Right on schedule, the warmer temperatures slipped away just after Labor Day, and now, it’s finally temperate. Apart from Hurricane Irma last week, we’ve been seeing some beautiful weather in the Atlanta area, and I’m sure many of you, like me, are finding it hard to resist the outdoors, so why not use it to get moving?
The fall season is one of my favorites for being on the trails around the area, and Atlanta is lucky enough to have both flat and hilly terrain of which we can take advantage. Take it from this Florida girl who’s happy to finally be around a little elevation: Whether you’re an avid hiker or just want to get your steps in outside, there are some great day hikes and trails in the area that also offer beautiful scenery. Some are close to home while others require driving a bit farther to reach the trailheads, but trust me, they will be the worth the drive!
Atlanta Metro Area
Don’t dismiss this one yet! I know this is right in the heart of the city, and you may not even think of it as a proper trail, but it is! In fact, by the time this project is completely finished it will be a network of 33 miles of trails, and already consists of several paths that both pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy — and they are family friendly!
It is one of my favorite places to walk/jog on the weekends while people-watching or simply taking in our lovely city, and you can always grab a bite at Ponce City Market, Krog Street Market, or Inman Park before, after, or along the way. The Atlanta Beltline provides access to numerous parks around town, including our version of Central Park, Piedmont Park, so you can also stop anywhere to play a game of Frisbee, tag football, or simply stretch it out with some yoga, as many people do on Sunday evenings with King of Pops Yoga in the Park.
This is another obvious and very easy one, and perfect if you’re looking for something quick. The Stone Mountain Park has many activities for visitors to do and a lot of historic attractions as well, but I typically stick with the walking trail to the top if I have out of town guests, since it’s only 1 mile! Most of this trail is simple as you walk steadily over the rocks, but when you get to the last stretch it gets pretty steep, so hold the handrails and get ready for your calves to burn!
When you finally get to the top, you get a distant view of Atlanta — downtown, midtown, Buckhead and the office parks at the Perimeter. But this trail is just 1 mile of the roughly 15 miles of trail in the park, so don’t miss those either. If you don’t feel like walking back to the bottom, take the Summit Skyride cable car back down for about $10 and get a close-up view of the impressive battle scene imagery carved into the stone face of the mountain.
The first time I did the Kennesaw Mountain trail, I didn’t think much of it because it was a very cold, damp and overcast day. After doing the short 2 mile trail, I quickly headed back to the car.
From this mountain, too, it’s possible to get view from the distance of the Atlanta skyline, as long as it’s not too cloudy or foggy out like it was that first time.
But if you do make it out on a clear, sunny day, the trail can be quite beautiful, and there are historic monuments and points of interest along the way, which make for an educational experience too, as this was the site for a brutal Civil War battle. Even the shorter 2.1-mile path is scattered with canons and other artifacts, and you can read about the history of the battlegrounds at the visitors center at the base of the mountain. However, if you’re looking for more exercise and scenery, go ahead and take the longer 11-mile loop across the site of the old battlefields.
The second time I did this hike, it was a bright spring day. We did this longer version, crossing several beautiful meadows, and encountering a handful or people riding on horseback.
We stopped at the Illinois Memorial at Cheatham Hill, where entrenched soldiers perished.
There are several short, easy trails that run along the Chattahoochee River. I actually haven’t done any these yet, but I want to, and hope to as I explore more of the Sandy Springs area. Recently, I spent an afternoon working out of the Chattahoochee Coffee Company coffee house that sits on the river, and it was so beautiful that I planned to come back to check out the nearby trails.
To be honest, I don’t remember the trail here very well, except for the fact that I really enjoyed it. I went to Lullwater Preserve before I lived in Atlanta, when I was visiting a friend who was attending Emory University. The park is near Emory, across from the Centers for Disease Control. My friend introduced me to her classmates and we set off on the 2.4 mile loop, with snacks and Frisbee in hand. It was such a pleasant afternoon outdoors playing Frisbee in the acres of green fields that this park houses. We passed by a small waterfall, the Lullwater Spillway, and the Lullwater Mansion, home to Emory University’s president. This is a great place to take a leisurely afternoon stroll or jog.
These first five have beautiful trails within or very close to the city, but if you’re willing to drive a little farther away, there are some other stunning sites to behold while also getting in some exercise:
Within 2 Hours Driving Distance From Atlanta
Amicalola Falls (options for longer hikes)
I love, love, love this one! This is one of my favorites, and a popular place for me to take friends and family when they visit me in Atlanta because the waterfall is just so beautiful. It’s about 1.5 hours to drive from Atlanta to the falls site, but about halfway there you start to see the city landscape diminish and will notice more greenery — fields, farms, rolling hills and ranches.
