While Atlanta is a booming metropolitan area of 5.8 million people and notorious for its traffic, the city also boasts everything from small neighborhood parks to large state parks which offer ample opportunities for water sports, hiking, cycling, camping, and exploring almost year-round.
At nearly 200 acres in the heart of midtown, iconic Piedmont Park is the city’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. Bring a picnic and soak up views of the Midtown skyline, cool off on a hot summer day at the splash pad, or explore the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which is adjacent to the property and hosts the largest collection of species of orchids in the United States in addition to stunning year-round gardens. Be sure to check the park’s website for an up-to-date listing of festivals, concerts, and other public events.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
Located just west of the city off I-20, Sweetwater Creek boasts 15 miles of hiking trails ranging from an easy half mile hike along the creek bed to the stunning ruins of an factory mill on the Red Trail to the more challenging five mile White loop, which winds from the river banks through the dense forest and up to a lake and cleared meadows, providing ample opportunity to view the park’s wildlife and plant communities. The park also boasts yurts, campsites, birdwatching, fishing docks, and weather permitting, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and pedal boats for rent.
Located in the heart of Emory University’s urban campus, this 154 acre urban oasis offers views of the pristine Candler Lake, waterfalls, a 210 foot suspension bridge overlooking stone ruins, and Lullwater House, 1926 Tudor estate built for Walter Candler, son of Coca-Cola’s founder, that is home to the university’s president. The preserve’s four miles of trails make it perfect for a leisurely stroll, bird watching, or curling up on a bench with a good book—no student ID necessary.
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
History buffs and nature enthusiasts alike flock to this park and former Civil War battlefield located 20 miles northwest of Atlanta. Start your trip at the Visitor’s Center, which screens a 35 minute movie on the Battle of Kennesaw and plays at 15 minutes after the hour every hour. While the park offers over 20 miles of trails, the most popular is the namesake 2-mile trail that winds to the mountain’s peak and offers sweeping views of the Atlanta skyline below. Check the website for the park’s lecture series and regular ranger-guided tours on everything from animal life to Civil War-era artillery.
Centennial Olympic Park
Constructed when the city hosted the 1996 Olympic Games, Centennial is in the heart of downtown and adjacent to city’s most popular attractions like the National Center for Civil & Human Rights, CNN Center, the College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, Children’s Museum of Atlanta, and the World of Coca-Cola. The walking tour available via the park’s mobile website gives an overview of downtown’s history, architecture, and the legacy of the Olympic Games, and the Fountain of Rings show features dancing water choreographed to music, sound, and lighting effects. Check the schedule for special events, like ice skating in the winter and music festivals like SweetWater 420 Fest and Shaky Knees Music Festival in the spring and summer.
This massive park system snakes along the city’s western and northern perimeters and encompasses 48 miles of river and 15 land units. The flat and wide 3 mile loop at the Sope Creek outpost is popular with runners, hikers, and cyclists year-round, while the adjacent Powers Island trail offers a more remote single track experience. Float down the river—or “shoot the Hootch,” as the locals say—or kayak or canoe the river from 17 different access points including Morgan Falls Dam, Abbot’s Bridge, and Azalea Park.
Chastain Memorial Park
Located in a beautiful residential neighborhood in Buckhead, this park is a hub of outdoor activities. Amenities including one of the city’s best 18 hole golf courses, nine tennis courts, a swimming pool, horse park, playgrounds, and two three mile loop trails that connect into the city’s larger PATH system. Nearby State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park is a can’t miss outdoor concert venue that showcases popular artists ranging from local bands like the Indigo Girls to Willie Nelson, John Legend, and Paul Simon.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area
400 million years of geological history is found in the dual granite fixtures that make up this massive 2,550 acre park located just east of the city off I-20. The area once supplied a booming quarry industry and now is home to both the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve and Panola Mountain State Park. Hike the half mile Mountain Top Trail on Arabia Mountain for unparalleled views of the city, tour the wildlife rehabilitation facilities, pay your respects at the on-site slave cemetery and former plantation, or bike the 24 mile round trip PATH trail from Lithonia to Panola Mountain. For a unique retreat, visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, a community of Trappist monks with a public bonsai garden, walking paths, visitor center, and daily religious services.
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
One of the oldest forests inside the city limits, the 120 acre green space in southwest Atlanta features two miles of trails that include a waterfall, ample wildlife like deer and turtles, and the remnants of Civil War trenches dug by troops in the Battle of Utoy Creek. In spite of its violent past, the property once housed an exclusive resort dedicated to the creek’s healing springs, which were actually bottled and sold through the 1950s. The ruins of the old pump house and spring house are highlights of this historic and tranquil in-town oasis.
You don’t have to be a skateboard enthusiast to appreciate this unique 17 acre public park. Located in the heart of Old Fourth Ward and right off the popular Eastside Beltline Trail, the park was designed with input from local skaters, funded partly by skating legend Tony Hawk’s foundation, and offers skating opportunities for all levels. For non-skaters, the park also has a playground, two-acre lake, state-of-the-art splash pad, multi-use athletic fields, outdoor theatre, and free activities like yoga, boot camp, and more. Top off you visit with a stroll along the Beltline and stop into New Realm Brewing for craft beer and rooftop views of the city.