With history, scenery and generally pleasant conditions for hiking year round, Atlanta is packed with plenty of options for everyone from beginners and families to experienced hikers. The many miles of easily accessible trails make the area ideal for both short day trips and all-day outings at one of the many state or local parks […]
With history, scenery and generally pleasant conditions for hiking year round, Atlanta is packed with plenty of options for everyone from beginners and families to experienced hikers. The many miles of easily accessible trails make the area ideal for both short day trips and all-day outings at one of the many state or local parks that are located within, or close to, an easy hour drive of downtown. With a variety of parks to choose from, you can enjoy many miles of well-maintained trails that are ever-changing with the seasons, from springtime blossoms and summer sunshine to vivid fall colors or frosty winter vistas. Here are 10 of the best hikes to explore in the Atlanta area as shared by the REI Hiking Project community.
This easy 2.8-mile round-trip hike features plenty of pretty views along the slow, winding waters of the Chattahoochee River. The short length and gentle inclines of the well-maintained forested trail make this a great option for beginners or family outings. Pets are allowed as well, just be sure to keep them on leash. Plan an early morning hike to enjoy the peaceful setting along the river as the fog lingers over the waters. The trail is usually not too crowded, and you will catch glimpses of the gray shoals of the Chattahoochee River at various points throughout the hike. Parts of the trail follow right along the shore, with the calls of geese and other waterfowl and the gentle rippling of the river creating a melodious soundtrack for the hike.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Davidson Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve is the lunar-like landscape of Arabia Mountain. A barren granite monadnock (an isolated or exposed hill), this mountain is easily identified and makes for a memorable setting for a hike. The hike skirts around the base of the hill, but those wanting to head to the summit can easily add on the Mountain Top Trail. Additionally, the area has some interesting geology and several rare native plant species, as well as wetlands, pine and oak forests, streams and two lakes. In the spring, you can find the rare diamorpha, a small red plant with white and red flowers that blooms in the pools of water that collect in the depressions on the granite outcrop. You will also notice the remnants of an old granite quarry that operated in the early to mid-20th century. The varied terrain and lowland lakes and streams make this a prime habitat to spot a variety of woodland creatures—keep an eye out for hares, deer, snakes and turtles. Kids will enjoy trying to spot the local critters; just be sure to keep your own four-legged companions leashed.
This paved path offers visitors a unique view of some of the sights of downtown Atlanta. The trail starts from the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site where you can visit MLK Jr.'s birth home, the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was baptized, his tomb, the National Park Service visitor center and historic memorials. The MLK Historic site alone is well worth the visit, even if you only have time for a short stroll around the grounds. From there, the trail heads east/northeast through a series of green spaces and parks including the rolling open hills of 200-acre Freedom Park. The well-kept greenway features art sculptures right along the trail. For a special treat mid-hike, follow the sidewalks south and then east along Candler Park to find a cozy one-block shopping district located in a residential neighborhood. Here, you can grab a bite at one of the local restaurants or stop by one of several shops selling vintage clothing, records, crafts/gifts (many by local artists), and much more. Although this trail won't provide the same sense of solitude as some of the other parks in the area, the many sites and amenities along the route make it a worthwhile outing.
This uncrowded and family-friendly hike is one of the best hidden gems of the Atlanta metro area. The trail starts as an easy hike along the Chattahoochee River, following the river, which is wide and full of rocky shoals. The trail then climbs gradually for a half mile to one of the best lookouts in the area. Pack a snack and take a break on the wooden observation deck. From here, you will enjoy a sweeping view of a wide bend in the river and the city of Sandy Springs beyond. The trail has another unique feature—a hidden bamboo forest. It’s located along the water’s edge at the northern point of the trail system and is the perfect spot for a contemplative stroll or rest stop while listening to the bamboo whispering in the breeze.
One of the more popular hiking spots in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, and for good reason, Vickery Creek is very easy to access, has great amenities (a real bathroom at the Mill Side parking area), and is located close to historic downtown Roswell with several restaurants to grab a bite post-hike. This is a great route if you want a substantial hike in the woods, but don’t want to leave “civilization.” Highlights include the cascading man-made falls of the Big Creek Mill dam spill as well as a long, covered bridge over the river that connects the trail to the dam spill parking area. On weekends, this area is especially popular with families.
