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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Reiner

We’re not in Kansas Anymore Toto

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

As many of you may know I moved to Atlanta from Kansas City one month before COVID-19 changed our world, February 2020. As I refer to it, that was PP, Pre-Pandemic, a new addition to the biblical timeline of BC and AD. My Portuguese Water Dog Zoey (aka Toto) was very confused by her new surroundings, the mild climate and the fact we were all staying in with her 24/7; I too was thrown off. As an avid traveler, explorer and frequent mover, being in a new city is exhilarating to me. Even without getting on the runway to jet off, I was excited to be a sightseer and explore all Atlanta had to offer; the art, museums, restaurants and festivals. Knowing this was no longer an option added to my sense of loss and frustration. I had so looked forward to walking the Beltline, attending Music Midtown and taking in a summer’s night baseball game. So, the desire to experience my new hometown as a tourist resulted in my exploring in a way I had rarely done before - hiking.

Each weekend I have been heading out on a new adventure; traversing in my own backyard. You see this NYC gal is not a hiker, and my fair redheaded skin needs to be well prepped for the outdoors. As a result, my spontaneous nature needed to be put on the back burner. I have learned to bring what I truly need: my water bottle, mask, cell phone, doggie bags and to carefully read maps to select trails suitable for my hiking level. On each journey I make sure to watch my step and take the time to look around because I have experienced that, “in all things of nature there is something of the marvelous”- Aristotle.

To date, I have avoided the city’s parks as they can be uncomfortably packed. Simply put I have headed to the road less traveled for socially distant hiking. Some of the places I have been I found by exploring the Atlanta Trails website.

This well-organized site provides you with information on the length and difficulty of each hike, trail maps, parking information, reviews, whether or not dogs are allowed and packing suggestions. With the weather being so great I have had a chance to cover:

  • The Chattahoochee River Trail, which includes Cochran Shoals Trail

  • Dolls Head Trail

  • Amicalola Falls

  • Tallulah Falls

  • Arabia Mountain National Park

  • Stone Mountain Park

  • The Silver Comet Trail

  • Kennesaw Mountain

  • Sweetwater Creek State Park

  • Pine Mountain Trail

  • Providence Canyon State Park

They are all amazing and here is an overview of the last four::

Kennesaw Mountain

You can hike or run the trails at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park which is located just north of Atlanta. There are over 20 miles of trials in the park that weave through forests over mountain tops, along meandering creeks and through grassy meadows. The park’s now-beautiful landscape was once the site of a bloody, muddy Civil War battle during the Atlanta campaign. Thousands lost their lives on Kennesaw’s mountains during a grueling, 14-day battle. So, along the way don’t be surprised to find reminders left behind including cannons and trenches. This makes the mountain a lesson in history as well as a great outdoor escape.

The park’s most popular hike is the 2.4-mile Kennesaw Mountain Trail, which I highly recommend. It’s a moderately difficult climb through sharp switchbacks that eventually crest at the mountain’s rocky, open summit. Arriving at the top you know it was definitely worth the effort when seeing the breathtaking views of the Atlanta skyline and Stone Mountain far in the horizon.

Others trails worth exploring include:

  • the 24-Gun Trail, a 3.5-mile journey on the mountain’s lower elevation

  • the Battlefield Trail, an 11-mile loop to stunning summit views

  • The Cheatham Hill and Kolb Farm Loop Trail, a 5.8-mile beginner friendly hike

  • The Environmental Trail, a 1.35 kid friendly loop with illustrated signs explaining the forest ecosystem.

Sweetwater Creek State Park

My partner at Celebrated Experiences suggested I explore Sweetwater Creek and I’m glad he did. This is a well-loved and ultra-popular state park near Atlanta, located just outside the city’s west side perimeter. It’s ruggedly beautiful, rolling and rocky, lush and green, and easily accessible. Sweetwater is also steeped in history; it’s home to the towering brick ruins of the New Manchester Mill, an iconic and solemn shell of a structure that was destroyed in the Civil War, and a filming location for The Hunger Games.

The Park offers over nine miles of hiking and running trails which are named: Red, White, Orange and Yellow and are visually marked accordingly on the trees along the way.

  • The Red Trail 2.3-miles round trip is one of the most popular trails. It explores the banks of a rushing, whitewater-filled creek, offers an up-close look at the ruins of a Civil War-era mill, and a chance to explore the boulder-filled sandy and slippery shores of Sweetwater Creek

  • The Yellow and Orange Trail is a 4.75-mile loop providing hikers with a look at the park’s Civil War mill ruins, a prehistoric Native American cave, and seasonal views of the Atlanta skyline

  • The White Trail and Red Trail is a dual combination scenic 4-mile loop past the Civil War mill ruins, a tumbling creek and quiet meadow.

Pine Mountain Trail

This a 4.3 miles hike round trip is comprised of two loops, East and West, which connect Pine Mountain . The West Loop is rated moderate and the East , which is narrow, rocky and rugged , is considered “challenging”. The climb reaches 1,563 feet above sea level. The drive from midtown is under 40 minutes and I found that, even from the car, the North Georgia mountains are beautiful. But the real reason to come, other than the exercise, is the view from the top. In reaching the rocky summit, catch sweeping views of Allatoona Lake, Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain. I really enjoyed this hike and as someone who can struggle with maps it offered me a fantastic, view-packed hike with an easy to find trailhead, not far from where we parked.

Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area

Providence Canyon State Outdoor Recreation Area is a 1,003-acre Georgia state park located in Lumpkin, southwest Georgia. This was the furthest I traveled for a hike and is around 150 miles (2 ½ hours) from my home. But once you arrive you’ll see it is well worth the trip. The park contains Providence Canyon, which is sometimes called Georgia's "Little Grand Canyon". It is considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia and is spectacular. You truly feel as though you were dropped off somewhere in the Southwestern. The park consist of over ten miles of fantastic hiking trails. The white loop trail is just-under-five-miles and I highly and recommend this adventure which scores views of the park’s highlights. This route catches outstanding views of the sculpted walls from above and explores its depths on a meandering path through nine numbered canyons down below.

As you can see some of these are flat strolls alongside creeks and to waterfalls while others have been heart pumping challenges. All have been amazing and left me feeling an enormous sense of accomplishment and awe. So even if you are not living in a new city during these challenging times, I encourage you to look around as if you were a tourist as well. I guarantee you will find trails and parks in your area that provide you with a renewed sense of appreciation of your town and empower you to feel like an explorer in destinations that have always been right in your own backyard. Remember, anywhere you live, adventure can be found, with the right attitude! So, close your eyes, click your hiking boots three times and repeat after me...there’s no place like home!!

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