Red Top Mountain State Park

rock formations

Rock outcroppings.

Of Georgia’s many beautiful state parks, Red Top Mountain State Park is definitely a favorite. Situated on Lake Allatoona and the Etowah River, this delightful park is located in Acworth, Georgia just outside of Cartersville, and is about a 40 mile drive north from downtown Atlanta, making it a great place for a day trip. The park features over 15 miles of hiking trails, cabins for rent, campsites, picnic sites, a marina with boat rentals and lots of opportunities to swim, boat and fish.

Red Top Mountain was so named for the soil’s rich red color, which is caused by the high iron-ore content in the area. Iron ore mining was once important in this historic area and you can see evidence of the ore and the ruins of homesteads throughout the park.

Taking I-75 north from Atlanta, exit at Red Top Mountain State Park/Acworth to enter the park, then follow the signage to the Visitor’s Center for a parking pass. You must have a pass to park anywhere and the rangers here do check often, so get one if you don’t already have a Georgia State Park Annual Pass. A day pass is a bargain at $5.00 per vehicle and you can either deposit cash in a marked box and take your pass, or the rangers inside the Visitor’s Center will take major credit cards and issue you a pass. The Visitor’s Center also serves as a general store, has restrooms and is currently the check-in point for campers and cabin rentals as well as a source for trail maps and information.

The park contains six hiking trails of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. We come here year round and have hiked them all many times, but the area never gets old with its many interesting sights and ever changing water vistas which can be seen from most of the trails.

Scenes from the Iron Hill Trail. Click on any image above for a caption or slideshow.

Iron Hill Trail
On our most recent visit a week ago, we decided to hike the blue-blazed Iron Hill Trail again. This 3.9 mile moderate loop trail (not including any branch-off trails) is one you can’t access from the Visitor’s Center, but it is only 1/2 mile down the road from it on the right and past the campground, and it has its own parking area. If you’re camping, you can access this trail from the campground by a short walk via the Campground Trail.

With its gravel and hard pack surface, the Iron Hill Trail is the only trail within the park that is accessible to both bicycles and hikers, and most sections of the trail are wide enough to accommodate everyone with ease. It’s a very scenic and fun hike, featuring a meandering loop that follows along the banks of the lake and through an area that was once the home of an active mining community in the mid-1800s.

On this particular day, we discovered some previously unexplored (by us) smaller trails branching off the main trail and leading to what appears to have been the location of the old campground, which we’ve jokingly renamed the “ghost camp.” While these “off-the-main-trail” areas have become a little overgrown and one must step lightly, the remnants of cement picnic tables, docks and open areas offer some pretty views of the lake and make a nice place to enjoy a picnic or take a break. As we entered an off-trail area, we disturbed several tree frogs, one of whom held its ground for the photo below. The entire Iron Hill Trail offers many opportunities to observe native wildlife and plants.

Tree frog

Little tree froggy says don’t mess with me!

Sweetgum Trail, Homestead Trail and Lakeside Trail
We often like to combine the Sweetgum, Homestead and Lakeside Trails for a longer hike, but each of these individually provides a nice hike or walk with lots to see and do. Facing the Visitor’s Center look for the Sweetgum Trail Sign on your right at the parking lot and pick up that red-blazed trail, or alternatively, pick up the Homestead Trail to the left of the front stairs of the center.

The Sweetgum trail alone is a moderate, 3.5 mile loop through beautiful woods and a cove, and it joins the Homestead trail in two sections. At its northeastern point, the Sweetgum Trail will take you past the Lodge and Park Office which recently burned and is under repair (there is more parking here as well). Here you can also pick up the short, easy .75 mile loop Lakeside Trail. The Lakeside Trail is a paved, ADA accessible trail for its entire length. A focal point of the Lakeside Trail is the 1869 Vaughn cabin where special programs are held and in front of the cabin is an open structure where an annual iron pour takes place. Additionally, there are lots of benches and picnic spots as well as a boat dock along the shoreline.

The 5.5 mile in total, yellow-blazed Homestead Trail departs from the left side of the Visitor’s Center, turns north through the woods for a mile intersecting the Sweetgum Trail at two points, then crosses Lodge Road and makes a 3.5 mile loop along the lakeshore for about half of its length. This trail runs through some of the most beautiful areas of the park and is named after the homesteads once located along the loop, where the ruins of one can be accessed from the trail. After completing the loop, the trail retraces back across Lodge Road and south for the mile back to the Visitor’s Center. This trail is classified as moderate, but has more elevation than the other trails in the park.

