More to the point as far as you and your pooch are concerned, Cobb County has many of the best parks in the Atlanta area. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Memorial Park and the various pieces of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offer superb hiking trails through cool woods where your leashed pooch can sniff for signs of wildlife or cool off in the water. (While the river parks are great, be forewarned that they are heavily infested with ticks. Wear a hat and check yourself and your dog after your walk.)
The county is also home to a large number of small county and neighborhood parks. Many have "fitness" nature trails, meaning that you'll find multiple stops along the trail with exercise stations. Not only have I never seen anyone using any of the equipment, but Laddie and Bandit steadfastly refuse to do any of the chin-ups or log jumps.
Parks And Recreation Areas
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
If you want to make your dog's tail wag, just tell her you're going to "The River." The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area consists of 14 separate land areas, called units, along a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River between Lake Lanier and Peachtree Creek. Four of these land areas are in Cobb County, and they are heaven on earth for city dogs, with an amazing variety of wildlife. Beavers, squirrels, rabbits, opossums, raccoons, herons, hawks, ducks, and kingfishers are abundant. You and your pooch may also find a variety of snakes (including copperheads), in addition to ticks and poison ivy. I once pulled more than 100 ticks off of my two dogs after a four-mile hike, so check your pet carefully before getting into your car. I also recommend protecting yourself by wearing what my sister calls a "woodswoman" hat with a wide brim. It may not be the most stylish attire, but it's effective at keeping creepy-crawlies out of my hair. Be sure to bring along insect repellent, water for you and your dog, and snacks, too. A rain poncho can also come in handy.
Unfortunately, complaints about dogs may force the park service to outlaw pooches from the Chattahoochee parks. I spoke with Field Operations Supervisor Connie Vogel-Brown, who said that the results of a survey of three million Chattahoochee visitors indicated that dogs running off leash and dog poop on the trails are the two biggest complaints about the park.
Off-leash dogs have caused problems not only for other visitors but for themselves. One dog was mauled by a muskrat when he went into a bush to retrieve a ball. In other cases, dogs have been injured when bounding up to greet other park visitors who misinterpreted their overtures as an attack. Some people let their pooches off leash to swim in the river, but dogs can quickly get into trouble in the swift current. You also need to leash your pet to keep him from getting lost. Leashed dogs can't chase after wildlife, such as the deer, red fox, skunk, and beaver found in the park, and end up in the next county or on an expressway. (In some of Georgia's parks, the percentage of lost dogs who are later found is very low—just 50 percent in Red Top Mountain State Park, for instance.)
So, for the sake of all Chattahoochee park-loving pooches and their people, be sure to keep your dog on leash and scoop the poop. Plastic grocery bags work well, and Mutt Mitts are available in Cochran Shoals (see below). The units are all open daily from dawn to dusk. Call the number listed with each park for a map of the unit.
Gold Branch Unit
The Gold Branch Unit consists of 385 acres of pristine land, with seven miles of hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous. The trails aren't well marked, so be sure to bring along a map. (Call the number below to receive a free trail map in the mail.) Compared to some of the other units in the Chattahoochee system, including Cochran Shoals, the trails here are not heavily used, making this a great place to walk a dog like Laddie, who likes his privacy. The wildflowers are spectacular in the spring, and animals such as deer and red foxes are abundant. The park also has a large population of beavers; look for their small dams and evidence of their work on the trees. Bull Sluice Lake, created by Morgan Falls Dam, is stocked with fish.
The park is open daily from 7 A.M. to dark. This unit is on Lower Roswell Road. Take Highway 120 east from the Big Chicken, and turn right on Lower Roswell Road. The park is two miles past Johnson Ferry Road. (770) 394-8324.
Sope Creek Unit
The Sope Creek Unit has several miles of heavily forested hiking trails, some easy or moderate and others quite strenuous, allowing you to choose the hike that suits you and your leashed pooch. Laddie loves the easy trail around Sibley Pond, which he takes slowly, nose to the ground, sniffing for the wildlife in and around the water. The trail around the pond is also wide, giving you a decent chance of keeping your pet out of the poison ivy.
