TOP ATLANTA HIKING TRAILS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
By Jonah McDonald
When I decided to hike the entire 2,000-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail at age 23, I knew I was embarking on a transformative journey. A six-month hike along the rugged Appalachian ridge to my new home in Atlanta reaped extraordinary experiences of growth and insight that have become a part of who I am today.
When I returned, and as I settled back into city life, I no longer had time for those long-distance adventures to nurture me. I needed to connect with nature closer to home.
So I searched for trails in my city and was thrilled to find dozens of them here—some even within walking distance of my home.
Week after week, during lunch hours and on weekends, I explored these urban trails. Since my Appalachian Trail journey 15 years ago, I’ve been exploring Atlanta’s hidden forests and have come to believe that short hikes, close to home, can be as life-changing as a six-month backpacking trip.
Many factors make hiking a transformative experience: the mindfulness that comes to us naturally in nature; the connection with plants and animals, the simple beauty of the environment and the great exercise.
What gets in our way of connecting with nature regularly? What stops us from accessing this transformative natural resource that’s so close to home?With a plethora of hiking opportunities in our city, what gets in our way of connecting with nature regularly? What stops us from accessing this transformative natural resource that’s so close to home? Lack of information, time, and qualified guidance:
Until recently, only a small number of Atlantans have known about some of the best natural places to hike within the city’s circumference. Getting access to that information is key for the rest of us.
People understandably don’t want to spend more time in the car than they do in the woods. But the truth is, many of Atlanta’s urban trails can be accessed in minutes. Time doesn’t need to be an issue.
It can be scary to walk into the woods without a trail map or description of what you might find. Be sure to use a guidebook or app to help you feel more confident exploring new places.
Atlanta’s Best Hiking Trails You Might Not KnowWhile places such as Stone Mountain, Sweetwater Creek State Park and Kennesaw Mountain are amazing, they can also be crowded. Here’s my Top Ten list of lesser-known hiking gems around Atlanta.
Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve
East Metro. Centered around a granite mountain that’s smaller but older than Stone Mountain, this preserve is one of the most picturesque locations in the metropolitan area. If you visit only one place after reading this article, go to Arabia and hike the Mountain View Trail. With almost unlimited miles of trail, there is something for everyone.
Constitution Lakes Park
Intown. Located near an industrial area in south Dekalb, this park was once a brick factory but is now a stunningly beautiful wetlands-and-lake area adjacent to the South River. Its other draw is the strange (and sometimes creepy) folk art along the Dolls Head Trail, which is not to be missed. 2.5 miles.
Cochran Mill Park
South Metro. The trail system in this extensive nature park keeps expanding. But the biggest draw is the waterfalls: There are five along Bear Creek and its tributaries. 4-10 miles.
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
Intown. One of the least-known gems in the city, this preserve contains champion trees, a waterfall, interesting boulder formations and a historic spring house. 2 miles.
West Metro. A wetlands boardwalk, a waterfall, Civil War ruins and a covered bridge are all reasons to visit Heritage Park, which is adjacent to (and accessible from) the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb County. 3.5 miles.
Reynolds Nature Preserve
South Metro. One of the most peaceful places in the metro area containing ponds, creeks, wildflowers and a grove of old-growth forest. 2.5 miles.
Boundary Waters Park
West Metro. An amazing network of trails along the ridge above the Chattahoochee River. You can do a hike of 7 to 12 miles if you want to.
McDaniel Farm Park
North Metro. 150 acres of forest and meadow, hidden next to Gwinnett Place Mall. Many of the trails are wheelchair and stroller accessible. 2.5 miles.
Yellow River Park
East Metro. This giant Gwinnett County park contains rolling hills, miles and miles of interconnecting trails, and peaceful trails along the banks of the scenic Yellow River. 3-10 miles.
Herbert Taylor Park
Intown. A park in the Morningside neighborhood with two streams, champion trees and a sandy beach along Peachtree Creek. Perfect for dipping your toes in the water. 1.5 miles.
Jonah McDonald is the author of Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests: Intown and Out, a guidebook for hiking 60 forest hikes within a 30-mile drive of downtown Atlanta. He is founder of Sure Foot Adventures and Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm, and a naturalist, outdoors educator, and professional storyteller. For more information, see SureFootAdventures.com and PeaceBuildersCamp.org