Scenes from the Sweetgum Trail, Homestead Trail and Lakeside Trail. Click on any image for a caption and slideshow.

The Visitor Center Loop Trail and the White Tail Trail
These two short trails share connections with the Sweetgum Trail on different ends. The .75 mile Visitor Center Loop Trail begins 100 yards down the Sweetgum Trail where you bear right and follow the green blazes through shaded hardwood forest and to a small spring-fed stream. The White Tail Trail is a .5 mile one way, out and back trail that starts at the Lodge end of the Sweetgum Trail and shares a trailhead there, then turns off and runs north to its end at a scenic viewing point on the edge of Lake Allatoona.

Red Top Mountain State Park
50 Lodge Road SE
Acworth, GA 30102
Bartow County
Park 770-975-0055
Visitor Center 770-975-4226
Reservations 800-864-7275

Additional Trail Tips:

•  Summer months are very busy here and parking can be at a premium at the Visitor’s Center. More parking is available at the Lodge on Lodge Road, and at the trailhead for the Iron Hill Trail.

•  Campsites and Cabins book well in advance. Check here for availability, reservations and more information about the park.



Waterfall Day Tripping at DeSoto Falls and Helton Creek Falls, Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Georgia


Summer is a time when I always want to hike next to water. The cool spray of a waterfall, the breezes from rivers and the sounds of rushing water seem to make the heat of the day just melt away…or at least more tolerable!

For waterfall lovers, visiting DeSoto Falls and Helton Creek Falls is an easily doable day trip from Atlanta, and this area of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest is truly a delightful place to put together several short hikes of moderate elevation. On a recent trip to North Georgia, both falls at DeSoto and the falls at Helton Creek were at maximum capacity due to the heavy amounts of rain we’ve had so far this season, making them even more spectacular than usual.

DeSoto Falls Upper 1

DeSoto Falls, upper falls

DeSoto Falls
A piece of armor found here that was thought to be from Hernando de Soto’s expedition in the 1500’s, gave these falls their name. The DeSoto Falls Recreation Area is located just off Georgia Highway 19/129 and is south of Blairsville, Georgia. This scenic area is a popular spot for camping, trout fishing, picnics and hiking. At just over 2 miles to visit both falls, these well-marked and easy to moderate trails are great for families with children and provide diverse views of forest, rhododendron-lined rushing creeks and not one, but two lovely waterfalls.

The trailhead to the upper and lower falls is picked up at the paved parking area where you will have to pay a small fee to park if you don’t have a National Park pass. You’ll follow the trail down past a shady picnic area next to the rushing Frogtown Creek, then intersect with a paved drive in the camping area and head to the left for a few feet until you reach the signage and wooden bridge that crosses Frogtown Creek. Cross the bridge and follow the signage to the left for the lower falls and its observation deck, then retrace your steps back to the bridge and continue on the green-blazed trail to the larger, upper falls. Both picturesque trails run beside lovely old pines, rock outcroppings and rushing waters, and both have varying amounts of moderate elevation that provide breathtaking views of the falls on approach. As with the lower falls trail, you’ll retrace your steps back on the upper falls trail to the bridge over Frogtown Creek and then to the parking lot to complete the hike.

Lower DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls, lower falls

Helton Creek Falls2

Helton Creek Falls and swimming hole.

Helton Creek Falls
Slightly north of DeSoto Falls and before you reach Vogel State Park lies the somewhat hidden Helton Creek Falls. It’s a really nice one to see on the same day as DeSoto because of their close proximity off the same highway. The trail to Helton Creek Falls is an easy, short trail culminating in a well-sighted observation deck, making it a comfortable addition to the DeSoto hike. The caveat here is getting to the trailhead.

Heading north from DeSoto Falls on Highway 129/19, turn right at Helton Creek Road. The part graveled, part packed dirt and heavily pitted 2-mile long road to get to the trailhead can be a bit precarious and parking on a crowded day is at a premium. The road runs past rental cabins and like most mountain roads to cabins, it is very narrow in spots. If you aren’t comfortable with backing up to let someone else pass, you may not want to tackle it. We managed it in a regular, non-4-wheel drive vehicle as all the while I was expressing my desire for having a 4-wheel drive vehicle! My best advice is to go slowly, be aware of blind spots and be prepared to pull over to allow others to pass in less than ideal situations.