Sope Creek feeds into the river, and the moderate trail to the ruins of an old paper mill on the creek is lined with wildflowers in the spring. Both Sope Creek and Sibley Pond are open to fishing.
The Sope Creek Unit, open daily from 7 A.M. to dark, is located on Old Paper Mill Road. Take Highway 120 east from the Big Chicken, turn right on Lower Roswell Road, and then right on Old Paper Mill Road. The park is past Terrell Mill Park. (770) 952-4419.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Memorial Park
Kennesaw has almost everything a dog could want—a variety of trails to hike, creeks to splash in, horses to investigate, and woods and smells galore from the birds and small mammals who live in the park, not to mention other doggy visitors. (With dogs along, you probably won't actually see anything other than fish and squirrels.) All of my dogs had their first hiking experiences in Kennesaw, both because it's close by and because the park has an assortment of trails, allowing us to choose a length appropriate to the occasion. The park is the historic site of the 1864 Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War, and there are plenty of cannons, monuments, and markers to interest you while your pooch waits impatiently. Dogs are allowed everywhere in the park except in the visitors center, and they must always be kept on leash. (I've seen several owners of off-leash pups being ticketed.)
The trails start at the visitors center. The main loop is a whopping 16 miles long, but you can take smaller loops of two, six, or 10 miles. All of the trails include some moderately steep climbs, particularly the one up Kennesaw Mountain and the one from Kennesaw Mountain to Little Kennesaw Mountain. Because the park crosses several roads, you can enter the trail anywhere along the main loop, allowing you to walk as little or as much as you like.
One of the more popular sections of trail in Kennesaw starts from the entrance on Burnt Hickory Road and heads toward Kolb Farm. Parking is limited along the road, and the area is usually congested with dog lovers and other park visitors, either hiking part of the distance to Kolb Farm or spreading a blanket in one of the grassy fields. There is usually a Frisbee game going on as well.
If you're not up to much of a hike but still want a time-out from city life, take your lunch or a book and park yourself on one of the rocks in the creek at Cheatham Hill. The sound of the water tumbling over the rocks drowns out even the sound of the planes from Dobbins Air Force Base, and your pooch will enjoy playing in the creek or even lying down in the shallow water for some blessed relief from the heat.
For a more extended opportunity to stretch your legs, the 5.5-mile loop from the Illinois Monument at Cheatham Hill to Kolb Farm and back is a relaxing day hike. Bandit loves to splash in the stream that parallels the trail by the monument. This trail is the infamous first hike I made with my dog Trixie, many years ago. I carried nothing but a covered plastic bowl of water for my dog, and while she had a wonderful time, as the day wore on—and heated up—my hiking companions and I were eyeing her water dish. I went out the next day and bought a canteen in the camping department of a local discount store. It was one of those plastic types on a canvas strap to carry over your shoulder, and, remembering my experience the day before, I bought the largest one they had.
I have to give my friend Betty a lot of credit for not laughing about that canteen. A teacher in a former life, Betty is extremely patient when dealing with stupidity. When I told her on the phone I had gotten the largest canteen in the store, the gallon size, she said she would hold on while I filled it up and tried it out. After I staggered back to the phone with my gallon jug, Betty suggested I go to an Army/Navy-type store and look for a canteen no bigger than a quart that would clip on my belt. I used that little canteen for years.
Now, with bottled water available in so many sizes, I simply throw a bottle or two in my pack. Since the canteen didn't solve the problem of carrying Trixie's water dish, I went back to Betty for advice. She told me to get a day pack, something big enough for my lunch, the water bowl, and a sweater. Although my back protested for the first few miles, it was so much easier to have my hands free that I quickly adjusted.
Gnats and mosquitoes can be a real nuisance at this park late in the summer, so don't forget the insect repellent. Also be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for both you and your dog. Even if you allow your pooch to drink from the creeks, there are long stretches without water.
The park is open daily from 8:30 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. Stop in at the visitors center for a park map and then plan your day from there. From the Big Chicken, go north on U.S. 41 (Cobb Parkway) and turn left onto Bells Ferry Road. Turn right onto Old U.S. 41 Northwest, then left onto Stilesboro Road. The visitors center will be on your left as you turn onto Stilesboro Road. (770) 427-4686.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication