Atlanta and its environs can be full of surprises for outdoor adventurers, especially those who have never ventured South. Innumerable hiking trails, exciting rock climbing, camping, trout fishing and great paddling are all within a short drive of the city. Many such outdoor activities are available within Atlanta's "perimeter." (Important note: Residents define "Atlanta" more frequently according to the boundary created by Interstate 285, which encircles the city, rather than by the city limits.)
Atlanta is a real boom-town: the city and its 20-county metropolitan area, with a population of 3.6 million, has grown 35 percent in the last decade. (There's plenty of room to spread out: Georgia is the largest state east of the Mississippi River.) The city, one of the most forested in America, is so appealing, it has become the number-one destination for Americans moving to a new home. But its growth hasn't changed the fact that residents and visitors enjoy quick and easy access to some of the best wild places in the Southeast, and indeed, in the country. Its location in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is a perfect spot from which to explore the mountains of North Georgia and the more gentle landscape of Middle Georgia.
Many of Georgia's outdoor destinations have fascinating ties to the history and culture of the area. For example, the Oconee Ranger Station is in Eatonton, Georgia, was home to Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus stories, and is the hometown of contemporary novelist Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple. The Chattooga River, bordering northeast Georgia and northwest South Carolina, long a favorite of thrill-seeking paddlers, gained national and international attention as the centerpiece of James Dickey's novel Deliverance and the film by the same name. In northeastern Georgia, hikers and backpackers walk Bartram National Recreation Trail, which traces the steps of an 18th century naturalist and explorer. The state is rich with Civil War history, and many historic sites offer not only museums and exhibits, but also outdoor activities. Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, located in northwestern Georgia, with headquarters at Ft. Oglethorpe, offers hiking, biking and horseback riding trails.
Lots of folks think"mountains" when they think outdoor adventure, and Atlanta provides a perfect access point to the southern Appalachians. The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is a short drive from Atlanta, and the North Georgia mountains are rich in other hiking trails, trout streams, whitewater, rock climbing and more. Tennessee and North Carolina's mountains are a couple of hours away by car, as is South Carolina, and Alabama.
South of Atlanta, Middle Georgia stretches toward Florida and the sea, with its abundant farmland and gentle, not-so-dramatic landscape. Some outdoor types dismiss Middle Georgia as bland, nothing more than endless rows of crops, giving way to the even flatter country in South Georgia. But Middle Georgia is a place of abundant wildlife, easy paddling and hiking, hunting, fishing and camping. And every nature lover should take a look at the Oconee National Forest and the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge. Both are a short drive south of Atlanta, and are just two examples of the rich offerings for outdoor adventurers between Atlanta and South Georgia.
Several locations in the Atlanta area offer hiking trails in and around Civil War battlefields, such as Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. North Georgia's Dahlonega, a little town nestled in the mountains, was the scene of the country's first gold rush, predating the more famous one in California by more than a decade. Believe it or not, a little gold mining still goes on there. As evidence of "gold in them thar hills," take a look at the dome on Georgia's capitol building, with its precious metal coating gleaming in the southern sunshine. Dahlonega is a charming base from which to explore North Georgia's trout streams, hiking trails and canoeing and kayaking opportunities.
Georgians and their visitors find no shortage of things to do in the outdoors, regardless of season. Georgia is hot and humid in the summer (they don't call it "Hotlanta" for nothing!) and Atlantans love getting away to cool off in local lakes and rivers. Right in the city, for example, hikers and folks who fish enjoy the cool breezes off the Chattahoochee River, which has a 48-mile stretch of park lands along its banks. Years ago, forward-thinking planners protected the Chattahoochee corridor from overdevelopment, resulting in a relatively clean river area right at Atlanta's doorstep, beckoning outdoor adventurers. The water quality of the Chattahoochee has suffered as Atlanta has grown, and city planners are working for a cleaner future for the river. Numerous lakes are within easy reach of the city, such as Lake Lanier, Carters Lake, Allatoona, and others.
Winters are generally mild in the Atlanta vicinity. While snow (and ice storms) certainly occur from time to time, autumn and winter more often provide a time for cool, mosquito-free hiking, camping, backpacking, horseback riding and so on. Hikers and backpackers can depart for a winter's outing in most parts of Georgia, even the higher elevations, confident that snowshoes or skis will be unnecessary.
GORP presents a guide to Atlanta Outdoors as a roundup of our favorite places and activities in Atlanta and her environs. But don't just take GORP's word for it! We've gathered sources of information so that you can do some research on your own, and plan the perfect Georgia adventure, whether it's for a day or two or a lifetime. Do take our word on this, however: a day or two in Georgia can be an outdoor adventurer's delight, but it would take a lifetime and more to experience everything the Peach State has to offer.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication