in Atlanta and Beyond
Getting outside with your family is a must in Atlanta. With four kids between the ages of 8 and 13 we are an active, engaged family with a full calendar. We love that we can explore so many unique parks, trails, nature centers and outdoor attractions so close to our home. And nearly all of them are family friendly.
Maria Smith is a wife and mom of four children ranging in age from 8 to 13 living in Smyrna, Ga. In her pre-kid life, she was a TV producer on the The Oprah Winfrey Show among others. Now, she is a freelance writer, blogs at MamaliciousMaria.com and spends her time playing tennis, coaching basketball and carpooling her kids.
There is something soul-stirring about sitting on a dirt bank and watching the Chattahoochee River rushing by. The scent of the blooming dogwood trees in Piedmont Park, with their giant cream-colored flowers, always signals spring to me. The great outdoors isn’t limited to long drives away from the city, though. Atlanta also offers brilliant urban landscaping with built-in green spaces that welcome people from every community. And they are right in the middle of the city.
I love that Atlanta has made a concentrated effort to increase green space within the city and make it easy, accessible and safe for all families. My family of six loves to be outside, soaking up the sun. We walk and talk, laugh and always find somewhere delicious, unique and fun to eat. Being outside is more than just good family bonding time, it really feeds our soul.
Since there are a variety of outdoor destinations in metro Atlanta, here is a family-crafted list of places we adore.
8 Places for Outdoor Family Fun Around Atlanta
1. Atlanta BeltLine – Eastside Trail
Address: 400 Park Drive NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30306
Parking: You can usually find free street parking near Historic Fourth Ward Park. Paid lots are available at Krog Street Market, Ponce City Market and Piedmont Park. The trail begins at 10th Street and Monroe Drive.
You will see ALL of Atlanta on the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail in Midtown. Want to be able to feel the pulse of the city? This is the place. Appreciate diversity of all kinds? This is the place. Looking for an easy way to get the kids off electronics and into the community? I’m telling you, THIS is the place.
The Atlanta BeltLine is a former railway corridor turned multiuse trail that winds through central Atlanta. Since opening in 2005, it has become one of the most enjoyable ways to experience the city. Atlanta BeltLine is one of the largest urban redevelopment programs in the United States, currently featuring 11 miles of paved, pedestrian-friendly paths and nearly 4 miles of unpaved trails. Once completed, the entire project will connect 22 miles of multiuse urban trails, weaving together Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods.
The wide, paved trail is full of serious bikers and hikers, as well as parents pushing strollers and teenagers zipping around on skateboards. Be sure to stop and appreciate the politically motivated and socially conscious graffiti art throughout the trail, as well as snap some photos of the gorgeous wildflowers and city views. Connect with some of the hippest, most diverse ATLiens. Finally, make your way to the food halls at Krog Street Market or Ponce City Market for a meal or sweet treat in this energy-filled community setting.
Insider tip: There are a variety of FREE classes and activities for the whole family on the BeltLine, and now offered virtually, too. One of my sons took a skateboarding class and another participated in a learn-to-ride-your-bike lesson. There’s also yoga, bike tours, pick-up soccer matches and more.
2. Historic Fourth Ward Park
Address: 680 Dallas St. NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30308
Parking: You can usually find street parking along North Angier Avenue, Morgan Street, Garden Park Drive, Dallas Street or Rankin Street.
Yes, you could go to a playground in the suburbs or hang out in a park close to home. But, when you want something different, with a variety of people, sights and smells, head to Historic Fourth Ward Park. The playground is one of the best in the city and works for a range of ages and abilities. Most summer days, the splash pad and fountains provide an awesome additional source of fun. Seventeen acres of green space also offer plenty of room for picnicking, frisbee throwing or walking the scenic trails.
Historic Fourth Ward Park is built on the site of the old Ponce de Leon amusement park. Located in Old Fourth Ward, the park is one block south of Ponce City Market and connects to Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail. In addition to the playground, splash pad and walking trails, the park also boasts a phenomenal skate park. Spend some time marveling at the finesse and skill of some of the area’s most impressive skateboarders. Bring your own board and give it a try if you dare.
Insider tip: The entire park is ADA compliant, including the playground. Look for an ADA entrance ramp at the corner of Garden Park Drive and Morgan Street.
3. Chattahoochee River
Address: 8800 Roberts Drive, Sandy Springs, Ga. 30350
Parking: Daily parking fee, $5/car
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is one of the coolest places in Atlanta. While we may not be close to the ocean, we can still get plenty of water fun by visiting Chattahoochee River. We can be adventurous and “shoot the ‘hooch” like a local by tubing or kayaking down river. Then walk or bike on the shaded trails that meander alongside.
For less structured fun, we like to take off our shoes and socks and wade into the Chattahoochee to cool off, skip stones or wave to the tubers floating by. We can also go fishing, paddleboarding or just while away an afternoon sitting on the river banks.
Insider tip: The river has several access points, though the most popular one is in Sandy Springs, Ga. It also is accessible from Buckhead, Roswell, Duluth and Smyrna (among other less-traveled places).
4. Paces Mill Trail
Address: 3444 Cobb Parkway, Atlanta, Ga. 30339
Parking: Daily parking fee, $5/car
When you want to go on a walk that’s not too strenuous, yet is exquisitely beautiful, visit the trail at Paces Mill. Located in North Buckhead, it is easy to get to with plenty of parking. This trail is like a secret garden in the middle of the city. As you walk or bike along the wide, paved path, you may spot a few wild animals, come across a variety of birds and even see colorful fish swimming in the tributaries of Chattahoochee River.
