Whether you choose to tour an oasis-like city park, discover a historic battlefield nestled in the forest, or follow a meandering ribbon of asphalt along a long abandoned railroad line, Atlanta and its surrounding communities welcome you to explore on foot during every season of the year. From the heart of downtown to the northern Piedmont foothills, choose your own path to fun, fitness and adventure. Here are a few destinations to get you going.
Downtown and Midtown
Historic Oakland Cemetery, 248 Oakland Ave. Nestled on 48 rolling acres in the shadow of Atlanta’s skyline, Oakland is the city’s oldest public, burial ground, and the final resting place for many notable Atlantans including Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones and Mayors Ivan Allen and Maynard Jackson. Renowned for its beautiful, tree-shaded mausoleums and monuments, Oakland is considered among the nation’s finest rural garden cemeteries. Three miles of narrow lanes and paths invite walkers to enjoy the pastoral landscape. Pick up a map or guidebook at the Bell Tower visitor center to explore on your own, or join one of the many guided tours offered by volunteers from the Historic Oakland Foundation, reachable at 404-688-2107.
Piedmont Park, 1342 Worcester Dr. (public parking deck). Often called Atlanta’s “common ground”, Piedmont Park has a rich history. In 1895 it hosted the Cotton States and International Exposition, an event that signaled Atlanta’s resurgence from the ashes of the Civil War. A decade later, the Olmsted Brothers landscape design firm developed a master plan for transforming the fairgrounds into a public park. Today many of the features from both the exposition and the early park are preserved throughout the grounds. Piedmont Park may best be known today as the home of the Atlanta Botanical Garden (atlantabg.org) and the finish line for the annual Peachtree Road Race held each July Fourth. The park has more than 5 miles of paths and lanes that invite walkers to enjoy public sculptures, green spaces, and the Midtown skyline reflected in the waters of Lake Clara Meer.
Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail, Tenth St. at Monroe Dr. (Convenient parking at the Piedmont Park deck on Worcester Dr.) Developed from a graduate thesis by Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel, the BeltLine will eventually be a 33-mile linear, multiuse trail circling Atlanta, much of it following the route of long unused railroad lines. The 2-mile (one-way) Eastside Trail was among the first sections completed and has proven extraordinarily popular with both locals and visitors. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the paved path to view public art projects, the changing city skyline, check out shops at the Ponce City Market, and to simply people-watch. Many local eateries welcome walkers to drop in for a bite and cool drinks. Trees Atlanta offers free docent-led tours of portions of the Beltline Arboretum.
Chastain Park PATH Trail, parking lot on Powers Ferry Rd. north of
Jett Rd. One of Atlanta’s most popular public parks, featuring an 18-hole golf course, tennis center, athletic fields and equestrian center, has been made more inviting with the addition of the paved, 3.7-mile loop trail developed by the non-profit PATH Foundation. The trail is a popular social gathering place, especially on weekends. Just keep an eye open for errant golf shots!
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area—Cochran Shoals Unit, Interstate North Pkwy. off New Northside Dr. and I-285. By far the most popular of the dozen units of the National Recreation Area dotting a 48-mile stretch of the river from Lake Lanier to Cobb Parkway, the level 3.1-mile Cochran Shoals Fitness Trail is a wonderful destination for leisurely walking, serious fitness training or enjoying the scenic river. If you wish to extend your trek, side trails lead to Powers Island and further to the Sope Creek and Johnson Ferry Units of the park. The unit is very busy on weekends. Daily parking pass, $3, annual pass, $35; federal national parks and recreation lands passes, including senior passes also accepted. To view maps and learn more about other units of the national recreation area see nps.gov/chat; or call park headquarters at the Island Ford Unit in Roswell at 678-538-1200.
Smyrna and Marietta
Silver Comet Trail, parking at Mavell Rd. off Cooper Lake Rd. and at Silver Comet Cycles at 4342 Floyd Rd., Mableton. Following the long abandoned route of the Silver Comet train that ran from New York to Birmingham, the trail winds 61.5 miles from Smyrna through rural western Georgia where it links to the Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama. This section of the trail linking Mavell and Floyd Roads is a pleasant 4.2-mile (one-way) introduction to this popular pedestrian and bicyclist trail. Notable sights along the way include Heritage Park featuring ruins of the 19th century Concord Woolen Mill, Ruff’s Mill (c. 1850), the historic Concord covered bridge (c. 1872), and the Hurt Road railroad tunnel.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, 900 Kennesaw Mountain Dr., Marietta. Like a sentinel guarding approach to the city, the wooded slopes and surrounding countryside of this 2,965-acre park, so peaceful today, were filled with the sound and fury of combat during the June 1864 Civil War battles for Atlanta. Today the park is crisscrossed by a 16-mile network of trails ranging from strenuous ascents over the summits of Kennesaw and Little Kennesaw Mountains, to woodland paths leading to historic Cheatham Hill, Kolb Farm, and the site of a New Deal-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp. Begin your hike with a stop at the visitor center to pick up a map and to view exhibits on the significance of this hallowed ground in American history. Information and maps available on the website or by calling 770-427-4686.
Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC), 9135 Willeo Rd., Roswell. (770-992-2055) Established in 1976, the Nature Center has long been dedicated to preserving an oasis of wilderness along the Chattahoochee River. Today, the CNC features the Chattahoochee River Interpretive Center, classrooms, ponds and gardens and wildlife rehabilitation facilities. A nearly three-mile network of interconnecting trails crosses wooded slopes, through meadows and gardens, and on wooden boardwalks along the banks of the river. The Center hosts a wide range of educational programs and activities throughout the year. Senior daily admission, $7; annual memberships available.
Tips for the Trek
To best enjoy a walk or hike, choose comfortable clothing, and shoes or boots suitable for the terrain. For extended treks, pack a jacket, snacks and water. And don’t overlook a hat, sunscreen and insect repellant. Consider trekking poles for balance and stability for mountain and woodland hikes over more rugged ground.
—by Ren and Helen Davis
Lead photo by Kate Awtrey