The next time you find yourself in the Atlanta area with a few days to spend, Henry County hopes you will head south on Interstate 75 for plenty of entertainment and dining options without having to fight the nerve-wracking traffic snarls and pesky crowds. By driving 30 miles away from the city, you will find nature, recreation, shopping, a wonderful veterans museum, a famous racetrack, a music venue, public art, and culinary options galore.
Covering slightly more than 300 square miles of territory, Henry County encompasses the towns of McDonough, Stockbridge, Locust Grove, and Hampton. It was officially recognized by the Georgia Legislature in 1821 and is named after Patrick Henry of Revolutionary War fame. In no order of preference, here are 11 reasons to spend some time in Henry County.
Some of these attractions were visited as part of a press trip. However, all opinions are my own.
1. Atlanta Motor Speedway
The Atlanta Motor Speedway is a large NASCAR racetrack located in Hampton, Georgia. In addition to hosting several major races throughout the year, you can also find numerous car shows, the Georgia State Fair, Stunt Driving Academy days, and year-round camping facilities on the grounds. Track Tours are offered five times a day, 5 days a week, and the tours must be scheduled in advance.
Pro Tip: Look for the Petty Garden and the statue erected to honor Richard Petty, who made significant contributions to stock car racing for 35 years.
2. Heritage Park Veterans Museum
Heritage Park Veterans Museum in McDonough, Georgia, is run entirely by volunteers who are passionate about telling the stories of the heroes who have sacrificed for the sake of America. Vehicles, uniforms, and artifacts of every description fill the museum and help to tell the stories. Jim Joyce has been with the museum since its beginning and is an encyclopedia of knowledge. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see a large red and white barn with military helicopters and other vehicles on the grounds outside.
The museum’s purpose is to honor the people represented by the uniforms and artifacts. It is open Monday–Saturday. There is no admission charge, but donations are gladly accepted.
Pro Tip: Heritage Park Veterans Museum is particularly suited for grandparents who want to share their stories and the histories of their parents with their grandchildren.
3. Panola Mountain State Park
A 100-acre outcrop of granite, also known as a monadnock, is the crown jewel of Panola Mountain State Park, so much so that the park has been designated as a Natural National Landmark. Open every day from 7 a.m. until sunset, visitors can enjoy hiking, archery, geocaching, picnicking, dog-walking, and more. Ranger-led hikes are available for those who want to know about the plant and animal life in the area.
4. Southern Belle Farm
Southern Belle Farm is owned by the Carter family and is dedicated to bringing outdoor family-fun experiences to the people of Henry County and the surrounding area. In the fall, strawberry fields are filled with berry pickers. Summer brings peach pickers. A corn maze and pumpkins of all sizes await fall visitors and Christmas in the Country activities are scheduled in December.
Country Market sells ciders, preserves, jams, jellies, pickled veggies, ice cream, local honey, fried pies, apple cider donuts, and Mimi’s famous pound cake — made from the matriarch of the farm’s special recipe.
Southern Belle Farm is extremely popular for school field trips with what serves as a 330-acre outdoor classroom.
5. Stockbridge Amphitheater
Stockbridge Amphitheater in Stockbridge, Georgia, known by the locals as “The Bridge,” seats 3,600 and maintains an enticing lineup of performers throughout the year. The parking lot is the setting for Stockbridge’s annual arts and crafts festival.
The adjacent Amphitheater Park is a beautifully landscaped area with lighted water features and walking trails. The entire venue is a testament to the desire of Stockbridge leaders to provide the best possible experience for its citizens and to recognize the importance of making a positive impression on outsiders.
6. Tanger Outlets Or Peachtree Peddlers Flea Market & Antique Centre
Whether you’re in search of new merchandise sold at a discount or old merchandise that has turned into vintage chic antiques, Henry County has you covered. Tanger Outlets in Locust Grove has 64 stores in its directory, covering many of the most popular brands.
Peachtree Peddlers Flea Market & Antique Centre in McDonough is spread out over 25 acres. Indoors, you’ll find 20,000 square feet of antique booths. The flea market portion is open on Saturdays and Sundays and has both indoor and outdoor spaces. Clean restrooms are provided and a food court allows shoppers to refresh and refuel while they are browsing the massive amount of offerings.
Pro Tip: For those looking particularly for books, Speakeasy is a popular bookstore in Hampton, Georgia, and Story on the Square is an independent bookstore on Griffin Street in McDonough.
7. Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary
Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove is a place where animals, both farm and exotic, have been rescued from unfortunate situations and have found a permanent home. After leaving places of abuse or neglect, this 250-acre facility is truly a haven for providing rehabilitation and care for 1,500 fortunate animals.
A picnic area, playground, and visitor center are adjacent to the habitat. All rules pertaining to behavior from visitors are made and enforced with the welfare of the animals primarily in mind.
The habitat and visitor center are temporarily closed, except for WOW Tours, which are conducted on Wednesday mornings. Those tours must be reserved in advance and provide a look into the behind-the-scenes operation.
Pro Tip: It costs thousands of dollars each month to feed and rehabilitate the animals and to maintain the habitat. Donations are gratefully accepted. Noah’s Ark also has wishlists set up on Amazon and Tractor Supply for those desiring to make specific donations.
8. Stockbridge Lakes Bed & Breakfast
Marvin and Anita Johnson are gracious hosts at their beautiful bed and breakfast in Stockbridge. The grounds provide a place to soak up nature in peace and feed the fish in the lake. The rooms are clean and comfortable and the breakfast is outstanding. A chef will cook your eggs to order or to be served alongside a delectable entrée.
Pro Tip: The shrimp and grits entrée is outstanding.
9. Creativity Café
Paint a canvas, paint a piece of pottery or glass, throw some clay on the pottery wheel, or build a pottery piece by hand — all without investing in tons of supplies at home. Go to Creativity Café in McDonough and choose an art activity that interests you. Walk-in times are available with no appointment necessary. Projects range in price from $5–$120 with all supplies included.
10. The Bushy Tail Art Trail
The Henry County Artists Consortium has created a series of 30 art installations and placed them in public viewing areas around the county. Each reflects the personality and creativity of the individual artist and is designed to be a tiny dining spot for squirrels, thus the name Bushy Tail Art Trail. You will find them in parks and in several of the attractions mentioned in this article.
Pro Tip: Trail followers are encouraged to take photos when they find one of the squirrel-sized picnic tables and share it on social media using #BetterExplored.
11. Henry County Restaurants
Visitors to Henry County will find an amazing range of culinary choices. Shane’s Rib Shack locations can be found all over Georgia and in seven other states, but the original one is in McDonough on Highway 155 North. Truett’s Grill in McDonough, named for Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy, is a place to enjoy Chick-Fil-A in a ‘50s-style diner. Inside, you’ll find motorcycles and photos of Cathy’s favorite cars.
PastaMax Café in McDonough serves outstanding Italian dishes and The French Market & Tavern in Locust Grove has a New Orleans flair. Sweet Auburn Barbecue is new on the scene in McDonough and the Asian-inspired flavors and menu items make it special.
Pro Tip: The brisket egg rolls and banana pudding ice cream at Sweet Auburn Barbecue are worth a special trip to Henry County. They are exceptional!
With attractions and food offerings such as these, Henry County should be strongly considered when you want to be near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport but away from the hustle and bustle of crowds and traffic.