As they say, ‘Good things come to those who pursue…’ or something like that, and the payoff of dealing with the road is really worth the effort here because these falls are a massive sight to behold. And for those interested in swimming, they have a large and popular swimming hole at their base. The trailhead can be found on the right as you enter the small pullout parking area and it’s a .2 mile hike to the falls. There are a few abrupt changes in grade which allow for some wonderful views of the creek and rushing water over tiers of rocky outcrops as you make your way to the observation deck at the base of the falls.

lower Helton Creek Falls

View downstream of Helton Creek Falls.

While this area doesn’t offer picnic tables that we observed, the parking lot appears to be a happy place for tailgating.

For more information on DeSoto Falls Recreation Area, click here.
For more information on Helton Creek Falls, click here.

Additional Trail Tips:

  As mentioned above, be prepared for the road to access Helton Creek Falls.

  Want to fuel up before you go? Click on “Trail Mix” to check out this new section and get some delicious recipe ideas for before, during and after your hikes. New links will be continuously added.

Hidden Trails in Atlanta: Constitution Lakes and the Doll’s Head Trail


In the heat of summer, these amazing and quite large, blue dragonflies abound here in the wetlands. They are as curious about you as you are about them!

Until I read the wonderful book by Jonah McDonald, Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests Intown and Out, I had no idea just how many trails, streams, forests and birding areas were hidden in the midst of this city’s neighborhoods. In fact, hiking and walking in these areas can provide great insight into how the city developed over time, revealing its roots. I highly recommend this book as a guide to Atlantans or visitors to Atlanta who want to get out and enjoy nature without traveling too far from home, and especially to those who wish to see some of the fine, old trees still standing. Who knows? You may even discover a trail in your own back yard.

One of these hidden forests lies in south DeKalb County, south of downtown Atlanta and I-20 and just off Moreland Avenue. Constitution Lakes is a wildlife preserve and part of the DeKalb County park system. The area is unique and has an interesting history.

Above: Our first visit to the area in Fall 2015 and the always changing Doll’s Head Trail. 

Before the Civil War, this area was the site of the South River Brick Company, a major supplier of brick for Atlanta’s buildings from the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s. After the company was sold in 1915, the brickworks subsequently fell to ruin and the excavation pits filled with water to become what is now Constitution Lakes. Train tracks pass through one side of the area which provided materials and commerce for the brickworks in the past.

The next few decades found the area being used as a dumping site for old brick as well as refuse from people and trains passing through. In 2003 DeKalb County bought the land and added a parking lot, a paved walkway down to the lakes and boardwalks. A local carpenter who had often visited the area, became a driving force in helping to restore it to the interesting park that we see today. While doing extensive clean up work and trail blazing, he gathered a lot of the old terracotta brick, tiles and trash and repurposed them into “found art” pieces ranging from sculpture to poetry and historical markers. A dedicated section of the park called “The Doll’s Head Trail” now showcases this found art, and is always changing with recent additions. Visitors are encouraged to contribute their poems or creative works to the trail from found materials and debris within the park, as long as you follow the posted rules for doing so. At times you may even find Sharpie markers hanging along the trail to use for your contribution. This now infamous trail is definitely a “do not miss” part of any visit to Constitution Lakes.

Above: Different seasons, the aging of the old and addition of the latest artwork made our third visit to the area and The Doll’s Head Trail a new experience. Click on any image for captions and to see a slideshow.

The park as a whole consists of a series of paved trails, boardwalk trails and hard packed dirt trails, including the recently completed section connecting the boardwalks over the wetlands to a loop through forest and back to the parking lot. The lakes are a lively wetland habitat and host birds, fish, wildlife and a variety of plants which can be seen from the trails and viewing decks. Walking here at various times of the year we’ve seen deer, butterflies, turtles, fish, bullfrogs, tadpoles, blue dragonflies, heron, egret, geese, ducks, lily pads, cattails, wildflowers and various trees including willow oaks along the water’s edge—just to name a few things. And let’s not forget the artwork along the Doll’s Head Trail. Overall, Constitution Lakes Park is a unique and amazing place to see, and a favorite of ours.

texture low water

Above is a view of the marsh flora on our second visit the summer of 2017, during a drought and while the water was very low.

Below are scenes of the trails and wetlands from last weekend, May 2018. What a difference rain and a year can make! Click any image below for captions and a slideshow.

The whole loop through the forest, wetlands and Doll’s Head Trail is around three miles of flat terrain, making it a perfect short hike for a busy Saturday. We recommend starting on the hard packed dirt trail accessed to the right of the concrete seating area in the parking lot, and finishing your loop by coming out on the paved trail. The Doll’s Head Trail is well marked on approach from any direction. However, for handicapped access or if you just want to see the lakes, viewing decks and the Doll’s Head Trail, you should enter from the paved trail.

