Atlanta Hiking: 14 Family-Friendly Spots to Get Close to Mother Nature

Leita Thompson Memorial Park, photo by Bill Leffler
Leita Thompson Memorial Park, photo by Bill Leffler
10/3/21 - By Rebecca Ruffin Leffler

Living in Atlanta has many perks: impressive museums, appetizing restaurants, and boundless shopping. But sometimes the noise and congestion that often come with big city life gets to be too much. Parents may find they want to breathe fresh air, listen to the birds sing, and get back to nature—Atlanta hiking answers that need.

Fortunately, you don’t have to travel outside the city for a brief respite. With its dense tree canopy, the metro Atlanta area offers many parks and nature preserves to explore the outdoors with your little ones. Visit these natural areas on our Atlanta hiking list and you'll forget you’re still in a city of over 6 million people.


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Big Trees Forest Preserve —Sandy Springs

Had it not been for John Ripley Forbes’ foresight in the late 1980s, this 30-acre preserve would probably be a car dealership today. Big Trees consists of several short winding trails in a mature forest just off busy Roswell Road. You can hike along a gentle stream or take the 0.75-mile Backcountry Trail, which steadily climbs 120 feet. Wooden bridges and benches dot the landscape while wild azaleas, wildflowers, and trees line the paths. Restrooms are available and parking is located at the North Fulton County Annex.

Hearing the tranquil sounds of water adds to the attraction of Roswell Riverwalk. Photo by Bill Leffler

Roswell Riverwalk —Roswell

The seven-mile flat greenway stretches along the banks of the Chattahoochee River and connects Willeo, Azalea, Riverside, and Don White Memorial Parks, where parking is also available. A scenic boardwalk trail begins just west of Azalea Park and extends almost two miles to Willeo Park. With the river on one side and the marsh on the other, your family can stop to listen for ducks and watch fishermen as they enjoy this Atlanta hike. The wide path allows plenty of room for hikers, runners, and cyclists. Back at Azalea Park, you can use the grills and picnic area, complete with restrooms, while your kids explore the playground.

Blue Heron Nature Preserve —Buckhead

Blue Heron Nature Preserve has expanded over the past two decades to include 30 acres, encompassing four different habitat areas. The hiking trails form a sort of "figure 8" with the parking lot situated in the middle. Take the trails south to a butterfly garden, a reservoir, and even a wildlife blind. You may even spot deer grazing in the distance. If you take the trail north from the parking lot, you’ll walk along the banks of Nancy Creek and a community garden. Public restrooms are not available.

Blue Heron Nature Preserve is a wondrous Atlanta hike that's home to a variety of flora and fauna. Photo by the author​

Leita Thompson Memorial Park —Roswell

With its hilly terrain and fine gravel surface, the trails at Leita Thompson have long been a favorite for trail runners and hikers. For the longest trek, take the red trail and include the short walk around the pond to complete 2.5 miles. If you want something shorter, the yellow trail is a one-mile loop. In addition to an art center focusing on the ceramic arts, the park features a large dog park with additional parking and portable toilet facilities.

Kids love running across Morningside Nature Preserve's wooden bridge. Photo by Bill Leffler

Morningside Nature Preserve —Morningside/Lenox Park

This preserve, offering two miles of trails, feels the most remote. Beginning at the Georgia Power substation parking lot, the path soon leads into a wooded area and descends a series of stairs. Seemingly out of nowhere, a modern suspension bridge crosses South Fork Peachtree Creek. You may see dogs swimming in the creek or children kicking off their shoes to dip their feet in the water. Crossing over the bridge, several meandering trails wind around the 33-acre preserve. While not offering much signage, the trails all circle back to the bridge. No restrooms or picnic areas are provided.

Constitution Lakes allows visitors to transform found litter into artwork. Photo by the author

Constitution Lakes —South Dekalb County

Constitution Lakes is a 125-acre nature preserve located in an industrial area in Southeast Atlanta. Set out on a wetlands adventure by taking the shady trail and boardwalk to a lake, which served as one of two quarries for the South River Brick Company in the early 1900s. Continue to the Doll’s Head Trail, an unpaved, narrow loop just on the other side of the lake. A few years ago, a hiker created art montages from the trash he found in the park. The idea caught on as visitors enjoyed the clever re-purposing of litter into folk art. Feel free to make your own art displays, but remember you can only use items found on the property. The complete trail from the parking lot is about 1.6 miles. There are no restroom facilities.

