Take a Hike
by Rachel Campbell
However, hiking can mean much more than enjoying the outdoors. “Walking can be great family exercise as well as an opportunity to share time together while learning the history of an area,” explain Ren and Helen Davis, co-authors of a new edition of Atlanta Walks. Here are just some of the free hikes Atlanta Parent and the Davis’ recommend for families. Find other great hikes and more information on gastateparks.org, and at nps.gov.
In and Around Atlanta
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
Paths wind among trees, meander through wetlands, and follow the Chattahoochee River. Fisherman can often be seen casting out in the river. The 2-mile main trail provides a great workout or a casual walk for all ages. 301 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta. Open daily, dawn until dusk. 678-538-1280. $3 entrance fee per vehicle.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
With more than 16 miles of trails, some of which allow horses, Kennesaw’s park has remnants of the 1864 battle fought there, plus stunning views from the top of the mountain. It’s a 1-mile hike to the top of the mountain, and kids as young as 8 can usually handle this trail fine. On your way out of the park, consider the self-guided tour of historic points using your cell phone. Open daily, 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m., 900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., Kennesaw. 770-427-4686.
Panola Mountain State Park
This peaceful park offers lovely views on many short trails that are less than two miles. The park also has a longer paved trail (12 miles) that connects with Arabia Mountain and is perfect for walking or bicycling. Bring a picnic, or view exhibits in the interpretive center. Guided hikes to the top of the mountain are available with reservation. Open daily, 7 a.m.-6 p.m. 2600 Ga. Hwy 155, Stockbridge. 770-389-7801. Parking, $5.
Silver Comet Trail
Stay as long as you like when you visit the Silver Comet Trail, which runs 60 miles from Smyrna to the Alabama border. Particularly beautiful in the winter, this trail was built on an abandoned railroad line. The flat, paved trail is free, wheelchair accessible and open to walkers, hikers, bicyclists, rollerbladers, dogs, and even horses. Find trail access details on pathfoundation.org/trails/silver-comet/.
Stone Mountain Park
With 15 miles of hiking and walking trails at every difficulty level, Stone Mountain has something for everyone. Adventurous types can trek the strenuous 1.3 miles to the top of the mountain (1,683 feet above sea level), to view as far as 60 miles on a clear day. The Cherokee Trail is an easy-to-moderate 6-mile walk through wooded areas, lake shores and granite slopes. The Woodland and Meadow trails take visitors on a 1-mile trip into a songbird habitat. Open daily, dawn until dusk. U.S. Hwy 78, Stone Mountain. 770-498-5690. Parking, $10.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
Popular for its magnificent views of the Sweetwater Creek rapids, these trails bring history to life. A textile mill that once operated here was burned down during the Civil War, but its ruins are a strong reminder of yesteryear. The trails range in length from 2 to 6 miles. Thurs.-Sun., 8 a.m- 5 p.m. 1750 Mt. Vernon Rd., Lithia Springs. 770-732-5871. Parking, $5.
Big Trees Forest Preserve
Winding trails and rushing creeks create a peaceful getaway at Big Trees Forest Preserve. Not too long and not too short, the 1.5 miles of trails are perfect for the whole family. The gentle sounds of the creek are an instant stress-reliever. Open daily, dawn until dusk. 7645 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs. 770-673-0111.
A beautiful 65-acre forest at the Fernbank Science Museum includes 1.5 miles of paved trails. The ease of the trail makes it stroller-friendly. An “easy effort” section of the trail is provided for visitors with visual or mobile impairments. Mon.-Fri. 2-5 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. 156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta. 678-874-7102.
Reynolds Nature Preserve
Meander through forests, cross wetlands and stroll by old farm equipment dating as far back as 1867. There are three trails in the 1-mile range. While there, you might stop in to see creatures and exhibits in the interpretive center. Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m-dusk. 5665 Reynolds Rd., Morrow. 770-603-4188.
Just a Short Drive
Amicalola Falls State Park
Nature-lovers will appreciate these well-worn trails in the midst of the Chattahoochee National Forest. Ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous, the nine trails are as short as a quarter mile and as long as 8.5 miles. Here you can find scenic views of the falls, admire water falls, the reflection pool, and learn plenty from the many educational displays. You can even get a great workout on the Fitness Trail, a wooded route that includes more than 20 exercise stations. Open daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. 418 Amicalola Falls Lodge Road, Dawsonville. 706-265-4703. Parking, $5.
Fort Mountain State Park
The ancient rock wall seen at Fort Mountain State Park mystifies visitors as they walk the trail. Thought to have been built by early Indians, this 855-foot wall is a must-see for history buffs. Access is also provided to a stone fire tower, making this trail interesting beyond its scenic views. Find multiple trails ranging in length from a half mile to 14.6 miles. Open daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. 181 Fort Mountain Park Road, Chatsworth. 706-422-1932. Parking, $5.
Tallulah Gorge State Park
This park has multiple trails ranging in difficulty and length, but they all offer undeniable beauty. The North and South Rim trails are best for families with older kids for fantastic views of the gorge. There’s a more strenuous hike to the gorge floor. Open daily, 8 a.m.- dusk. 338 Jane Hurt Yarn Drive., Tallulah Falls. 706-754-7970. Parking, $5.