Waistband getting a little tight? Feeling a strong need to connect with nature after weeks of being inside? Ahem, asking for a friend. If you decide to get some exercise or at least fresh air, there are plenty of places throughout metro Atlanta where you can sit, read a book, throw a football or take a walk and enjoy all of nature’s beauty.
Some of these places, such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Stone Mountain Park, the Atlanta History Center and the Fernbank Museum, are fantastic options, but we’ve got more ideas. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution wants you to experience nature at its best — meaning free — and in this era of COVID-19, open. Here are several places to enjoy the sun and have some fun.
Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s answer to Central Park. Nestled between Midtown and Virginia-Highland, it is 185 acres of rolling hills, trails, woodlands, gardens, sports fields and a picturesque pond. There are plenty of nearby restaurants, so get some take-out and have a picnic. If you want to burn some calories, you can run, bike, walk or rent skates from the Skate Escape on 12th Street and enjoy inline skating.
The Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is dominated by two giant outcrops (just like in Stone Mountain), but it is also a natural wonderland with hiking, biking and fishing throughout its 40,000 acres. Located in Lithonia, off I-20, there is a lot to do, especially with eight miles of trails that wind around the mountain. Don’t miss the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve, a 2,550-acre spot with trails, lakes, streams, craters and cascades, as well as Panola Mountain State Park. The Arabia Mountain Path, a trail that runs through three counties and connects historic downtown Lithonia all the way to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. This trail is 10 feet wide, meaning it’s ADA compliant.
Minutes from downtown Atlanta, Sweetwater Creek State Park features 2,549 acres of nature including a 215-acre lake, seven picnic shelters, two fishing docks and 15 miles of hiking trails. The park rents fishing boats, canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. One of the park’s gems is the standing ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill built mostly from slave labor and later burned during the Civil War. It should be noted that park staff may temporarily limit access to Sweetwater Creek to ensure social distancing, including temporarily closing it until it is safe.
The East Palisades Trail in Sandy Springs is part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation area and features 3.4 miles of trails that lead past several high overlooks, more historic ruins of an old mill and a bamboo forest. It’s the perfect place to hike, walk, run and take your dog for a walk (as long as it’s on a leash). On the other side of the river is the West Palisades at Paces Mill Park, which runs along the river with more than three miles of paved walking and running trails.
Candler Park is a 55-acre park located by Little Five Points and Druid Hills. Named after Coca-Cola founder Asa Griggs Candler, the park features a nine-hole golf course, swimming pool (temporarily closed) as well as soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts. On weekends, you’ll see lots of people walking their dogs and playing Frisbee.
One of the largest old forests inside the Atlanta city limits, the Cascade Springs Nature Preserve is 135 acres of green space, and it is filled with nature and great places to find your zen. The park, located in southwest Atlanta, has a wide trail network, an Instagram-worthy waterfall, streams and a forest filled with deer, birds and turtles. There is an easy-to-moderate trail of about two miles and highlights include seeing a stone-and-mortar spring house, the remains of a pump house as well as Civil War earthworks and trenches used in the Battle of Utoy Creek.
Credit: Contributed by Atlanta Trails
Credit: Contributed by Atlanta Trails
Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve is a quiet, unassuming piece of nature located in the Medlock Park neighborhood in DeKalb County. The 28-acre nature preserve boasts a pond and wetlands as well as an emerging pine forest, wooded uplands and mature trees — all of which make for a diverse habitat for animals and birds — and for people needing a shot of nature. There are several short trails with the longest one, Outer Loop Creek Trail, only measuring a mile, so this is not a place for strenuous exercise. It is, however, a great place to sit on the benches, enjoy the quiet, contemplate life and watch the abundant wildlife.
More than 30,000 people visit the 22-acre Dunwoody Nature Center annually, but not all go for the variety of camps, education programs and special events that it offers; many go because it is a wonder of nature. There is plenty to explore and enjoy including wetlands, hiking trails, playgrounds, and our favorite, relaxing in the hammock garden. The center is also sponsoring a forest bathing series, shinrin-yoku, a Japanese form of nature therapy designed to more deeply connect you with nature. The session, which runs about three hours, costs $35 for center members; $45 for non-members.
DeKalb County’s Constitution Lakes Park has everything one would need when seeking out nature — wide open spaces, trees, trails, a lake, wildlife — but it also has a trail unlike any other in the state. Yes, as you meander throughout the 200-acre scenic wetlands, take a short detour on the Doll’s Head Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that displays all the toys, dolls and other objects found throughout the park and washed up from the banks of the nearby South River. They are all delightfully displayed in a sort of folk-artsy manner. If you want to know if you’re going in the right direction, a doll’s arm is there to point the way. There are several trails as well as places to enjoy a peaceful day outdoors.
WHERE TO GO
Piedmont Park. 6 a.m-11 p.m. 400 Park Dr., NE., 30306. 404-875-7275, piedmontpark.org.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, dawn to dusk; 3350 Klondike. Road, Stonecrest 30038. 404.998-8384, arabiaalliance.org
Sweetwater Creek State Park, 7 a.m. until dark. 1750 Mount Vernon Road, Lithia Springs 30122. 770-732-7275, gastatepark.org
East Palisades Trail, dust to dawn. 1425 Indian Trail NW, Sandy Springs 30327. 678-538-1200, nps.gov
Candler Park, 6 a.m.-11 p.m. 1500 McLendon Ave. NE, Atlanta 30307. 404-546-6788, candlerpark.org
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, 8 a.m.-11 p.m. 2852 Cascade Road SW, Atlanta 30311. 404-546-6744, atlantaga.gov/government/departments/parks-recreation/office-of-parks/list-of-parks-alphabetical
Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve, 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. 2580 Pine Bluff Drive, Decatur 30033. 678-466-0572, cshepherdpreserve.org
Dunwoody Nature Center, sunrise to sunset. 5343 Roberts Drive, Dunwoody 30338. 770-394-3322, dunwoodynature.org
Constitution Lakes Park, 7 a.m. until sunset, 1305 S. River Industrial Blvd. SE, Atlanta 30315. 404-285-3756, dekalbcountyga.gov/parks/mission-statement
About the Author