This scenic hike winds around the face of Sawnee Mountain leading to Indian Seats Lookout Point, a natural rock formation which offers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains receding into the distance. Along the way up the hillside, various rock formations and a wooden observation deck provide resting spots for hikers looking for a break before finishing the loop. The mountain was once clear cut for mining operations, which means the views are unusually expansive, and if you visit in the autumn, the fall foliage on the neighboring hillsides makes for a colorful mosaic. If you have some extra time, be sure to swing by the visitor center and its surrounding grounds at the Spot Road parking lot. The visitor center features interactive exhibits and educational materials highlighting the history of Sawnee Mountain Preserve.
A locals’ favorite, Sweetwater Creek State Park has several different trail options for a variety of loops or out-and-back day hikes. This 4-mile loop combines the White Trail and Red Trail and highlights some of the best hiking in the area, starting with a ridgeline trail with sweeping views out over the park’s namesake creek. These views are especially beautiful in the winter and spring when the foliage is a bit thinner. In addition to the views, the highlight of the loop is where the White Trail descends about 100 feet to Sweetwater Creek. Once alongside the river, you will have to navigate around some large rocks as the trail meanders alongside the river, adding a bit of challenge to the otherwise easy-going hike. The rocks make for a great picnic spot to relax and enjoy the sound of the rapids before continuing the hike. The ruins of the New Manchester mill are located about halfway through the Red Trail on the return portion of the loop. Nature is slowing reclaiming the partially standing brick building, which was burned during the Civil War, but the lonely walls and empty windows make for a great photo opportunity on a sunny day.
This hike takes you around the base and up to the summit of Stone Mountain, a unique granite dome which offers visitors a distinct and open view of Stone Mountain Park and downtown Atlanta. If you are short on time or simply looking for an abbreviated option, you can skip the loop around the base of Stone Mountain and opt for a simple out-and-back hike on the Walk-Up Trail which will take you to the summit where you can enjoy the view. An early morning or evening hike to the summit can be particularly rewarding, as the 360-degree views makes for a great photo opportunity at sunrise or sunset. The nearby town of Stone Mountain Village, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, is a great option to stop for a quick bite or beverage post-hike.
Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park offers a wide variety of trails and terrain, making it a great option for a day hike. This loop hike boasts some of the best mountain-top views in the Atlanta area with a climb to the summits of Kennesaw Mountain, Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill. If you're not up for this full loop, you can easily customize the mileage and difficulty of your hike. This particular loop offers a longer outing, at nearly 10 miles in length, with more rugged terrain for hikers looking for a bit more adventure. The majority of the ascent is found within the first mile as you gain about 500 feet of elevation as you climb to the summit of Kennesaw Mountain. From here, the remaining miles follow the area's pleasantly rolling terrain, and the grades are not as steep. In the winter and spring when the trees are bare, you will enjoy more open views, and you may spot deer, wild turkey, squirrels and snakes. For history buffs, a stop at the summit of Kennesaw Mountain offers a glimpse into the Civil War history of the area. Later in the loop, you will also find cannons from the Civil War era atop the summit of Little Kennesaw Mountain. Throughout the hike, you will be reminded of this history as a variety of Civil War plaques and cannons commemorate the Atlanta Campaign of 1864.
If you are looking for a weekend getaway and don’t mind a little bit of a drive, a visit to Amicalola Falls State Park is perfect for an overnight getaway and a long weekend of hiking. Stop in a the Len Foote Hike Inn for a lunch break or book a room and spend the night at one of the 20 private guest rooms. The Inn’s amenities include hot showers, fresh linens and home-cooked meals, making it easy to enjoy your hike without feeling like you are really roughing it. The Len Foote Hike Inn Loop is a long day outing that will give you an immersive experience in mountainous territory that boasts the southern end of the Appalachian Trail (AT). You can even opt to extend your hike along the AT Approach Trail to see the official southern start of the AT. Thru-hikers and day-hikers alike will appreciate the natural beauty of the densely forested hills, trickling rills and cascading waterfalls while exploring the park.
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