Thrills at Stone Mountain
Thrills and claustrophobia. Ever been on a gondola? We’re not talking about a romantic boat voyage for two through the canals of Venice. We’re talking a skytram-type scary can of people soaring through the air with hundreds of feet below to potentially plummet down. Can you tell that the gondola isn’t for everybody? While all five kids we had with us were excited to fly through the sky, this dad (Rob) was not! It wasn’t so bad, I guess, but I wasn’t stoked for the ride back down. I guess it’s a good family travel activity.
Tip: if you have a brave kid, try to get them to the front part of the gondola car. The sweeping view will impress them, even if they’re already a daredevil.
We waited in line for the skyride and it was chilly. Or was that the staff manning the queues? Both actually. The service wasn’t stellar by any means. Anyway, we eventually got into the gondola and they jammed it full. Thank goodness nobody freaked out, because it was the perfect setup for a group panic attack.
Note: even contained attractions, such as a gondola, tend to have handicap accessible spots for the ride. If the staff isn’t paying attention to a guest in a wheelchair or with walking assistance, be the bigger person and make way or move out of the ADA spot.
Despite the scary ride, the view is worth it. When we got to the top of Stone Mountain it was the most beautiful and clear day Atlanta has ever seen. Oh, and the Atlanta skyline was a sight at sunset! It was gorgeous and made for a wonderful photo op… that everybody on top of Stone Mountain took advantage of.
Protesting at Stone Mountain
Do you know who else took advantage of the clear day with lots of people visiting the park? Confederate sympathizers. If you didn’t grow up in the USA or if you’ve not lived in the South you might not be familiar with this group of people. They’re a bunch who like to relive or revive the days of yore when there was segregation, acceptable racism, and general mallady towards non-white people. If you live anywhere with half a consciousness you know this just isn’t cool and is completely unacceptable. And it’s not something we want to encounter during family travel.
Why were they there? – the folks with the confederate flags were on top of Stone Mountain that day because they were protesting the installation of a Dr Martin Luther King Jr memorial on the mountain itself. The monument: a copy of the liberty bell echoing the “I Have A Dream” speech. The placement: ON Stone Mountain. The outcome of the protest: nothin’! For more information about the monument and the disparity of the public, see here.
Stone Mountain Itself
On the face of the huge granite stone mountain is a carved relief. Everybody’s heard of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and it’s no doubt one of the most recognizable scenes in the United States. Well, Stone Mountain has its own historical scene that depicts some Southern icons: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. If you haven’t heard of these guys, let us fill you in.
Jefferson Davis – president of the Confederacy
Robert E Lee – leader of the Confederate army
Stonewall Jackson – General of the Confederate army that led many campaigns
Here’s the thing: the relief on the face of Stone Mountain is on privately owned property and falls under a piece of Georgia legislation that preserves history, specifically Confederate monuments. There’s been talk of removing the carving via sandblasting, but it’s protected and will remain on the face indefinitely. That’s that.
Stone Mountain has an old west town??
Moving past the Confederacy trying to make a comeback, there’s more to Stone Mountain to do. There is this structure, the Great Barn, and it’s really just an enormous indoor playground and (for kids) seems like tons of fun. There’s a bit of an obstacle course outside too, but we didn’t get to do it because it was so late in the day. And then there are shops to go through. Loads of them. And if you’re there on a cool winter evening, you’ll find they have a wonderful selection of warm clothes for the ill-prepared frozen guest. There’s also a 4-D theater to see some sort of movie that is more than a 3-D experience… we didn’t do it either.
Oh yeah, so we were there while Stone Mountain was getting set up for Christmas and the lights were AMAZING. While we don’t have tons of compliments to throw out there for the Park, we will be the first to say that Stone Mountain does an incredible job decorating for the holidays. Or should we say the do a great job for Christmas. There was even a ridiculously festive parade. Like, Disney-style parade, and it was very well done. There’s also a portion of the Park that is turned into Snow Mountain, which allows for sledding and other snow sports even when Georgia’s not getting a winter blast.
Tip: besides the Christmas lights to warm us, there were realllllllly good cinnamon buns. Hands down they were the messiest bread product we’ve ever tried, but they were awesome. They tasted like southern hospitality and sugar. I think they may have been glazed with the sweat of Paula Dean. We have no other dining tips than this, as we didn’t love the other food we had.
Yep!! There is a for realz locomotive that runs around Stone Mountain. It’s not a fast one and it’s not cushy like the dreamliners of the 20s, but it’s pretty cool. We were there late in the day and during the holiday, so we were treated to a Christmas Sing-Along. It was fun. And awkward. The train ride would’ve been more cool had it been during the day…and during the rest of the year. Halfway around the mountain there is an old time show set that is used for cool western shows in the summertime. During the winter, it’s set up for a telling of the nativity story. Once that’s done, you just keep going around Stone Mountain and singing songs. I bet it’s neat during daylight…
Tip: if you’re not raising your kids in a Christian household, you may want to give them a little background before visiting a religious site or activity. You don’t have to do a ton of prep work, but you know that kids always have questions and sometimes a short mention of some background is a good way to help them understand what they’re seeing.
Example: being on a train in the dark and all of the sudden hearing about angels and a savior and such.
Example: visiting a cathedral and explaining why people go there or are kneeling… or why there are life size crucifixes hanging. Most adults have seen these things their whole lives typically, but not all kids have. Just a thought.
For a full list of attractions at Stone Mountain (including Ride the Ducks) check out their website.
So, besides being cold and experiencing a few aspects of the South that we hadn’t talked to our kids about, what did we think of Stone Mountain? We don’t recommend it and won’t be back. There are many views in the world that are as lovely or better than what you see from the top of Stone Mountain. There are better ways to learn about history and respecting others than seeing people protesting and participating in racial events. There are actual historical sites that have character and active businesses that you can patronize instead of the manufactured Stone Mountain gift shop village. There are other train rides available in other towns that offer more distance and better sights.
All in all, Stone Mountain was a way to occupy and afternoon. We got to be there with family and the kids all enjoyed just running around, so that was nice, but we think next time we’re in Atlanta (which is often) we’ll find a few other interesting activities that are more in line with our idea of family travel.
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”