Atlanta’s Best Scenic Beginner Hikes

Arabia Mountain Top Trail

Arabia Mountain Top Trail

 

Atlanta’s plentiful parks, tall trees and comfortable climate make it a fantastic city for outdoor activity. And with unique landscape features, from creeks and rivers like the mighty Chattahoochee to towering bald summits like Stone Mountain and Arabia, there’s an abundance of hiking adventures to be found around the city.

Explore Atlanta’s stunning outdoors on these five metro-area trails, all within 30 miles of the city (and some in town). They’re all great for beginning hikers: they’re easy to moderate in difficulty, under four miles in length, and pack a ton of outdoor beauty within a relatively short distance.  And the few that top the mileage charts are still beginner-friendly: there’s plenty of scenic outdoor beauty spread along the trail.  So if you don’t make it the full distance your first trip, don’t worry: enjoy as much of the trail as you can,  and return for more hiking fun in the future.

No hiking boots? No problem! These trails are running-shoe-friendly.  Be sure to pack basics, like printed trail directions (see each trail’s link for detailed directions and maps), water, sunscreen and your mobile phone in case of emergency.

Arabia Mountain Top Trail

(1.3 miles, unpaved / open rock expanses)

Hike through stunning geology and ecology to the summit of Arabia Mountain in the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve near Atlanta’s east side perimeter. The Arabia Mountain Top Trail scales the mountain’s cratered, open rock expanses to stunning 360-degree views at the summit.  The best time to hike? After a rain, to catch pools of water in the mountain’s craters that reflect the wide-open sky above.

 

South Peachtree Creek Trail

South Peachtree Creek Trail

South Peachtree Creek Trail

(2 miles, paved / boardwalk)

This PATH Foundation trail near Decatur crosses a towering train trestle before descending to the ruins of the Decatur Waterworks.  And after rolling elevation through a shady forest, the South Peachtree Creek Trail runs raised boardwalk through a forest on the banks of South Peachtree Creek.

 

Morningside Nature Preserve Trail

Morningside Nature Preserve Trail

Morningside Nature Preserve Trail

(2.45 miles, unpaved)

Located on the fringes of Morningside, one of Atlanta’s upscale residential neighborhoods, the Morningside Nature Preserve Trail is a tucked-away favorite of neighborhood residents. The trail hikes across a suspension bridge spanning the sandy shores of South Peachtree Creek before winding through a terraced forest. Keep watch for wildlife on the trail: beavers, turtles, raccoons and birds are often sighted in the preserve.

 

Sweetwater Creek Red Trail

Sweetwater Creek Red Trail

Sweetwater Creek Red Trail

(2.3 miles, unpaved)

Hike the Sweetwater Red Trail at Sweetwater Creek State Park to the ruins of a mill destroyed in the Civil War on the banks of a beautiful, whitewater-filled creek. Sweetwater Creek’s rushing whitewater rapids, small cascading waterfalls, and sandy banks punctuated with large boulders are a perfect backdrop to a mid-hike picnic.

 

Red Top Mountain Iron Hill Trail

Red Top Mountain Iron Hill Trail

Red Top Mountain Iron Hill Trail

(3.8 miles, unpaved / boardwalks)

Hike the meandering shore of Allatoona Lake on the Iron Hill Peninsula at Red Top Mountain State Park north of Atlanta. The Red Top Mountain Iron Hill Trail hikes through a spindly, shady forest, catching nearly continuous views of the lake’s glassy-water cove. The trail gently rolls elevation along the shore thanks to a series of raised wooden boardwalks that span the peninsula’s occasional elevation dips.

Eric ChamplinEric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, kayak and cycle Georgia’s beautiful outdoors. Eric is the author of Atlanta Trails, an online magazine that reviews the best hiking trails, running trails and outdoor adventures throughout Georgia. His mission? To inspire Atlanta residents and visitors to get fit outdoors and explore Georgia’s beauty.

PHOTO CREDIT (all): Eric Champlin

 

Hike the Hooch!

