When you look at me, I doubt the words “outdoor enthusiast” come to your mind immediately. I am a corporate attorney by day, with a love for sky-high heels (despite my 5’9 frame) and an addiction to online shopping (fun fact: to my boyfriend’s chagrin, I don’t like to wear the same date night outfit twice).
However, if you ask any of my friends, any semblance I boast of a polished exterior is quite the deceiving façade. Outside of work, you are guaranteed to catch me with my hair in a messy pony, rocking my trusty Lululemon and Nike gear. I spend most of my free time outdoors and am constantly searching for a new outdoor adventure (bonus points for outdoor adventures involving my dogs too). I love biking the Beltline, hanging out at Piedmont Park, and walking/jogging Chastain Park, catching a concert at an outdoor amphitheater, but most of all, I love hiking.
Some of my favorite hikes around the US include Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Camel Back Mountain in Scottsdale, Sandstone Peak in Los Angeles, and Burnaby Mountain right outside of Vancouver, but I definitely don’t overlook all the gems we have right here in Georgia. Georgia has some great options, many in close proximity to Atlanta.
Whether you are seeking a road less traveled, a dog friendly expedition (because if your dog isn’t hiking with you, does it even really count?), or only have an hour to spare, there is an option for everyone. I am well aware I sound like an outdoor evangelist, but I’m totally okay with that—turn off the TV and get outside!
This path is conveniently tucked away in Sandy Springs and, along with a few miles of wooded hiking, cumulates in a dog beach. Yes, you read that right—a huge, sandy area opening into the Chattahoochee River where your pups can (off-leash) swim and fetch to their hearts’ desire. In the summer, we wear our bathing suits under our hiking clothes and get in the water with them—one of my favorite activities! Some people even bring coolers so they can enjoy a picnic or beer while letting their dogs swim.
Pro tip—there are two parking lots, but I recommend choosing to park in the lot off Indian Trail Rd NW. If you put “East Palisades” into Google Maps, this option should pop up. The other parking lot drops you off immediately at the dog beach so you might miss the fun along the way. Parking at the top lets you hike down to the beach area (or if you veer right, takes you around the elevated hiking paths). The bonus is that Fido will dry off by the time you hike back up to your car after swimming!
The views from this place are insane! About 2.5 hours from Atlanta, Cloudland Canyon is situated on the western side of Lookout Mountain and boasts over 3,000 acres of camping, waterfalls, hiking, cliffs, caves and woodlands. We went for a full day, but I would love to spend an entire weekend there. There are “yurts” available for rental as well (for the uninitiated, yurts are tiny camping huts with real floors and walls).
One of the main waterfall trails has thousands of steps to take you down to its base (meaning you have to climb them all back up! Talk about booty work). Among the 6+ trail options, I recommend the West Rim Loop Trail which is moderately strenuous and about 5 miles of hiking. The 1 mile Overlook trail is an easier, alternate trail for those who just want to take in the vast beauty and enjoy a leisurely promenade.
To preface this, I am a huge nerd. I’m the person that you take to a zoo and I have to read each sign in front of the animal enclosure before I look at the actual exhibit. If you are with me on this (or if you just love a great, fairly easy hike), Sweetwater Creek State Park is for you. There are endless historical facts to take in, as well as beautiful scenery. About 30 minutes outside of the city, this outdoor playground boasts rocky bluffs with views of Sweetwater Creek as well as the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company textile mill that burned down during the Civil War.
There is also a visitor’s center chock full of knowledge. You can always catch people kayaking on the water or fishing from the many large rocks perfect for sitting down and taking a breather. This tends to be a pretty trafficked park though, so be aware you’ll likely need to keep the pups on leashes while hiking here (unless your dogs are angels like ours! Kidding… pretty sure Harper took off after a rabbit minutes following this photo).
Get your mind out of the gutter! This hike is meant for those who don’t have hours to devote to an outdoor rendezvous but would still like to get some exercise and check out some views just minutes from Atlanta—take a “quickie.” Kennesaw Mountain is a great place to introduce your not-so-outdoorsy friends to nature. The park was once the site of a Civil War battlefield and some of the trenches and monuments still remain. The main hike, on the Kennesaw Mountain Trail, is about 2 miles long and takes you to the summit which offers a direct breathtaking view of the Atlanta city skyline.
For those who are not interested in a quickie, there is actually an 11 mile loop (the Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Trail) that will take you across many ups and downs to see all the history this peak has to offer. This is the trail I tend to explore on weekends that I have to myself—I feel safe hiking alone since there are always so many other people. Be sure to come prepared to run into your neighbors!
Absolutely adore this trail—it is about 3 hours outside of Atlanta. We took four pups (yes, I know, awesome human:dog ratio!) with us on this trail and let the dogs all run free, off-leash, and were only greeted with happy faces and other pups off leash. I attribute the lighter foot traffic here to the fact it’s tucked away and not as well-known as some of the others on this list. We didn’t have any trouble finding it, but be warned that parking is limited.
The trail is fairly elevated and you are ascending almost the entire way to the summit, so I would not recommend this to anyone who gets elevation sickness. This is the second highest peak in the state of Georgia (second to Brasstown Bald) and absolutely worth the uphill climb to take in Sky Valley. There is a neat little “tree house” lookout area at the top of the summit, allowing for a full 360 view of GA and NC.
Can’t leave this beauty of the list. I was introduced to this place by my boyfriend, and we had a great time taking our dogs here. Roughly 2 hours outside of Atlanta, Blood Mountain is the highest point of the Appalachian Trail range in GA. There are a number of trails here—ranging from the 6 mile Blood Mountain Loop that will take you to the summit, to the Byron Reece Trail that starts at Neels Gap (lower elevation) and leads you around mossy streams and ferns. If you are looking for some longer trails, both this one (boasting a few hikes that top 15 miles each) and Cloudland Canyon are great options.
So… what are you waiting for? Catch ya on the mountain!
Feel free to send any questions, comments or suggestions my way (@sharonstufken on Instagram or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
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