To find out more about Constitution Lakes as well as directions by clicking on this link and visiting the Friends of Constitution Lakes Facebook page.

Constitution Lakes
1305 South River Industrial Blvd SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30315

Additional Trail Tips: 

  Because this is a wetland area and habitat, the dirt trails may be muddy after rain and the mosquitoes will be out during warm months. Bringing and using some mosquito repellant on yourself if you aren’t covered up, might not be a bad idea.


Hiking The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Part 1: East Palisades

amazing light on cove flat

Amazing light on a stream cove beside the Chattahoochee River at East Palisades

One of the things that inspired me to create this blog site – and indeed is the premise of this site – was that people started telling me I have inspired them to get out and take a hike, too, and they want more information on our hikes. I love that! So please do keep your feedback coming, either here in the comments section at the end of my posts, or on the Saturday Hiker Facebook Page and let me know if you have a special place that you like to hike. If we haven’t already been there we will add it to our list.

Today’s featured hike is an area well known by many Atlantans and their puppy dogs. East Palisades is part of the U.S. National Park Service’s Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and is what we consider to the be first leg in a series of fantastic hikes we love to take along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in the state of Georgia. This particular hike has many wide and easy to follow hiking trails with a diversity of terrain, and is located in the Buckhead/Sandy Springs community.

full river view from overlookThe trails here run along the top of bold cliff palisades as well as beside the flatter river bank, and both provide some breathtaking views of the Chattahoochee. The in town location and a small pebbly beach area that I fondly refer to as “doggy beach”, make it a favorite haunt for walkers, runners, and hikers as well as folks with very happy dogs who like to get wet and have a good time! Its wonderful forest trails overflow with native wild azaleas, rhododendron, wildflowers, bubbling stream coves, fern, and even…a hidden bamboo forest.

One of our “closer to home” hikes, we come here several times during the year for our Saturday (or Sunday) outings. Our favorite route is a 5.5 mile trek over some very good stretches of elevation and beautiful views. We actually like to hike it somewhat backwards from the way it is numbered on the National Park Service trail map. You can see our highlighted route on the map graphic below to follow our hike, and you can add the additional spur to marker number 30, which is not part of the 5.5 miles but affords a pretty view of the river. Be forewarned that this spur is one more steep down hill and back up towards the end of your hike if you choose to do so. As you can see, there are also many shortcut trails available in between and around our route, so you can put together as short or as long of a hike as you like.

TrailMapPalisadesEastThe route above will first take you away from the river by following a stream, then up and across the Indian Trail parking lot at marker 19. Walk down the Indian Trail entrance drive a short way to pick up the trail at marker 13. You’ll proceed downhill through the forest to a side trail on your right at the 22 marker, taking that trail downhill through native magnolias and alongside a shady, rhododendron and fern bordered stream. Take a right at the 23 marker and cross the bridge to climb uphill and then down to the river. Turn right when you reach the river at marker number 16 and this will take you through the Bamboo Forest. Marker number 26 is our favorite place to stop and have a bite to eat while sitting on a rock and watching the kayakers run the rapids, beside the geese and ducks.

Retrace your steps to get back to the main trail you left when you crossed the bridge at marker 23, then turn right and climb upwards past the wild azaleas to reach the wooden overlook area high atop the palisades. Here you can enjoy the best long view of the river, sit on a wooden bench and recover from your climb, if needed.

After leaving the overlook, climb one more set of steps, then continue downhill until you run into the river again, where you have a nice, long and flat walk through stream coves along the river bank. Look for butterflies, blue heron, ducks, geese, frogs and other interesting creatures as well as native flora and fauna. Are you beginning to see why we like to do this one backwards? Whenever possible, we always like to get the climbing done first, then cruise the latter part of our hike! See the slideshow below for pictures of the whole hike.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Due to the in town location of this area, parking is always a challenge and especially during the summer months. We enter and park near the doggy beach at the Whitewater Creek Road entrance to the park, which is accessed by taking Northside Drive north from downtown Atlanta to Mt. Paran Road, then two more turns through a neighborhood. When it’s really busy here, it can become so congested at this entrance that getting in and out of the one lane road can be difficult, much less finding a place to park. There is an alternative parking area at the Indian Trail entrance from Sandy Springs, GA. See this link to download the trail map above as well as others for the entire Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. You can also Google the addresses below to get directions to the two parking areas from your location.

