Hi and welcome to the Saturday Hiker, a blog site for the casual hiker or wannabe hiker. Throughout this site you can find out more information by clicking on the bold, brown links. For instance, you can check out some background info about this site on the Who, What, Why page, where you’ll read how my husband and I were inspired to start hiking every Saturday when we first visited the Mile Rock Trail at Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area and the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve. Since that’s where the story starts, it only makes sense that my first is about sharing this amazing area.
And there is so much to see and do! Exploring the two main granite features here – Arabia Mountain and the Mile Rock Trail – is an experience like no other. The vast expanse of barren terrain here is so foreign it reminds you of the moon, and yet you are about 20 miles east of downtown Atlanta. It remains one of our favorite places to hike.
Arabia Mountain is a granite monadnock, meaning an isolated and exposed hill. It’s one of three granite monadnocks found near Atlanta including Stone Mountain and Panola Mountain. The landscape of a monadnock is endlessly fascinating. Its unique topography and geology allows rare and unusual plant and animal species to survive and thrive. One of the five endangered species of plants found here is the startlingly red carpet of diamorpha smallii that lives in rainwater pools formed on the granite.
Spring is the perfect time to visit if you want to see the granite ablaze with blooming diamorpha and other wildflowers. Each small pocket of life inside the rock creates its own tiny terrarium. It’s a spectacle worth the effort to catch, but even if you can’t make it in time for the big bloom, fear not. Once Spring is over, the pockets remain with seasonal mosses and flowers, cacti and many other species. In fact, any time of year is a great time to hike this area. The ever changing landscape means that you just never know what you’ll see popping up.
As you approach the area from Klondike Road, stop at the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Center on your right. Parking is free and you can go into the center and pick up a map of the trails to learn more about what’s happening currently on the mountain and surrounding areas. The nature center offers occasional guided walks, events and even full moon excursions during times of peak interest.
Interlaced throughout the area that’s directly behind the center are many trails including the paved Arabia Mountain PATH system. There are miles of walking and hiking trails which intersect 30 miles of paved bike paths, all of which meander alongside interesting rock outcroppings, forests and streams. You can put together a short walk or a many mile hike or bike trip. Truly there’s something here for everyone.
Today I’m focusing on three main trails that truly give you a sense of the monandnock ecosystem: The Mile Rock Trail, The Mountain Top Trail and the Mountain View Trail.
The Mile Rock Trail
The Mile Rock Trail is a 2-mile loop. In the above slideshow from our first visit to the area in June of 2014, the diamorpha is somewhat dormant, but it can still be seen as dark reddish areas on the granite. This is a terrific first hike for beginners and families, as well as a cool experience for more advanced hikers and walkers. The area is accessed by following the marked trailhead located directly behind the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Center. Follow the sign for the trail a short way through the forest until you come to the first cairn. Due to the fragility of this area’s unique ecosystem of lichens, mosses and plants, please avoid stepping on any plant life and be sure to stay close to the rock cairns and the blazes marking the trails. Continue to follow the cairns as the trail winds over a vast expanse of boulders and granite pocketed with grasses, diamorpha and wildflowers, and bordered by forest. As you walk along the trail, you will begin to see evidence that the area is the site of an old granite quarry.
Midway along the trail and to your right, you’ll see a small pond filled with grasses where sometimes you can see tadpoles and hear frogs, if you stand quietly. Next you’ll come to the ruins of the old quarry office on your left. Deer may be found grazing in the foliage next to the ruins here, while colorful butterflies circle lazily through the grasses. Continuing on to the 1-mile mark, there is a small shelter and the entrance to Arabia Lake. Take a right just past the shelter to walk alongside the lake and you’ll run into the yellow-blazed scenic forest trail taking you back to the Nature Center, which will complete the 2-mile loop.
As an alternative you can go to the left at the shelter and follow a very short, but beautiful trail along a splashing boulder-filled stream, then take the stairs up to the intersection of the paved walking/bike PATH. From this point you can either end your hike by walking back to the nature center on the paved path, extend your hike to Arabia Mountain by following the signage directing you to there or go out along the bike path to access more trails. Any way you go, you will be amazed at the diversity of landscape. We usually choose to hike the Mile Rock Trail and its forest loop, and possibly one other trail along the PATH for one outing and the Arabia Mountain trail and its surrounding trails on a different day.
Arabia Mountain Top Trail
Arabia Mountain itself is about 1/4 mile further down the road from the Davidson-Arabia Nature Center. From the nature center you can access a paved path which crosses Klondike Road to the Klondike Boardwalk. The boardwalk skirts around the side of the huge granite dome that is Arabia Mountain, providing tantalizing views of the landscape. At the end of the Klondike Boardwalk, take a left and head toward the entrance to AWARE, the Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Center which is located at the base of the mountain. Just before the AWARE gates, go through the marked shelter on your left to access the Mountain Top Trail trailhead. If the mountain is your main destination and you don’t want to walk from the nature center, you can drive past the center and take a left at the entrance to AWARE. There is free parking, but be forewarned, it is limited and you may not park inside the AWARE property.
The above slideshow is from two weeks ago when the diamorpha was blooming in spectacular fashion. As is the case with the Mile Rock Trail, rock cairns mark the 1/2-mile Mountain Top Trail and visitors should take care to avoid walking on and damaging the fragile grasses, flora, moss and lichen. On your way to the base of the mountain, you’ll follow the cairns and walk through rocky areas of pine trees and past pockets of diamorpha and other wildflowers. The information marker at the base of the mountain marks the beginning of a steep climb to the summit. At the top of the mountain, you’ll be rewarded with 360 degree views of the surrounding pine forests and a lake, along with other mountains and the city of Atlanta in the distance. There is so much to explore on this ever changing dome, you’ll find yourself lingering for an hour just to snap photos! Once you’ve finished your tour of the mountain top and returned to its base – and if you still have the energy, time, sunscreen and daylight left – you might want to hike the gorgeous Mountain View Trail as well.
Mountain View Trail
The Mountain View Trail, which you can see below, is a blue-blazed trail that begins before you reach the Mountain Top Trail. About 1/3 of the way towards the Mountain Top Trail, and at a point where that trail veers to the left, you will see a cairn with a blue stripe and notice dashes of blue blazes on the ground along the rock surface which head to the right as you face the mountain. This is the trailhead for the Mountain View Trail. It’s a bit tricky to follow and requires a constant lookout to locate the blue blazes on the ground, on rocks and on trees. You may even find yourself backtracking a little bit, but it’s well worth the effort. The trail takes you along a truly beautiful 2-mile loop through wildflower and grass meadow, rock outcroppings, pools, fern covered boggy areas, shaded forest and along the shore of a lake. You’ll come out of the trail at the base of the mountain, then follow the blue blazes on the rock back to the entrance to both trails and the way you came in from the parking area. We find the All Trails App mentioned on the Gearing Up For Fun page of this site to be so helpful on trails such as this one.
Images above are from the Mountain View Trail.
Additional Trail Tips:
• When hiking in this area and especially in summer, you are quite exposed to the elements, so do wear a hat and bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
• Check out the individual bold links throughout this post before you visit. They will direct you to the Arabia Mountain website for travel directions and more information on the area, including a downloadable visitor’s guide with trail maps.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area
350 Klondike Road | Lithonia, GA 30038 | t: 404-998-8384