Women look out at the summit of Blood Mountain. Contributed by Kaleb East Photography
Photo: Kaleb East
Photo: Kaleb East

The best fall hikes around the city—and beyond

You don’t have to leave the state for an epic hiking expedition. Some of the most beautiful treks are right here in Georgia—and many not far from the Atlanta metro area.

“The most common misconception about hiking in Georgia we see on a regular basis is that there are not that many hiking trails to explore in Georgia,” says Kaleb East, founder of the North Georgia Hikers Instagram account, which has quickly amassed a community of more than 18,000 followers. “North Georgia Hikers receives countless comments on posts from people saying that they have never even heard of this or that trail before, but they are adding it to their list to hike right now. Many people do not know that there are 45 plus state parks in Georgia that they can explore, and that’s just state parks.”

From expert level, adrenaline-pumping trails to family-friendly jaunts, there’s a trail for everyone. With cooler weather and the coming of fall’s beautiful bounty, now is the perfect time to check out a trail or two. Here are a few of the big favorites.
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Amicalola Falls State Park

This state park, just about an hour and a half from Atlanta, boasts the largest waterfall in Georgia. Derived from the Cherokee word for tumbling water, Amicalola is one of the Peach State’s most popular state parks because of this picturesque waterfall. Therefore, there is ample parking and additional activities (such as dining and a zipline canopy course) surrounding the park to make a day’s adventure out of it. From the visitor center parking lot, there are several trails to choose from; hikers can trudge along the Creek/Mountain Laurel Loop/Spring trails through a forested path (approximately 2 miles) or the East Ridge trail, which passes by the waterfall. Once at the base of the falls, you can take the challenging 456-steps up to the top of the waterfall for a view that looks out into the mountains. For serious hikers, Amicalola is also an entry point and 8-mile path to Springer Mountain, which is the start of the world-famous Appalachian Trail. Guests hiking the Appalachian Trail must register in the Amicalola State Park visitor center.

418 Amicalola Falls Road, Dawsonville. 706-344-1500, amicalolafallslodge.com.

At Amicalola Falls State Park
Photo: Lee Coursey/for the AJC

Sweetwater Creek State Park

Only 30 minutes from the city, this Lithia Springs escape is a huge favorite for serenity seekers, photographers, dog walkers and families. The park offers several trail options, but the most popular is the family-friendly red trail, which is a relatively flat two-mile path along the creek that passes by the old New Manchester Manufacturing Company textile mill and includes multiple clearings to view the picturesque creek. The yellow, white and orange trails are popular with trail runners and other hikers looking for longer, less-trafficked pathways. An over-the-creek footbridge, found along the yellow trail, is a charming Instagrammable stop. Parking can get dense in the mid-to-late morning, especially during prime leaf-peeping season, so arrive early.

1750 Mount Vernon Road, Lithia Springs. 770-732-5871, gastateparks.org/SweetwaterCreek.
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Blood Mountain

A little under two hours from Atlanta, find a true uphill challenge on Blood Mountain. Take the white rectangular trail, in which white stripes guide your way along the dirt path. Though at times, it’s easy to veer off-trail if you’re not paying attention to the markers. (The trail can be intense, but there are no points that could be considered problematic or risky. If you think you’re off course, you likely are; always double back to the last white marker whenever in doubt.) Though only two miles up the mountain, several steady steep inclines—and many mossy stone steps— make the trek a real heart-pumping workout. On those clear, lucky days, the summit rewards hikers with a fantastic view of the Appalachian Trail’s highest peak. At a moderate to brisk pace, expect to complete the four-mile roundtrip journey to the top in roughly three hours. Parking at the Byron Reece trailhead is free but very limited, so arrive early, especially on weekends.

Byron Reece Memorial Trail, Blairsville. 706-745-6928, atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/neels-gap-byron-reece-trail. (Blue Ridge Ranger District)

Hikers walk along the trail of Blood Mountain. Contributed by Kaleb East Photography
Photo: For the AJC

Yonah Mountain

A favorite of many hikers, including North Georgia Hikers’s own Kaleb East, the Yonah Mountain hike is a lightly trafficked trail near Helen, roughly 1.5 hours from Atlanta. In a 4-mile roundtrip journey to the summit, expect to find another great heart-pumping workout on the steady climb. But the vantage point of the valley beneath and surrounding mountains will compensate your efforts. Parking is free at the Mount Yonah trailhead, but East warns the gravel parking lot can be tough on small vehicles.

1900 Chambers Road, Cleveland.
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Tallulah Gorge State Park

According to East, this is a perfect starter trail to rope in newbie hikers. A suspension bridge, waterfalls, gorge crossing and other scenery inspire feelings of epic achievements and adventure without over-taxing hikers. Only 100 first-come-first-serve free permits are issued to hike the gorge floor. Passes go fast on weekends, so park staff recommends getting to the Interpretive Center just before their 8 a.m. opening. But even without hiking the gorge floor, there are more breathtaking trails. A popular route is a 3-mile loop, which takes you from the North Rim trail, across the suspension bridge and ends on the South Rim Trail. If you plan to walk down to see the gorge floor, you’re in for roughly 1,000 steps to make the journey.

338 Jane Hurt Yarn Dr., Tallulah Falls. 706-754-7981, gastateparks.org/TallulahGorge.

East Palisades Indian Trail

This is a surprisingly robust hike in the heart of the city. A labyrinth of trails takes you along the Chattahoochee River, up small steep hills, across creeks and even into a bamboo forest overlooking the river. The path to the bamboo forest is one of the longest stretches (expect a roughly 5-mile round-trip journey from the Indian Trail entrance), but hikers are rewarded with a striking scene of bamboo that ascends skyward. Another point along the trail, called Pappi’s Point, impresses with views of the city skyline and river beneath.

1425 Indian Trail NWS andy Springs. 770-952-0370, atlantatrails.com/hiking-trails/hiking-east-palisades-indian-trail-at-the-chattahoochee-river.

Other Notable Hikes

Providence Canyon

Though nearly all the hiking trails with significant elevations are concentrated in the North Georgia mountains, Providence Canyon, two hours south of Atlanta, is where you’ll find an experience mirroring a small-scale Grand Canyon.

Lula Lake Land Trust

The Trust is often described as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the State. Near the Tennessee-Georgia border, call ahead to make a reservation as the Trust limits the number of visitors who can enter per day.

Hikers admire the at Lula Lake Land Trust. Contributed by Kaleb East Photography
Photo: For the AJC

Brasstown Bald

East says this is an easy hike to impress people from out of town. The hike leads up to a 360-degree view on its observation deck, which claims the highest point in all of Georgia (at 4,784 feet).

Cloudland Canyon State Park

This is another of East’s favorite because of the multiple offerings for visitors. Guests can take a three-hour walk around the rim of the canyon, hike into the canyon, picnic, camp and more.

Panther Creek Falls

The round-trip, 7-mile hike takes you past two waterfalls. With large relatively flat portions with limited foot obstacles, this is ideal for trail runners.

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