Visitors might be most familiar with Atlanta's epic traffic, world-class attractions and bustling airport (the world's busiest), but there's a reason the capital of the Peach State is called the "city in the forest." With trees covering nearly 50 percent of the city's landmass, you're never far from a park or green space, be that Midtown's sprawling and well-known Piedmont Park or hidden neighborhood gems, like Morningside Nature Preserve.
Located just 6 miles northeast of downtown and bordered by the Virginia-Highland neighborhood to the south, Buckhead to the north, Cheshire Bridge Road to the west and Lenox Road to the east, the preserve features 33 acres of secluded wooded forest and 2 miles of trails intersected by South Fork Peachtree Creek, a tributary of the 7.5-mile Peachtree Creek that flows west into the Chattahoochee River, the city's largest body of water and popular with hikers, rafters and outdoor enthusiasts.
Here's a guide to the preserve's history, location, hours, and features as well as things to do nearby after your visit.
Initially called the Wildwood Urban Forest, the preserve was slated for development and demolition in the late 1990s. However, a neighborhood volunteer group, Wildwood Urban Forest Committee, intervened and began raising funds to save the space. The committee raised approximately $150,000—which combined with over $1 million in funds from the City of Atlanta and assistance from local charitable groups—was enough to buy back the land, preserve its wetlands and forest for public use and save it from future attempts at development. The area was renamed the Morningside Nature Preserve in 2006.
Morningside Nature Preserve is located approximately 6 miles northeast of downtown in the upscale neighborhood of Morningside. While not accessible via public transportation, the park is a short 15-20 minute drive from downtown as well as the nearby communities of Midtown, Buckhead, and Decatur. There is a small parking lot located off Lenox Road at the Georgia Power Substation that provides access to the steeper, most remote east trailhead. For access to the more populated west trailhead, park along Wellbourne Drive. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily.
What to See
With 2 miles of hiking, walking, and running trails as well as a sandy beach near the creek bed, the park can be enjoyed by nature enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. The majority of the trails are on the western entrance of the park on Wellbourne Drive, which includes an easy hike to a nearby suspension bridge that also connects it to the eastern side of the park.
Located just below the bridge at the shores of the South Fork Peachtree Creek is a vast, sandy beach dubbed the "dog beach" due to its popularity with local pet owners. It's the perfect spot to pull out a blanket for a picnic or curl up with a good book.
The park's eastern section is a bit more secluded and can be overrun with brush in warmer months. But other than a small set of stairs over a ridge, it's still accessible and easily traversed by novices, and hikers are rewarded with sightings of turtles, foxes, beavers, and other wildlife who make their homes in the dense forest.
What to Do Nearby
For more nature and outdoor exploration, drive three miles south to the iconic Piedmont Park, Atlanta's version of Central Park. With a weekend farmers’ market, tennis courts, public swimming pool, off-leash dog park, sports fields, playgrounds, and miles of paved paths for running and cycling, the park truly has something for everyone. While in the neighborhood, explore the adjacent Atlanta Botanical Gardens or Midtown's cultural institutions like the Alliance Theatre, historic Fox Theatre, Center for Puppetry Arts, or High Museum of Art.
To explore Atlanta's international food scene, drive north along Buford Highway, a 26-mile stretch where you can indulge in everything from tacos to dim sum to Chinese dumplings without ever leaving the country.
Or drive to nearby Buckhead, one of the city's top destinations for dining and shopping. Stop at Lenox Mall, Phipps Plaza or the Shops Buckhead for some retail therapy, or visit one of the neighborhood's top bars or the nearby Atlanta History Center for rotating and permanent exhibits dedicated to everything from the city's railroad origins to its role in the Civil War, plus extensive gardens, historic homes and year-round programming for adults and children alike.