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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
Head to any of the Labor Day events in Georgia and make the most of your long holiday weekend. Watch hot air balloons float above the trees in Pine Mountain, crush grapes at a winery in North Georgia, build a sand castle on the beach, cheer for your favorite football team and race car driver, and watch a Pirate Boat Parade on Lake Blackshear. Find these and many more events on http://exploregeorgia.org.
Aug. 29-31: Sky High Hot Air Balloon Festival at Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain
Aug. 30: Annual Kingsland Catfish Festival, Kingsland
Aug. 30-31: Laurel Summer Fest, Gainesville
Aug. 30-31: Labor Day Weekend – Sunset Tours, North Georgia Zoo, Cleveland
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Labor Day Celebration and Customer Appreciation Weekend, Clayton County International Park – The Beach, Jonesboro
Aug. 31: Tybee Island Labor Day Beach Bash, Tybee Island
Sports & Racing
Aug. 29-31: IPRA World Championship Fall Rodeo, Cumming
Aug. 30: Georgia Tech Football vs. Wofford, Atlanta
Aug. 30: Big Cat Quest Catfish Tournament, Rome
Aug. 31: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton
Aug. 31: Callaway Gardens Family Fitness Series Triathlon, Pine Mountain
Wine & Cheese
Aug. 30: Crush Fest, A Harvest Celebration, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, Cleveland
Aug. 30: Grape Stomping Festival, Paradise Hills Resort, Spa & Farm Winery, Blairsville
Aug. 30: Cheesemaking 101, Sweet Grass Dairy, Thomasville
History & Culture
Aug. 30: 3 Deep in the Yard – The Pivotal Battle of Jonesboro, Jonesboro
Aug. 30: Civil War Event at the Yellow River Post Office, Lilburn
Aug. 30-31: Mountain Heritage Festival, Blairsville
Art & Music
Aug. 30: Lighthouse Gospel Concert, Thomasville
Aug. 30: Just My Imagination Workshop, Dublin
Aug. 30-31: St. Simons Island Antique Show, St. Simons Island
Aug. 31: Drake and Lil’ Wayne at Aaron’s Amphitheatre, Atlanta
Select Events at Georgia State Parks
Aug. 29: Art in the Park, Sweetwater Creek State Park, Lithia Springs
Aug. 29 & 31: Labor Day Weekend Night Kayak, Hard Labor Creek State Park, Rutledge
Aug. 30: Labor Day Festival, Fort McAllister State Park, Richmond Hill
Aug. 30: Astronomy, Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo
Aug. 30: Bark in the Park Dog Luau, F.D. Roosevelt State Park, Pine Mountain
Aug. 30: Labor Day Fishing Rodeo, Reed Bingham State Park, Adel
Aug. 30: Labor Day at Jarrell Plantation Historic Site, Juliette
Aug. 30: Lake Blackshear Pirate Festival, Georgia Veterans State Park, Cordele
Aug. 30: Moonlight Movie Night, Victoria Bryant State Park, Royston
Aug. 31: Guided Canoe Trip, Mistletoe State Park, Appling
Aug. 31: Jr. Ranger Mini-Camp, Tugaloo State Park, Lavonia
Aug. 30-31: Indoor Basic Archery, Panola Mountain State Park, Stockbridge
Aug. 30-31: Tallulah Gorge Floor Hike, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Tallulah Falls
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Labor-less Day, Little Ocmulgee State Park and Lodge, Helena
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Labor Day on the Lake, Florence Marina State Park, Omaha
Aug. 30-Sept. 1: Tools and Skills that Built a Colony, Wormsloe Historic Site, Savannah
Sept. 1: Labor Day Commemoration, Fort Morris Historic Site, Midway
Sept. 1: Labor Day at Fort King George Historic Site, Darien
Last Chance! Events Ending Labor Day Weekend
Through Aug. 29: Bea Kuhlke Art Exhibition, Sacred Heart Gallery, Augusta
Aug. 30: Blue & Gray Saturdays, Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, Sandy Springs
Through Aug. 30: Family Farm Tours, Jaemor Farms, Alto
Through Aug. 30: Victorian Mourning Tours, Stately Oaks Plantation, Jonesboro
Through Aug. 30: 3D Off the Wall Exhibit, The Art Center, Blue Ridge
Through Aug. 31: The Land Abstracted: Exhibit by Colleen Sterling, The Art Center, Blue Ridge
Through Aug. 31: Corks and Canvas, Evans
Through Aug. 31: Exhibits at Oglethorpe University Museum of Art, Atlanta
Through Aug. 31: Splash Pad, Southern Pines Regional Park, Dublin
Through Aug. 31: “Right On,” Horizon Theatre, Atlanta
Through Sept. 1: Summer Music Weekends, Rock City, Lookout Mountain
Through Sept. 1: Blue Star Museums, Flint RiverQuarium and Thronateeska Heritage Center, Albany
Opening Labor Day Weekend
Aug. 30-Sept. 17: Perspectives 2014 pottery event, Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, Watkinsville
Aug. 30-Oct. 26: Pick Your Own Apples, Red Apple Barn, Ellijay
Aug. 30-Nov. 16 Buford Corn Maze, Buford
Sept. 1-30: Blue Morpho Butterfly Month at Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain
Helen is a piece of Bavaria in the North Georgia Mountains. A great day trip any time of year, but I hear its Oktoberfest celebration is spectacular.