Amicalola is Georgia’s tallest waterfall. I have now been to Amicalola about four or five times at different parts of the year, and each time, it amazes me that this level of natural beauty is so close to Atlanta. The falls trail is short and sweet at about 2 miles, but don’t expect it to be easy. It’s pretty much a set of wooden stairs taking you up to the top of the waterfalls – a GREAT workout. And a little further up there is a lodge where you get a panoramic view of the North Georgia Mountains.
From here, if you’re looking for something longer, you can continue to trek upwards to Springer Mountain — a much longer and rewarding trail. Springer Mountain marks the southernmost end of the Appalachian Trail.
About two years ago on Fitbit Goal Day, I did the longer hike up to Springer Mountain and back down, which was a total 20 mile loop. On the way back down, we stopped at a different lodge that leveraged eco-friendly practices such as composting, allowing it to exist with minimal environmental impact.
We relaxed in the rocking chairs at this lodge for about 20 minutes to take in the view before continuing onward. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of it, but it was a spectacular way to spend a day disconnected from technology and connected with nature.
This is the sixth-tallest mountain in Georgia and also offers great views of the surrounding landscape. However, to me, Blood Mountain is not as scenic as some of the others listed here, but that could be because we went on an overcast winter day. It takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to the trailhead, and like the others, this one is dog friendly, too. You can also expect shorter and longer trail options. We took the 6-mile trail that intersected with the Appalachian Trail, and came back down again on the Freeman Trail.
We came across a group of people at the top where there is a rock building, a shelter for Appalachian Trail hikers. It was interesting hearing them chat as they paused for a break here after having already completed most of the AT down from Maine.
One of the earliest hikes I did in the area, a longer one of about 11 miles if you take the Arkaquah Trail from Track Rock Gap full of switchbacks and alternating uphill and downhill portions to the top. But that’s expected when you’re trying to get to the highest point in the state.
However, in the fall, I promise the switchbacks and inclines are made easier by the beautiful fall colors you’re treated to along the way, so I suggest going at around the November time frame when the colors are just starting to emerge. At the end, you get a stunning panoramic view of the hills of Georgia and Tennessee from Georgia’s tallest mountain. For a shorter option, at about 1.5 miles, start at the visitors center.
This one is lesser known, a hidden gem south of Atlanta, formed by erosion from poor farming practices in the 1800s. Just over a 2-hours from Atlanta, a little past Columbus, Georgia, this state park has miles of trails to check out. There is of course, the walk through the canyon itself, which is not long at all — about 2.5 miles — but expect your shoes to get wet as you cross a sandy riverbed. but there are also trails skirting the canyon too. If I remember correctly, we did one small portion of the backcountry trail, which is actually 7 miles and difficult in its entirety.
When I went to this canyon, I was primarily amazed that such a place even existed in Georgia, because I had never heard of it, and found that many other people hadn’t either. I promise the drive down is totally worth it!
Tallulah Gorge State Park
This is a stunningly scenic gulch with about 20 miles of trails, and a perfect option in many seasons. In the fall, enjoy the colors of the leaves. In the spring and summer, you can cool off by jumping into the water from the sliding rock.
The park is 1.5 hours away. I first visited the gorge as an impromptu stop on the way to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Having planned for a romantic Valentine’s Day weekend with my then-boyfriend, now husband, I was inappropriately dressed for hiking (ever tried trekking in heels?) so we only made it across the bridge and back. But even then, we got a gorgeous view- pun totally intended.
The second time I went to Tallullah, it was in November, and we went with friends. That time, I was appropriately dressed in neon hiking gear, perfect since we were warned by park staff that it was hunting season in the back country, so we needed to keep ourselves clearly visible. Also, it was the Diwali holiday, so I had picked out new, bright clothes to wear for this Hindu holiday which marks the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness.
We made it a couple miles down into the gorge and back to the top when our friend felt a bit woozy and didn’t feel like hiking anymore. At that, we left the gorge and set back southwest towards Atlanta, stopping at the Habersham Winery on the way. Magically, her fatigue seemed to have dispelled by the time we got there for some fruity refreshments.
This is just the short list, but with the north Georgia mountains right next to us and the many parks this city has to offer, there are a plethora of other opportunities to reach your fitness goals while enjoying the outdoors too!