Discover intown oases at hidden parks and nature preserves

Blue Heron Nature Preserve is easily missed off Roswell Road near Chastain Park.

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Blue Heron Nature Preserve is easily missed off Roswell Road near Chastain Park.

Story by Thomas Bell. Map by Elizabeth Landt

We live in a heart-racing city. Atlanta inspires creative passion, vigorous work and exciting pastimes, but also brings out the pressures of heavy traffic and other big-city demands.

Fortunately, as visitors often remind us, Atlanta is also a city of forests, creeks and streams. We all know the big green spaces of Atlanta: Piedmont, Chastain, Historic Fourth Ward and the emerging emerald BeltLine ring.

Look past them, though, and you can find hidden oases throughout the city. Tiny parks and preserves are everywhere, often overlooked beside the glare of our built environment. When the city just won’t stop but your spirit needs a rest, seek out these little parks for a time out.

1. Blue Heron Nature Preserve

Just east of its much bigger brother, Chastain Park, Blue Heron Nature Preserve wraps around a stretch of Nancy Creek and makes a fine place to spot the preserve’s namesake water birds. For an easy mental health break, just slip off your shoes and cool your feet as you wade along the sleepy creek in the 30-acre preserve.

4055 Roswell Road.

Insider tip

Blue Heron Nature Preserve offers workshops, camps, a community garden and other interactive programs.

2. Spink-Collins Park

Old stone ruins await explorers who walk the wooded paths along a winding creek in 21-acre Spink-Collins Park, west of Crestlawn Memorial Park. Fireplaces and foundations have been transformed with benches into beautiful outdoor spaces, perfect for a picnic or a quiet hour of reading.

2101 Collins Drive.

3. Connally Nature Park

This 23-acre East Point park protects a large stand of white oaks well over a century old, including the largest white oak inside the Perimeter. Within, walk a network of forest trails along a quiet creek. In the spring, watch for pink lady slippers blooming on the forest floor.

2260 Mulberry St., East Point.

4. South Bend Park

Southeast of Lakewood Amphitheatre, this 76-acre park is home to the South Bend Center for Art and Culture. The creative spirit shows in the park’s whimsical sculpture playgrounds, which include a beanstalk, a stand of trees and giant ants. Dramatic A-frame shelters provide an inspiring setting for picnics and barbecues. Nature trails, some of them wheelchair-accessible, meander along a beautiful rocky creek.

1955 Compton Drive.

5. Chosewood Park

Located in the southwest Atlanta neighborhood of the same name, 6-acre Chosewood Park looks at first like just a few athletic courts and fields. But head downhill from the entrance to walk in a small, wooded valley where a creek cuts through a deep and dramatic gully.

401 Nolan St.

6. Springvale Park

An excellent climbing tree overlooks a small pond at the main entrance to 5-acre Springvale Park, near Little Five Points. Originally designed by the Olmsted Brothers, the park is bisected by Euclid Avenue, with beautiful stone gateways leading into the park on either side. The southern section is a wilder valley with towering trees. If you lie on your back and watch for red-tailed hawks, it’s almost possible to forget you’re in the middle of the city.

889 Euclid Ave.

7. Glen Emerald Park

Head downhill from the playgrounds and athletic fields of 28-acre Glen Emerald Park — located south of East Atlanta — to walk around the beautiful lake that gives the park its name. A half-mile trail circles the lake, which has two small islands and some old stone ruins along it. The lake attracts many geese, ducks and great blue herons.

1479 Bouldercrest Road.

8. Barker Bryant Memorial Park

Get in some intown fishing off the partially covered fishing pier on Buena Vista Lake in 10-acre Barker Bryant Memorial Park, south of the East Lake Golf Club. Or sit on the benches along the dam of this reservoir and watch the ducks float by.

2300 McAfee Road, Decatur.

9. Dearborn Park

On a hot day, share the shallow waters of Shoal Creek with great blue herons in 12-acre Dearborn Park, south of Decatur. Then follow Dearborn Park Trail for a peaceful stroll of a little less than half a mile through a preserved patch of hardwood forest.

1310 Deerwood Drive.

10. Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve

It borders the commercial bustle of North DeKalb Mall, but from its unassuming entrance on a quiet residential street, you might not expect much from Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve. Venture in, however, and you’ll find 28 acres of extensive wooded trails, a wetland meadow and a beaver pond. The park’s diverse ecosystems make this an excellent place for birdwatching.

2580 Pine Bluff Drive, Decatur.

Insider tip

The wetlands of Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve rise and fall with the weather. While many trails have raised boardwalks, a good pair of waterproof boots will give you more options for adventuring.

11. Elwyn John Wildlife Sanctuary

Pass through the more manicured facilities of Kittredge Park to enter the 26-acre Elwyn John Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the aptly named neighborhood of Merry Hills. Hike those hills to find a large fire circle and stone benches at one summit, or stay below and walk along a secluded rocky creek.

1520 Kittredge Park Road.