- Eric Champlin For The AJC
It's no secret that Sweetwater Creek is one of Atlanta's most loved outdoor destinations.
This state park is an ultra-popular hiking destination, and for good reason. The park's hiking trails explore Sweetwater Creek's rocky shores, forest, waterfalls and whitewater. It's a great natural getaway near the city; the park's rugged outdoor beauty will make you feel like you're in a rocky, wild river valley in North Georgia, despite the short drive from Atlanta.
If you've already visited the park, you've probably hiked the popular Red Trail to the New Manchester textile mill ruins, a recent filming location for "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1." (Haven't hiked the red trail? It's one of Atlanta's best waterfall hikes— don't miss it!) But if a hike on the Red Trail sums up your Sweetwater Creek adventures, there's so much more to see at the park:
Upstream from its waterfalls and rapids, Sweetwater Creek pools in a large 215 acre reservoir that's great for a paddle. Bring your own paddle gear or rent a kayak or canoe at the park, and paddle the reservoir's meandering shoreline for a chance to view wildlife. Or catch the creek's reflective beauty at sunset by joining the park's guide-led Twilight Lake Paddle to kayak or canoe under the setting sun.
Paddle Sweetwater Creek's reservoir by stand up paddleboard (SUP), a relatively new sport that combines paddling and surfing on a large, stable board. You'll get a great full body workout and test your balance, too. New to SUP? The park offers seasonal board and equipment rentals and introductory classes.
If you've only hiked to the mill ruins, you've seen just a fraction of this park's beauty. Continue exploring the banks of Sweetwater Creek downstream on the park's Red Trail, trekking a sandy trail and scrambling over boulders for views of more whitewater and waterfalls. Or hike the Sweetwater Creek White Trail to Jack's Lake, a grassy meadow and some of the park's most scenic areas.
Sweetwater Creek's Yellow Trail crosses the creek upstream from the mill and explores a forest on the opposite bank. Run over the bridge for a great workout on this hilly dirt trail, and spot a large cave used as shelter by prehistoric Native Americans.
Try your luck at Sweetwater Creek on the George Sparks Reservoir. Cast from the shore, or rent a fishing boat at the park to explore deeper water. Need to stock up on supplies? Fishing supplies are available at a bait shop near the boat ramp.
Load a GPS app on your smartphone and visit the park to unlock secret stashes of hidden prizes. Geocaching is like a modern-day treasure hunt that uses your smartphone (or handheld GPS) to find hidden caches. Find a cache, take the prize inside and then leave your own prize for the next person to find. It's a fun way to explore the park, especially for families!
Explore the park's reservoir with on a leisurely pontoon boat pedal. Bring the family or a few friends and rent one of the park's Aqua Cycles to float the reservoir and explore the shore. Need a break from the sun? Upgrade to a canopied boat for some shade on the water.
Ready for even more adventure? Learn about birds and bird habitats on an Intro to Birdwatching Hike, learn about the mill's history on the Historic New Manchester History Hike, or hike with your favorite canine hiking buddy on the park's “Bark in the Park" Dog Hike.