- Eric Champlin for The AJC
Atlanta's rolling terrain is loaded with an abundance of creeks, rivers and forests – and even a few mountain summits. And they're worthy of exploration! Catch some sunshine, fresh air and spectacular natural views on these top outdoor destinations in metro Atlanta.
Calm the stress of urban life with an outdoor adventure surrounded by nature's beauty. The day's first light from a vibrant sunrise, the sweet smell of spring flowers in bloom, or the majestic view from a mountain summit can quickly snap life back into perspective.
Go now! Thanks to Atlanta's climate just about any season is a good time to explore the outdoors, though July and August and January and February can be a bit of a challenge. Hike to sweeping panoramic views from Atlanta's nearby mountaintops, search for wildlife on lake shores, and trek through meadows and over wetlands in search of wildflowers. Don't forget your camera (or smartphone); these parks are bursting with natural beauty, and are fully Instagram-worthy.
The domed Stone Mountain summit offers some of Atlanta's best elevated natural views, and the mountain's peak, accessed by a hike or a cable car ride, is the park's most popular attraction. At the mountain's top, you'll see amazing views of the Atlanta skyline, surrounded by many miles of rolling, tree covered terrain. But don't limit your visit to only the summit; many of the park's best natural views are near the mountain's base. Catch reflective views of the enormous dome from the shores of Stone Mountain Lake, and travel the park's lesser-traveled trails to find wildflowers and wildlife.
Kennesaw Mountain is steeped in history, but it's much more than a former Atlanta Civil War battlefield. The park offers beautiful natural views across nearly 3,000 acres accessed by about 20 miles of fantastic trails. Hike or run (or on weekdays, drive) to the mountain's summit to catch views of the Atlanta skyline, and on a clear day, you'll see Stone Mountain far on the horizon. Then explore more of Kennesaw's natural beauty on the park's Environmental Trail, a one mile loop with illustrated signs that explain the park's habitats, geology and forest.
Explore a wide, tumbling creek in a boulder-filled creek bed at Sweetwater Creek State Park, located outside I-285 on the city's west side. The park's trails hike to tumbling whitewater rapids, small waterfalls, high cliffs and rolling meadows. While you're hiking just outside Atlanta's perimeter, you'll feel far away from the city and surrounded by nature thanks to Sweetwater Creek's ruggedly beautiful landscapes.
Hike, walk or bike to beautiful natural views on a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River at 13 park units managed by the National Park Service. Each Chattahoochee River NRA park offers unique adventures and equally beautiful natural views, like the whitewater-filled shoals at Paces Mill and West Palisades, wildlife-frequented wetlands at Cochran Shoals, rolling forest and a tumbling tributary at Sope Creek and the river's wide, glassy flow at Gold Branch.
Arabia Mountain is another one of Atlanta's most popular, and naturally beauful, hiking destinations. Like Stone Mountain, Arabia's neighboring mountain to the north, Arabia Mountain is a mostly-bald, rounded dome that offers beautiful panoramic views. Hike to the summit after a rain to catch white clouds and blue sky reflecting in the mountain's water-filled craters. Explore more of the the park's natural beauty on more than 30 miles of hiking, biking and walking trails that travel to a cascading waterfall, open grassy meadows and several lakes set in a beautiful forest.