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve is a magical mix of foliage and manmade marvels. Photo by the author

Autrey Mill Nature Preserve —John’s Creek

This 46-acre preserve offers 2.5 miles of trails with a free cell phone audio tour. You’ll pass the rocks that once stood as the base of the flour and grain mill that operated from 1877-1907 while exploring wetlands and seeing wildlife. Be sure to go past the small church on the recently completed Warsaw Trail. The Atlanta hiking grounds are free and open every day from dawn to dusk. However, plan to come when the farm museum and visitor center are open, featuring several live snakes and frogs. Kids will enjoy the butterfly garden and farm animals on the site. Restrooms and picnic areas are available.

Cochran Mill Park offers both basic and intermediate hiking trails. Photo by the author

Cochran Mill Park —Chattahoochee Hills

With 800 acres in south Fulton County, Cochran Mill Park offers 18 miles of trails, a playground, picnic tables, and restrooms. The 2.3 miles of orange-blazed looping trails to Cochran Mill Falls is a great family-friendly hike that starts across the street (east) from the parking lot on Cochran Mill Road. The west side of the park offers more difficult trails including the 5.4-mile round-trip trek to Henry Mill Falls, mountain bike trails, and horseback trails. Download the free app which shows a trail map with your location and isn’t dependent on having a cell signal. Parking is $5 unless you are a resident of Chattahoochee Hills.

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is only 20 minutes east of downtown Atlanta. Photo by the author

Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area —Stonecrest

Arabia Mountain, a smaller version of nearby Stone Mountain, lies only 20 minutes east of downtown Atlanta. Park at the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve which offers restrooms and close to 10 miles of pedestrian-only trails. From the visitor center, the two-mile round-trip hike to the top of the mountain climbs less than 200 feet. As you hike across the granite outcrops, look for the rare plant species growing in the pools of standing water, called solution pits. The area is also home to the Arabia Mountain PATH, a 33-mile network of multi-use paved trails connecting Lithonia's historic district, Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain State Park, and other points of interest.

Sweetwater Creek Sate Park was used as a filming location for The Hunger Games movie. Photo by Bill Leffler

Sweetwater Creek State Park —Lithia Springs

Once home to the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, the park offers 15 miles of hiking trails that blend nature and history together. Don’t miss the 0.5-mile hike along the creek to the stunning mill ruins, which you may recognize from The Hunger Games. Plaques along the trail detail the history of the textile mill that met its demise during the Civil War. Before leaving, explore the exhibits at the LEED Certified visitor center. Parking is $5.

Reynolds Nature Preserve —Morrow

With over 146 acres, Reynolds Nature Preserve provides over three miles of looping trails in a shady, serene setting. Listen to the new audio tour as you explore the property that once belonged to Georgia Supreme Court Judge William H. Reynolds. Families with younger children will especially enjoy the one-mile Pond Loop, offering opportunities to spot turtles swimming in the four spring-fed ponds. Those with strollers can take an ADA-compliant trail featuring native plants located near the interpretive center and butterfly garden. A highlight of the preserve is an old barn built in 1867.

Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park —Kennesaw

With 22 miles of hiking trails, the 3,000-acre Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park offers many opportunities for your family. Take the 1.1-mile (one way) hike, which climbs over 700 feet to the summit. Not only do you get rewarding views of the distant Atlanta skyline, but you’ll see cannons and learn about the Civil War battle fought here. Although there is a $5 fee for parking, you can tour the museum inside the visitor center.

Lost Corner is a family-friendly trail in Sandy Springs. Photo by Bill Leffler

Lost Corner Preserve —Sandy Springs

This somewhat hidden preserve in a residential area offers 24 acres of woodlands on what was once a working farm in Sandy Springs. Because the nature trail is just under a mile, it is perfect for younger kids and grandparents, while older kids wanting more exercise can make another loop. Lost Corner Preserve also features a renovated 1920s bungalow cottage to rent, a community garden, a greenhouse, and restrooms.

Sawnee Mountain PreserveCumming

Just north of Atlanta, the 900-acre Sawnee Mountain Preserve offers 11 miles of hiking trails, as well as a visitor center, playground, picnic pavilions, and an amphitheater. The highlight is the 3.2-mile Indian Seats Trail, a loop ascending almost 500 feet where three granite rock “seats” offer views of the North Georgia Mountains. While great for the entire family, please note that dogs are not permitted at the preserve.

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