This path is not often crowded but the parking lot can fill up on weekends as people who are shooting the Hooch park there. If you want to dip your feet in cool water, walk down the boat ramp or follow the well-worn paths off the main trail that drift to the river. The sound of rushing river water is like a balm to the soul and makes this an extraordinary place for simply enjoying nature.
Insider tip: This mostly flat path is a great place for beginning bike riders to explore. It is generally uncrowded with very few sharp turns or narrowed lanes.
5. Piedmont Park
Address: 400 Park Drive NE, Atlanta, Ga. 30306
Parking: Paid parking deck, gravel parking lot and limited street parking
New York City has Central Park. Chicago has Grant Park. And Atlanta has Piedmont Park. It is that historic and iconic. Piedmont Park covers 185 acres of Midtown and is the city’s largest park. It’s been the site of family gatherings for nearly two centuries. With well-kept tennis courts, a nicely appointed community pool, splash pad, two playgrounds, sand volleyball courts, ball fields and acres of green space, there really is something for everyone here.
I love the history of the park. Booker T. Washington opened the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition here with his famous speech later known as “Atlanta Compromise.” It was the first speech by an African American given to a racially mixed, but separate, audience in the South and provided a much-debated framework for post-Reconstruction race relations. I feel proud walking through the imposing stone archways and appreciate the heavy sense of history that most people are unaware of. I smile upon seeing so many other people of various backgrounds enjoying this park together, knowing that it used to be off-limits to people like us.
My family has attended many of the annual festivals held at Piedmont Park including Atlanta Jazz Festival, Dogwood Festival and Atlanta Arts Festival. We like to visit the farmer’s market (Green Market) held in the park every Saturday morning. There always seems to be something going on in this park, and my family has taken advantage of it for years.
Insider tip: Atlanta Botanical Garden is adjacent to Piedmont Park. You can visit both places without leaving your parking spot.
6. Michelle Obama Trail
Address: 2946 Clifton Springs Road, Decatur, Ga 30034
Parking: Free limited parking lot spots as well as street parking near the Panola Shoals Trailhead
I’m a huge fan of former First Lady Michelle Obama, so when I heard Dekalb County named an unknown-to-me walking trail for her about 15 miles south of Atlanta, I decided to check it out. And it didn’t disappoint. Located near Georgia State University’s Perimeter College Campus, it’s a 3.8-mile shaded trail for biking, hiking or an afternoon stroll. The trail follows the bend of the South River, which provides both a scenic atmosphere and a shaded place to cool off. There is access to the river near Panola Shoals Trailhead. It’s the perfect spot for wading, especially for young kids as it typically offers no current and ankle-deep waters.
One of the best parts of this trail is the history that is steeped into it. Walking north to the 0 mile marker, you’ll find a small plaque identifying an overgrown field as the Lyons family farm dating back to 1821. The plaque explained that as late as 1870, there were 17 enslaved men and women who were forced to work this farm. We saw cotton growing wildly and imagined that it was the same cotton the enslaved people picked. We saw the remnants of a rundown shack that could have once been their home. An afternoon walk turned into a terrific history lesson and stimulated some excellent family discussions.
Insider tip: Bring a picnic lunch to enjoy along the trail. There are benches and picnic tables waiting for your pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet tea.
7. Amicalola Falls
Address: 418 Amicalola Falls State Park Road., Dawsonville, Ga. 30534
Parking: All vehicles are required to pay $5 Georgia State Park Pass.
It’s no wonder Amicalola Falls State Park is one of the most popular parks in the South. It’s about one hour north of Atlanta in the heart of Chattahoochee National Forest and beautiful North Georgia mountains. There are 829 acres of wilderness with several trails perfect for either a challenging hike or a short jaunt. Expect crowds on the weekends, so arrive early.
Amicalola Falls features a comfortable lodge, cabins and campground rentals if you want to extend your stay. While there, seeing the jewel of this state park is key. You can hike up 604 steps to see the magnificent Amicalola Falls waterfall, which sounds easier than it actually is. Alternately, if a long hike is not for you, consider driving to the top and walking about a quarter mile on a stroller-friendly access trail to view the waterfall. It is the longest waterfall in Georgia at 729 feet and will inspire you with its natural beauty and power.
Insider tip: If you are there on a hot day, visit one of the most beautiful natural swimming holes in Georgia off the main trail. When my family visits this park, we are often the only African Americans there, so we prefer to visit during daylight hours. We have not experienced any open hostility or an unwelcoming spirit, and we love the beauty of Amicalola Falls, so we’ll continue to return.
8. Silver Comet Trail
Address: Mavell Road Trailhead, 0 mile marker, Mavell Road, Smyrna, Ga. 30082 (0.25 miles from Nickajack Elementary)
Parking: Free parking is available at trailheads throughout the trail.
Starting in Smyrna, just outside the Perimeter, The Silver Comet Trail travels 61.5 miles through three counties to the Georgia/Alabama state line, ending at the Esom Hill Trailhead. This path is a flat, fast, paved, scenic trail that is designed for long runs or bike rides. It is quiet, shaded and a wheelchair and stroller-friendly, distraction-free trail. Our family starts off from the Marvell Trailhead nearly every week. The diversity of bikers, runners and hikers at the beginning of the trail is refreshing. The Silver Comet Trail is a wonderful place to meet with my mom, friends, with or without the kids, for a relaxing stroll.
Insider tip: The Silver Comet Trail is packed on weekends and holidays with serious athletes. We try to visit during the week in the afternoons. Also, be aware that the local elementary school may use the parking lot and surrounding streets for overflow parking and the trail for classes and activities. It could be crowded during the school day.
After 14 years of living in Atlanta, my family is still finding new, fun outdoor adventures to explore. Now go out, lace up your walking shoes, douse yourself with bug spray, and get out there to enjoy the great outdoors.
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