Sweetwater Creek State Park
Sweetwater Creek State Park | JMcQ/Shutterstock
Sweetwater Creek State Park | JMcQ/Shutterstock
Lifestyle

Atlanta's Best Urban Hikes Inside and Outside the Perimeter

Get some fresh air -- at a safe social distance.

Uncertainty looms around us, but one thing remains consistent -- the invigorating power of nature. Throughout the COVID-19 pushback, many of our favorite yoga spots, fitness classes, and gyms have temporarily shut down. The solution? Walk more. Preferably outside, on an unpaved path lined with trees. Some people call it "hiking," but don’t let that intimidate you -- it’s honestly just walking. Luckily, it’s not hard for Atlantans to find a good hiking, err, walking route, ITP and OTP. Here are the best trails to foster your physical and mental health during this challenging season.

Murphey Candler Trail
Murphey Candler Trail | Shawn Taylor/Flickr

Murphey Candler Trail

Trail length: 2 miles
North Atlanta
Encircling the Murphey Candler Lake on the north side of Brookhaven, this woodsy, shaded trail is pet and family-friendly. It’s not as secluded as some of the other trails on our list, but you're bound to see some wildlife (namely, geese and ducks), and the contrast between the city skyline and the treeline is pretty damn lovely.

Cascade Springs Nature Preserve

Trail length: 1.9 miles
Southwest Atlanta
Did you know there is a natural waterfall inside Atlanta city limits? This hike leads you to it, and it’s only 20 minutes from Downtown. You’ll have to cross a forest, some streams, and a Civil War battlefield in order to get to the waterfall, but it’s well-worth the effort. Make sure to bring your camera: You’ll have numerous selfie opportunities inside the beautiful 120-acre Cascade Springs Nature Preserve.

Arabia Mountain Trails
Arabia Mountain Trails | G. DAWSON/Flickr

Arabia Mountain Trails

Trail length: 2 miles
Stonecrest
The Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area may be minutes away from Stonecrest Mall, but you would never know when exploring its vast trails. A great route for families with kids and beginner hikers is the 2-mile loop through the Mile Rock Trail and Forest Trail, which follows an old rock quarry and the banks of Arabia Lake. Spring-time visits are especially scenic, as they present the perfect opportunity to see the park’s rare diamorpha smallii in bloom.

South Peachtree Creek Trail
South Peachtree Creek Trail | Buddha Dog/Flickr

South Peachtree Creek Trail

Trail length: 3.6 miles
North DeKalb
What it used to lack in distance, the trail was expanded in July 2017 from one mile to 1.8 miles (one way), so the scenic and elevation-changing loop now clocks in with some real-deal mileage. The paved boardwalk connects two parks in Decatur -- Mason Mills Park and Medlock Park -- as it meanders through tall trees and over creeks. 

Elwyn John Wildlife Sanctuary

Trail length: 1.7 miles
North Druid Hills
Even though you’re right off I-85, you would never know it hiking this trail in Kittredge Park. Mostly unpaved and running through the woods, this looped path encircles the small nature preserve, complete with views of its creek and a tiny waterfall. The park also has a playground, a sports field, and some picnic areas.

Sweetwater Creek State Park
Sweetwater Creek State Park | Greg Williams/Flickr

Sweetwater Creek State Park

Trail length: 2.3-4.1 miles
Lithia Springs
Douglas County residents already know about Sweetwater Creek State Park’s beauty, and you should too. The park boasts three trails -- The Red Trail, The Yellow Trail, and the White Trail -- which vary in lengths and scenery, but all rank at a moderate difficulty level. Civil War ruins, a thick fern-filled forest, and a tumbling whitewater creek await hikers for a vivid and memorable outdoor experience.

Doll’s Head Trail
Doll’s Head Trail | Marcus O. Bst/Flickr

Doll’s Head Trail

Trail length: 1.6 miles
South DeKalb
Considered one of the most unique hikes in Atlanta, this path is lined with objects found throughout the park -- like doll heads (yes, multiple) -- that are now displayed as folk art. It’s short, but it’s part of the 125-acre nature preserve Constitution Lakes, which boasts plenty of wildlife, marshes, and the “Sweetwater Goak” tree, Atlanta’s second-tallest willow oak tree.

East Palisades Trail

Trail length: 4 miles
Location: Northwest Atlanta
Perhaps the most well-known location on this list, this trail along the Chattahoochee River offers something to everyone, whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced outdoorsman. The path runs along the river and through the woods (!), which makes for some of the most scenic nature views in the city. There’s also a bamboo forest and lots of rocky overlooks.

Powers Island Trail
Powers Island Trail | Shawn Taylor/Flickr

Powers Island Trail

Trail length: 2.6 miles
Location: Northwest Atlanta
Like East Palisades, the Powers Island Trail follows the bends of the Chattahoochee River, but this path is less trafficked so it’s better for those solo, “why are all Starburst independently wrapped?” type of hikes. This trail is mostly unpaved and narrow, but it has stunning views of the river and the Powers Island toward its end.

Sign up here for our daily Atlanta email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun the ATL has to offer.

Anna Lanfreschi is a lover of all things food, skiing, cats and Atlanta. Follow her adventures on her blog, Belly of the Feast, or Twitter and Instagram @AnnaFeasts. 
Joshua Robinson is an Atlanta-based contributor for Thrillist.