6 hidden nature escapes near Atlanta

Need an excuse to get out of the city?

These peaceful sites offer unique and relaxing ways to enjoy the outdoors without driving more than an hour outside the city.

Here are a few nature escapes near Atlanta that will bring a serene reprieve from the city:

3787 Klondike Road, Lithonia.

The drive to Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve just might be shorter than your ATL-traffic commute, with its central location just outside the Perimeter in Lithonia. What awaits you is a trove of outdoor fun ranging from stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) to archery or camping. For those looking for a formidable hike, the site boasts three lakes, two mountains and miles of trails to enjoy the diverse scenery. Bikers can get in on the fun, too, with more than 30 miles of paved PATH trail throughout the 2,000 acre grounds.

East Palisades
20-minute drive

1425 Indian Trail NW. Sandy Springs.

Get a dose of the outdoors without stepping out of the Perimeter at the East Palisades trails. For a six mile stretch of path, visitors can walk through thick greenery above the Chattahoochee River, enjoying the kinds of views and sounds that definitely don't feel like they're a quick jaunt from downtown. Follow the path to a picturesque overlook that captures the beauty of the river and offers a bit of perspective—after all, if you look hard enough, you might spot the I-285 and I-75 junction.

Historic Banning Mills
55-minute drive.

205 Horseshoe Dam Road, Whitesburg. 770-834-9149.

This nearby nature resort has been recognized by travel gurus all over the country for its treehouse village, which is accessible to guests only by "sky bridge." When visitors aren't hanging out among the treetops, they can explore more than 80 acres of trails on the property along with an 18-hole mini golf course or paddle boating on the catch-and-release lake. There are plenty of adventures available for travelers for an additional fee during their time at the property, too, including the well-known zipline experience. The grounds are available only to registered guests of the property, so they are generally un-crowded and well-maintained.

Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center
55-minute drive

543 Elliott Trail, Mansfield. 770-784-3059.

Whether your way of enjoying the outdoors tends toward fishing and hunting or biking and birdwatching, the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center is likely to have something for everyone. Operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the center is centrally located to Atlanta, Athens and Macon and boasts 6,400 acres of space for exploring nature and its wildlife. For something different, try horseback riding or archery or stick to the basics with a simple hike through the trails.

Sawnee Mountain Preserve
60-minute drive

4075 Spot Road, Cumming. 770-781-2217

There are more than nine miles of trails available for walking and hiking at this nearby historical landmark. But visitors don't have to log quite that many steps to make it to the summit: two miles up the Indian Seats they'll find a summit with a 460-foot elevation that offers an incredible view of the surrounding areas. Plan a trip through the preserve's website and add special programs like tree climbing and rock climbing to the agenda or check out the site's array of summer camps to keep in mind for next year.

Panola Mountain State Park

30-minute drive

2620 Highway 155 SW, Stockbridge. 770-389-7801.

Guided hikes and bird walks at Panola Mountain can turn an average day outdoors into a learning experience, but that's not all this state park has to offer. Fishing, hiking, tree climbing and even Pokemon GO-themed events around the park make this site a popular draw for Atlanta residents. Be sure to stop by the nature center and grab a map when hiking or running the trails for the first time; not all roads loop back to the beginning.


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