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Get Outside in Metro Atlanta

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State and National Parks Offer City Dwellers Opportunity for Adventure

Brian Foster

By: Georgia Conservancy Communications Director Brian Foster

Staying home for the Fourth of July holiday doesn’t mean you have to confine yourself to the neighborhood pool for the entire weekend. The days surrounding the 4th are a wonderful opportunity to unplug and get outside into nature, even if it is just a few miles from your front door. 

As you may have read in last week’s People, Places, Parks feature from Park Pride, Atlanta is full of incredible city parks and greens spaces at which to gather and explore with friends and family. And just a few miles outside of the perimeter sit a number of awe-inspiring Georgia State Parks and units of the National Park Service.  

Two of my favorite metro Atlanta State Parks to visit are located just off of the Interstate 20 corridor, and both are closely tied to the early years of the Georgia Conservancy.

To the west of downtown Atlanta, Douglas County’s Sweetwater Creek State Park is just a 17-mile trip from Five Points. Not far for a day trip from anywhere in metro Atlanta! The 2,500-acre park is an important piece of conserved land within the Chattahoochee River watershed, featuring a recreational lake, cascading streams, river shoals and the historical ruins of the New Manchester Mill, which was burned during the Civil War.

On any given day you will find anglers on the lake or even in the creek, many of whom are in search of the elusive shoal bass. Also in the creek, when the water is at just the right level, experienced whitewater kayakers can be found attempting to run Class IV rapids. On land, hikers can enjoy 15 miles of diverse trails on which to explore.

Sweetwater Creek is the also birthplace of the Georgia Conservancy, as we were founded along its rocky banks in 1967. This beautiful property was later one of the first places our nascent organization helped to protect as a State Park. 

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area by The Georgia Conservancy

On the opposite side of the perimeter, just 15 miles east of downtown Atlanta, but world’s away, you can find Panola Mountain State Conservation Park. Panola Mountain, which is part of the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, is often overshadowed by its more famous monadnock cousin to the north, Stone Mountain. But don’t underestimate the beautify found at Panola’s other-worldly granite outcroppings and forested acres.

With 25 miles of trails, the 1,600-acre park is popular with hikers and bikers. Many of those miles are paved PATH trails which provide safe, beautiful, and convenient connections to other sites in the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, such as Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and the City of Lithonia.

Panola Mountain State Conservation Park is home to two lakes perfect for fishing, and it also provides visitors other recreational opportunities like geocaching, tree climbing, and archery.

With the purchase of the 100-acre rock monadnock and its surrounding property in 1967, Panola Mountain was one of the Georgia Conservancy’s first conservation acquisitions. Within a few years, the property was acquired by the state and was established as Georgia’s first conservation park with the goal of conserving its unique geological and ecological heritage. Panola Mountain also serves as the headquarters for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites.

And it’s not just city and state parks that metro Atlanta has to offer. The Atlanta area also has a National Park Service presence. For those exploring the city and wishing to learn more about the history of one of its greatest citizens, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Monument is an important stop. And for those seeking outdoor adventures, one shouldn’t have to look far. The NPS’ Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area provides the metro area’s urban and suburban dwellers with ample opportunity for outdoor recreation and relaxation. Stretching from Buford Dam at Lake Lanier southeast to the Vinings area, Georgia’s only National Recreation Area, established by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, is a collection of park units accessible from a number of locations along the river. 

Panola Mountain State Park. Photo by The Georgia Conservancy

Hiking, paddling, swimming, fishing, mountain biking – the 10,500-acre CRNRA has a ton to offer and with its proximity to some of metro Atlanta’s largest population centers, it is an attractive option for those seeking nature nearby. It’s rocky outcroppings, rolling hills, and river shoals show of the geologic diversity of the area, historic features hard to find in the heart of the city. 

Before hitting the trails or the water, stop by the Chattahoochee Nature Center or the Park Service’s Visitor Center to learn more about the natural history of the river. 

If you are looking to explore with a group, the Georgia Conservancy and other organizations offer a number of opportunities to explore these parks and other locations in the metro area throughout the year.  

Learn more about our statewide Stewardship Trips Program and become a member of the Georgia Conservancy to get early and discounted registration on a number of our trips, including our upcoming trips releases set for July 15.


Featured image: Sweetwater Creek State Park. Photo by William Brawley

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