This post originally ran on the Atlanta Homeschool blog, Fall 2015.
Five Great Fall Hikes in Atlanta and Beyond
Fall in Atlanta is beautiful. The trees are bursting with color, the oppressive heat of summer is gone, and the pollen count is lower than what we find in spring. To me, this makes fall the perfect time to get out of the house and explore the many hiking trails in the area. And, as homeschoolers, we not only get to hike (this counts as PE as well as family time, right?), we can do so during the week when other families are at work or school, making for very peaceful treks into the woods.
Here are five favorites for families who want to take a hike:
Stone Mountain – Stone Mountain Park offers six different hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty, including three that they list as “family friendly.” If you’re new to hiking, you may want to start off with the lovely Nature Garden Trail or the Kings Trail at Indian Island.
Arabia Mountain – The hiking trails at Arabia Mountain have a lot to offer, including rare plant life, beautiful forests, and patches of exposed, cratered granite terrain that is almost otherworldly. One of their newest trails is the 2.3-mile, moderately difficult Mountain View Trail, located at the base of the mountain. Though not especially long or strenuous, this may not be the best trail for beginners, as it requires extra attention and some experience to even stay on the trail. But those that do make the trek are rewarded with a stunningly diverse landscape of forest, lakeshore, rock, and meadow.
Sweetwater Creek State Park – The popular Sweetwater Creek State Park, located west of Atlanta, boasts 2500 acres of creek side landscape, with over seven miles of hiking among four different trails. The most popular trail is the 2.3-mile Sweetwater Red, which takes hikers through forest, across the creek, and through the ruins of the historic Manchester Mill (which fans may recognize from the Hunger Games films). Parts of this trail can be difficult due to slippery boulders, so be prepared.
Sawnee Mountain Preserve – The Sawnee Mountain Preserve, just 40 miles north of Atlanta, is home to 900 acres of coniferous and deciduous forest, with over five miles of hiking trails. The Indian Seats Trail begins at the visitor’s center on Spot Road, and winds up an over the mountain, looping around on the hike down for a total of four miles. Though the trail is lengthy and moderately strenuous, the terrain is interesting (hikers will pass mine entrances that are now blocked off, and deep depressions in the rocks that were once used by local Indian tribes), and the view from the summit is spectacular.
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area – If you are hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife on your hike, the 3.5-mile Gold Branch Trail along the Chattahoochee River and Bull Sluice Lake may be your best bet. Here you’ll find beautiful terrain rich with marshes, cattails, and bog grasses. And it’s not unusual to see blue herons, geese, turtles and deer frequenting the mud flats along the river’s banks. At the 2.5 mile mark, the trail begins to ascend steeply, so those wanting to avoid the more difficult part of the hike, could double back at this point instead of completing the entire loop.
Honorable Mention – Frazier Rowe Park, Lavista Road – The trails here in this hidden gem of a park are more for walking than hiking, making it perfect for families who just want to spend a little time walking or playing in the woods. Located next to a small shopping center in the Oak Grove neighborhood of North Decatur, it’s hard to believe that there could be anything worth seeing along these trails. But actually the fact that it is nestled in a busy residential area is what makes the park so wonderful. Volunteers have done a great job with cleaning up the woods here, marking the plant life, creating meandering trails, and including benches and picnic tables. As visitors cross the wooden bridge that marks the halfway point of the main, looping trail, and head deeper into the forest, all goes silent except for birdsong, the crunching of leaves, and the scurrying of squirrels, and it’s easy to forget that Lavista Road is just steps away.