There is a road in, and a road out of Helen. We arrived in Helen sitting in a very slow moving line of traffic. You’ll quickly discover that the traffic is a direct result of Helen being synonymous with tubing trips!
The rain started to fall, our stomachs were growling and Bodensee had high reviews on TripAdvisor. Thanks to the covered patio, we were able to eat outside with the scent of rain enveloping us. The portions were huge. Our server actually recommended we share a meal if we ordered wienerschnitzel off the dinner menu, since it is not offered as a smaller portion on the lunch menu. A side of spaetzle and two German beers completed this rich, and quite delicious, meal.
The rain subsided just as we were finishing up and we headed to Anna Ruby Falls. Adjacent to Unicoi State Park, we found that no one was scared off by the rain. Tons of campsites were set up and people were enjoying the scenery.
Anna Ruby is the daughter of a local resident who owned a lot of land in the area. The hike is about a mile and well worth the photo opportunities at the top. Be prepared for a lot of people. The wet conditions we experienced did not dissuade anyone.
After the hike to Anna Ruby Falls, we didn’t miss the chance to stop at Fred’s. Fred’s Famous Peanuts is a roadside stand that Fred and his wife, Dianne, have has been running for nearly 30 years. Fred’s homemade peanut brittle is not to be missed. In fact, I wish we bought more.
Lori Sussle Bonanni spent her career in New York City and relocated to Atlanta in December 2013. Lori loves immersing herself in local culture and going off the beaten path. She is excited to explore all that Atlanta and Georgia have to offer. Lori earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a Specialization in Advertising and Public Relations from Rowan University. Say hi to Lori @smplythreecents on Twitter or visit her blog, simplythreecents.com.
Located in southwest Georgia off of I-75, Albany has lots of fun places to visit that won’t break the bank or, in some cases, even crack the wallet. Stroll the six-acre RiverFront Park anchored by Ray Charles seated at his baby Grand and grab a piano key bench for an evening “concert.” As the sun goes down, the lights go up on this one-of-a-kind sculpture. Take a nature walk along the three-mile Riverfront Greenway Trail System that follows the scenic Flint River or at Radium Springs, one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders, with crystal clear waters, historic courtyard, indigenous and exotic flora and casino garden. Turn the kids loose at the fountain and at Turtle Grove Play Park or shout “fore” with a round of disc golf at Chehaw. Free Albany attractions include the movie, “From the Heart of Southwest Georgia,” at the Albany Welcome Center, which is tucked inside the Historic Bridge House/Welcome Center – a great place to pick up a souvenir bargain, like a stuffed turtle. Also free: the Albany Museum of Art and its growing permanent collection comprised of African, European and American art, including one of the most impressive collections of sub-Saharan African art to be found in the Southeastern United States; and Thronateeska Heritage Center (NOTE: there is a charge for the planetarium show).
While in Albany, try these budget-friendly boredom busters:
Kids can romp to their heart’s content at RiverFront Park with Turtle Grove Play Park and its Dino Dig, Tot Lot and fountain; at Legacy Park (fishing pond – with poles available, soccer, baseball and softball fields, 8 tennis courts, sand volleyball, a mile and a half walking track, recreational facilities and more); and at the All American Fun Park with arcade, go-carts, bumper boats, miniature golf and cosmic bowling.
Fun family eateries include The Cookie Shoppe and Harvest Moon for pizza, among other kid-friendly places. Young shoppers will want to spend their mad money at the gift shops at the Flint RiverQuarium and Chehaw animal and adventure park. Albany has more than two dozen hotels – and many include complimentary breakfast and have the all-important swimming pool, among other amenities.
FREE attractions: Turtle Grove Play Park and fountain at RiverFront Park; Thronateeska (NOTE: there is a charge for the show); the Albany Museum of Art; Legacy Park; and the movie, “From the Heart of Southwest Georgia,” at the Albany Welcome Center.
Mom-on-the-go and Laurie Rowe Communications PR pro Katie Reeder graduated at the top of her class from the Calhoun Honors College at Clemson University with a degree in Communication Studies. Katie resides in Cumming, Georgia – between the beautiful mountains of North Georgia and the lights and action of nearby Atlanta.