East Palisades Trail

Explore the banks of the Chattahoochee River on these five Chattahoochee hikes near Atlanta. From historic bridges to tucked-away islands and rushing whitewater, these trails visit the river’s most beautiful stretches.

The Chattahoochee River is one of Georgia’s great rivers. The river, nicknamed the “Hooch”, begins as a tiny trickle in North Georgia’s rolling Appalachians before pooling in Lake Lanier and flowing wide and mighty toward Atlanta.

South of Lake Lanier, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area spans 48 miles of shady, forested river banks. This enormously long chain of parks offers over 70 miles of hiking, running and biking trails managed by the National Park Service.  For a great hike, walk or trail run near Atlanta this summer, explore the Hooch! But with over 70 miles of trails in the Chattahoochee River NRA, where should you begin?

Explore the best of the river and several tributary creeks on these five fantastic Chattahoochee hikes north of Atlanta. New to hiking? No problem: these hikes travel under five miles on well-traveled, easy to moderate trails. Take a hike to explore beautiful Chattahoochee River views, a mid-river island, historic mill ruins and a rushing spillway waterfall.  And watch for wildlife: the Chattahoochee’s forested banks are home to deer, heron, turtles and geese that frequent the river’s shore.

Parking: $3 (daily), or included with a Chattahoochee River NRA annual pass.

East Palisades Trail

Hike a 3.4 mile loop on the East Palisades Trail to explore one of the Chattahoochee’s most scenic stretches near Atlanta.

The Hooch cascades through small waterfalls and whitewater at the Palisades, rushing over angular rock rising from the river. The East Palisades trail treks to stunning overlook views from towering bluffs and hikes through a bamboo forest on the river’s banks.

Vickery CreekVickery Creek Trail

Explore historic mills, a waterfall and steep river banks on this 3 mile hike near a Chattahoochee River tributary.

The Vickery Creek Trail hikes rolling forest near the banks of Big Creek in Roswell. The hike visits a spillway waterfall where Big Creek tumbles over a historic, stacked-stone dam that once powered the Roswell Mill downstream.  The trail arcs to cross a wooden covered bridge to explore the Roswell Mill Ruins in Old Mill Park, a mill complex destroyed in the Civil War.

Sope CreekSope Creek Trail

The kid-friendly Sope Creek Trails explore a boulder-studded creek, a historic paper mill destroyed in the Civil War and a serene pond on the banks of Sope Creek, a Chattahoochee tributary.

This 1.5 mile trail descends through a young pine and deciduous forest to the banks of Sope Creek where the ruins of an 1855 paper mill rise, cathedral-like, from the forest floor.  The hike explores Sope Creek’s rocky bed before trekking through a stream-filled forest. Watch for wildflowers and wildlife along the trail as it rises to Sibley Pond, where it loops the glassy pond’s banks before returning to the trailhead.

Powers IslandPowers Island Trail

This 2.4 mile trail explores an island on the opposite banks of the Chattahoochee from Cochran Shoals, a hugely popular biking and running trail.

The Powers Island Trail crosses a wide footbridge to loop around Powers Island, catching beautiful upriver views of the whitewater-filled Chattahoochee. Heron, geese and sunlight-basking turtles are a common sight in the smooth-flowing inlet on the island’s eastern side.

Jones BridgeJones Bridge Trail

The Jones Bridge Trail catches beautiful Chattahoochee River views in the City of Johns Creek, visiting a historic bridge and crossing wooden suspension bridges over trickling tributaries. Hike the Jones Bridge Trail on a cool summer morning for a chance to catch fog flowing downriver, illuminated by rays from the rising sun.

The 4.6 mile trail visits the remains of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century metal bridge that spans the Hooch. Other than the remaining metal shell, most of the bridge was heisted by thieves in the 1940s.

Eric ChamplinEric Champlin is a writer and photographer who loves to hike, run, kayak and cycle Georgia’s beautiful outdoors. Eric is the author of Atlanta Trails, an online magazine that reviews the best hiking trails, running trails and outdoor adventures throughout Georgia. His objective? To inspire Atlanta residents and visitors to get fit outdoors and explore Georgia’s beauty.