Atlanta Outdoors

Places to Go
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In the City

An outdoor adventurer in Atlanta can find plenty to do without ever leaving the city, (which happens to be one of the most forested towns in the country). Athletes certainly will have no trouble finding places to run, swing a racket or club, or swim. Climbers can find walls, both natural and man-made; hikers and bikers can find trails, and canoeists and kayakers will discover water into which to dip a paddle. For example, Atlanta's Piedmont Park, between 10th and 14th streets in midtown, has a children's playground, tennis courts, swimming pool, bike paths, and places for running and rollerskating.

Grant Park, at Cherokee Ave. SE, offers many casual opportunities to jog, bike and skate. It is also home to Zoo Atlanta, one of the ten oldest zoos in continuous operation in the United States. And for those who like a little culture and history mixed with their outdoor activities, Grant Park also offers the Cyclorama, a huge painting in the round depicting the Battle of Atlanta. Many visitors go to the Carter Center, 453 Freedom Parkway, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. While visitors examine the exhibits inside the center, some savvy outdoor folks hop on their bicycles and pedal the bike trail that connects the Carter Center with Georgia's famous Stone Mountain, 15 miles away.

Stone Mountain Park, located on U.S. 78, is home to an enormous granite monolith — with a sculpture of Confederate war heroes carved into its side. This 3,200-acre park offers miles of trails for walking or jogging.

Speaking of trails, Atlanta's PATH Foundation has developed 25 miles of greenway trails connecting the city's communities. These paved paths are used for biking, walking, skating, etc. Plans include connecting in-town neighborhoods and bringing new Georgia counties into the program. There's even a planned trail connecting nearby Smyrna, Ga. with Alabama! This 57-mile trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding will be built along an abandoned railroad bed. It is dubbed the Silver Comet trail after the train that used to travel along its corridor.

Climbers can avail themselves of a number of artificial climbing walls in Atlanta run by commercial outfits or local universities such as Georgia Tech. Just outside of the perimeter (Interstate 285), rock climbing is available at Fulton County Parks and Recreation's Cochran Mill Park and Providence Park, where outdoor enthusiasts can also indulge in some rappelling. Rowing and canoeing are available at Providence Park, Chattahoochee River Park, and Chattahoochee Nature Center.

At Atlanta's doorstep is the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a series of parks along the river which allows Atlantans and visitors to enjoy a real urban wilderness adventure. People go to the National Recreation Area to float the river, hike the trails along its banks, rock-climb, and fish for trout.

North Georgia and Middle Georgia

A 100-mile radius around Atlanta encompasses a large number of true treasures of the outdoors. A short drive out of the city takes the adventurer to the Chattahoochee National Forest or the Oconee National Forest. These two forests offer more than 500 developed campsites, more than 200 picnicking sites, 10 wildernesses, 6 swimming beaches, thousands of acres of lakes and streams, and more than 500 miles of trails. The Chattahoochee has several sections in North Georgia, and the Oconee N.F. is located north and west of Eatonton. Not far from the Oconee N.F. is the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, north of Macon.

Ocmulgee National Monument, in Macon, is the site of the rich archaeological treasures of Ocmulgee Fields, an ancient Creek Indian town. A trail connects most of the Monument's features, such as the Village site, the Cornfield Mound, Prehistoric trenches and Trading Post.

Through the Chattahoochee National Forest rushes the Chattooga Wild and Scenic River, one of the few remaining free-flowing streams in the Southeast. It borders Rabun County (county seat: Clayton), which is about a two-hour drive from Atlanta . Paddlers, hikers, and fishermen can all enjoy this protected river corridor. Other Georgia rivers beckoning outdoor enthusiasts include Talking Rock Creek, south of Ellijay, the Conasauga, the Coosawatee, and the Cartecay.

The Empire State of the South is hikers' and backpackers' heaven. The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, located at Springer Mountain, is about 70 miles north of Atlanta. Georgia is also home to the southern portion of the Bartram National Recreation Trail, named for naturalist and explorer William Bartram, who roamed the southern wilderness of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama 200 years ago.

Two of the Peach State's most beautiful scenic drives are within a short distance of Atlanta. The Ridge and Valley drive is a 47-mile route within the Armuchee Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest, west of Calhoun, less than 80 miles from Atlanta. The Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway takes travelers from the picturesque hamlet of Helen, scarcely an hour from Atlanta by car, to Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest mountain.

Atlantans love to cool off at the many lakes nearby, such as Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake, within a short drive of the city.

Neighboring States

For those in the mood to venture a little farther, Atlanta is a good point from which to explore the outdoor treasures in neighboring states. The city is the hub of a large network of highways that will take the adventurer to places such as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina line, about 125 miles from Atlanta. Also within a couple of hours' drive is the Nantahala National Forest, headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina and Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest, with headquarters in Cleveland, TN, east of Chattanooga.In Alabama, the Little River Canyon National Preserve, headquartered in Fort Payne, Alabama is due west of Calhoun, Ga. Due west of Atlanta is Talladega National Forest, with a district just a few miles from the Georgia state line, off of I-20.

Another out-of-state location easily accessible from Atlanta is South Carolina's Sumter National Forest, which offers camping and hiking trails. One district of the Sumter National Forest borders on the wild and wonderful Chattooga River.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 7 Nov 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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