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Best Hikes In Atlanta – REI Co-op Journal


With Atlanta’s oft-repeated tagline ‘the city in a forest,’ it’s no wonder Atlanta and the surrounding area offer many exciting trails for hikers. The city is adding more urban trail options as it works to complete its trendy BeltLine, which will eventually make a 33-mile loop around Atlanta to connect the entire city. But that’s not all the metro area has to offer. Whether hikers prefer multi-use urban strolls or the seclusion of forested spaces, Atlanta has plenty of options for all hiking enthusiasts.

A view of midtown Atlanta skyline over a lake in Piedmont Park.

A view of Midtown over Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park. (Photo by Charity Davenport under CC0 1.0)

Piedmont Park is a popular spot for people near downtown and Midtown Atlanta to get an extra dose of sunshine. Those who choose to walk on the loop trail get a bonus: everything from lake and meadow strolls to Atlanta skyline views. Piedmont Park’s loop also connects with another popular Atlanta trail, the Eastside BeltLine, a nice option for hikers who want to vary their route. Pack a lunch and a blanket and join the hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of park-goers who lounge in Piedmont Park’s green space for some well-deserved relaxation.

A view overlooking the Chattahoochee River.

Chattahoochee River NRA – East Palisades (Photo Credit: )

There is a good reason why this is one of the most popular hikes in the Atlanta area. This peaceful stroll along the banks of the Chattahoochee River is only outdone by the number of hikers vying for a chance to come across the hidden bamboo forest. Hikers along the trail aren’t shy about asking for directions on how to find it (Hint: It’s at mile marker 26.), which adds to the mythical nature of its existence. 
 
For hikers who’ve gotten enough of the “bamboo forest trail,” there are several other wonderful trails to choose from in this section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, including trails with hilly inclines and others with openings to small river beaches.

Kennesaw Mountain – Mountain Loop 

  • Location: Marietta, GA 
  • Length: 5.8-mile loop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Best For: History lovers 
  • Dogs: Leashed  
A cannon along the trail at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park.

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park (Photo Credit: TranceMist under CC BY-SA)

The Mountain Loop trail is part of more than 22 miles of trails on nearly 3,000 acres of preserved land at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, which is managed by the National Park Service. Hiking here doesn’t just offer beautiful nature and skyline views, but a wealth of historical information about the area. Kennesaw Mountain is the ancestral home of the Cherokee Nation. Despite resistance, white settlers forced them out of their homeland during the gold rush in the 1830s. In 1864, a significant battle happened here during the Civil War.  
 
The Mountain Loop trail, which makes a nearly six-mile loop around and over the park’s tallest peak, is the park’s most popular trail. Most people shorten the route by climbing to the top of Kennesaw Mountain to catch beautiful panoramic views of Atlanta and then coming back down, a 2.5-mile up and back hike.

Stone Mountain Park Walk-Up Trail and Cherokee Trail 

  • Location: Stone Mountain, GA 
  • Length: 1 mile up-and-back and 4.6-mile loop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Best For: Hikers who enjoy nature walks and panoramic views 
  • Dogs: Not Allowed on Walk-Up, Allowed – Leashed – on the Cherokee Trail

The Cherokee Trail and Walk-Up Trail are regular stops for eastside Atlanta hikers and exercise enthusiasts. The Walk-Up Trail may only be a mile long, up the enormous granite rock, but hikers will notice the steady incline that gets steeper close to the summit. The panoramic views are worth the effort; you can see 60 miles worth of Georgia landscape on a cloud-free day. The Cherokee Trail crosses the Walk-Up Trail at one point. It also passes through lots of different terrain, including forested areas, a lake and even an old rock quarry. 

Metro Atlanta communities remain divided on what to do about the Confederate monument carved into the side of the granite rock, but Stone Mountain and its many trails up and around the park continue to attract a diverse group of hikers to the area.

Arabia Mountain – Mountain Top Trail 

  • Location: Lithonia, GA 
  • Length: 1/2-mile out-and-back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy 
  • Best For: Hikers who enjoy varied landscapes 
  • Dogs: Leashed 
Lichen, wildflowers, and other plant life on a granite outcropping.

Davidson Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve (Photo Credit: HP Contributor Clint Fowler)

Arabia Mountain’s Mountain Top Trail is an excellent option for hikers looking for a unique, rocky landscape without all the lung-punching inclines of typical mountain trails. Most of the trail is paved and ideal for wheelchairs, strollers and bikes. Start at the wildlife center through the forested section of the trail and Arabia Mountain’s “peak” (a slow incline up the granite quarry) will soon come into full view. Arabia Mountain’s rocky terrain is a great place to relax or inspect wildflowers growing out of the moon-like surface of the summit. Hikers looking for a little more adventure can continue on one of the many other trails in the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, including a hike to nearby Panola Mountain.

Doll’s Head Trail at Constitution Lakes 

  • Location: Constitution Neighborhood, Southeast Atlanta 
  • Length: 1.5-mile lollipop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy
  • Best For: Hikers who want a dose of Halloween year-round 
  • Dogs: Leashed

This hike may not be the most challenging but is easily the most talkable romp in metro Atlanta. Start along the wetland boardwalks of Constitution Lake where you’ll catch glimpses of herons, geese and turtles. Next, make your way to the Doll’s Head section of the trail, a less well-marked, sometimes muddy jaunt. It’s here that your gaze will drift from nature to discarded household items like metal fans, light bulbs and push-button telephones once scattered throughout the forested area, now rearranged into an artistic display. The most notable exhibits are the doll parts, detached heads and limbs that have been reassembled to make unconventional figures. Some hikers find the installations creepy; others see a fascinating display of repurposed children’s toys that make a statement about how humans alter the natural environment.

Cascade Springs Nature Preserve Spring Trail  

  • Location: Cascade Heights, Southwest Atlanta 
  • Length: 1/2-mile loop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy 
  • Best For: Hiker families or casual strolls with friends 
  • Dogs: Leashed 
A rippling pool above light brown rocks beneath a rushing waterfall.

Falls in Georgia. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

There are four trails to choose from in the 125-acre Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, and all of them are less than a mile long. Choosing the Spring Trail gives hikers of all ages plenty of wildlife to check out along the way, including woodpeckers, turtles and deer. Follow along Turkey Creek and young hikers may want to stop at Cascade Falls, a small waterfall with large boulders that make wading easy. The Spring Trail also has an early twentieth-century pump house. The boardwalk in front of it at the trail junction is a natural spot for a meetup or a simple place for contemplation.

Red (History) Trail at Sweetwater Creek 

  • Location: Lithia Springs, GA 
  • Length: 2-mile out-and-back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Best For: Ruins and river views 
  • Dogs: Leashed
The ruins of an old mill at Sweetwater Creek State Park.

Sweetwater Creek State Park (Photo Credit: HP Contributor David Asgari)

The trails in Sweetwater State Park are a favorite for hikers in the Atlanta area. The park’s red trail is the most popular, likely because it takes hikers directly to the park’s main attraction: the Manchester Mill ruins. The hollowed structure was a cotton mill in the mid-nineteenth century that was burned down in 1864 during the Civil War. Once only known to local hikers, the mill gained more popularity after it was used in the Hunger Games movies. As the trail continues, it takes hikers near the banks of the creek and then through more rocky terrain. Sweetwater State Park is also known for its beautiful meadows with abundant wildflowers, enough to keep hikers coming back again and again!

Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail to Freedom Park Trail 

  • Location: Atlanta 
  • Length: 3 miles + 1.4-mile out-and-back 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy 
  • Best For: Hikers who enjoy city views 
  • Dogs: Leashed  

Why choose one trail when you can have two? The Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside trail was the first section of old railroad converted to paved, oak tree-lined trails to welcome city hikers. The popular eastside trail offers great views of downtown Atlanta and many intown neighborhoods. Hikers on the beltline trail can turn near the 4th Ward Skate Park in the Inman Park neighborhood onto the Freedom Park Trail connector, which takes hikers past the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, and on to Freedom Park. Both paved trails are wheelchair accessible as well as stroller, scooter and bike-friendly. Several restaurants and shops along the way could turn a short in-town hike into an all-day outing.

Homestead Trail at Red Top Mountain State Park 

  • Location: Acworth, GA 
  • Length: 5.5-mile lollipop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Moderate 
  • Best For: Lake views 
  • Dogs: Leashed

Red Top Mountain State Park is mostly known for water activities like boating, fishing and jet skiing, but it also is home to arguably one of metro Atlanta’s best hikes. The Homestead Trail gives hikers a little bit of everything the state park has to offer, starting with a one-mile hike through a beautiful forest full of pine trees and ferns. Next, it makes a loop around Lake Allatoona, which provides a serene space for relaxing, or even a swim. Hikers complete the lollipop trail by looping back to the forest walk they started on, which leads back to the visitor’s center.

Island Ford North Loop Trail 

  • Location: Dunwoody, GA  
  • Length: 2.8-mile, round-trip lollipop loop 
  • Difficulty Rating: Easy 
  • Best For: An easy-going outing for the entire family 
  • Dogs: Leashed
Geese in the Chattahoochee River

Chattahoochee River at Island Ford (Photo Credit: thomasawolff under CC BY-SA)

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. Plan an early morning hike to enjoy the peaceful setting along the river as the fog lingers over the waters. 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.

Are you a new hiker excited to learn or someone more experienced looking to connect with fellow hikers? Check out our local hiking events and go on an adventure with REI.


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