Indian Trail Entrance: 1425 Indian Trail NW Sandy Springs, GA 30327
Whitewater Creek Entrance: Whitewater Creek Road, Atlanta, GA 30327

Additional Trail Tips:

Always check out the markers with maps at the beginning of the trailhead and along the trail in National Parks. These will often show you where you are on the trail so you won’t get lost. When available, pick up or download a map of the trail you plan to hike. And last but not least, download the All Trails app to use when you have service on your phone.

The National Park Service charges access fees to all federal recreation areas. The fee for this area is $5 per day. You can buy an annual pass online or in person if you plan to visit many parks. You can also purchase an annual or a lifetime pass. If you are a senior, you’ll get a discount on the passes. Visit this link for more information.

The usage fee at East Palisades must be paid in cash at the designated box to get a parking hangtag, and there is no ranger on duty at the site. However, rangers do regularly come to pick up fees and check hangtags, and will ticket you if you choose not to pay and get caught. 

Sweet Hiking at Sweetwater Creek

view upstream lower rtOne of the goals of this blog is to encourage any one of any age to get out there and try some casual hiking. I believe most everyone can hike and that once you give it a try, you may find yourself hooked on something that provides relaxation, health benefits, great joy and freedom. But even if you have infirmities that may keep you from hiking or walking, my hope is that you can still find a way to get outdoors and just be present, enjoying nature at her finest. A few moments of sitting outside can provide interesting sights and sounds…the chirping of birds, the rustling of trees and the clean fragrance of the natural world…all of which serve to ground you and rejuvenate the soul.

Many of the places I will post about on this site are U.S. State and National Parks, all of which have handicap access to their visitor’s centers, assessable shelters for picnics and assessable viewing areas where you can sit and absorb the world around you. Many also have ADA compliant lodging and cabins available for longer stays. While visiting these parks, you might even stumble upon a fascinating and free raptor show at a nature center or a lodge, as we did one time in North Georgia!

Sweetwater Creek State Park is a great example of a park that everyone can enjoy. Along with Arabia Mountain, Sweetwater is on my list of top 10 favorite places to hike in and around the Atlanta area. With a location of only 15 miles west from the city of Atlanta, it’s the most visited park in Georgia and a prime destination for those seeking an outdoor picnic, hiking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking, pedal boating or even a camping adventure.

The park has 2,549 acres of land and includes an Interpretive Visitor’s Center that is one of the most environmentally responsible buildings anywhere, achieving the LEED-NC Platinum award from the U.S. Green Building Council. At the center, you can chat with a ranger, peruse the gift shop and pick up a map of the property that shows locations of the reservoir for boating and fishing, camping and picnic sites, and the trailheads for the 5 main trails here including elevation diagrams and degree of difficulty ratings. You can also check out a number of exhibits to learn about the historical background of the area, once the site of the town of New Manchester and the New Manchester mill, the ruins of which can be seen while hiking the first half of the Red Trail.

For the past four years, we’ve hiked here at least once a year on 4 of the 5 main trails including the Red, White, Yellow, and Orange trails and during all four seasons. This past Saturday, recent rains had made the water level extremely high in the creek, so our hike was a completely different experience from previous visits. It was a challenging day for kayakers negotiating the creek rapids and provided spectacular views for walkers and hikers.

The Red Trail
The Red Trail is a recommended favorite for first time visitors and is a “down and back” trail of 1 mile each way. The first half mile of this trail is wide and well marked, and is a very easy walk that takes you alongside the banks of the creek to the New Manchester mill ruins. The mill was burned during the Civil War and the ruins remain standing. You cannot go inside the ruins, but there are designated places to view them. Along the way you’ll see some trails that skirt the edge of the creek and a bridge that takes you across a stream and down a path with closer views of the water and wildlife. This is where we saw turtles sunning. You’ll have to back track and cross the bridge again to get to the ruins, as well as the second half of the trail.

Below is the first half of the Red Trail. Put your cursor over any photo to see a caption or click on any photo to get a slideshow with captions.

At this point if you want to continue to the end of the Red Trail (as we always do) the second half mile starts just downstream of the ruins where the creek begins to fill with rapids up to class IV+, and is accessed by taking the stairs located on the far side of the ruins down to the trail below. As you begin to head into rocky terrain and more elevation, the trail becomes more difficult, so watch your step carefully. The trail is full of interesting trees and has some magnificent views of the creek valley. The Red Trail connects to the White trail at the end of the 1-mile mark where you can loop back on the Red Trail to complete the 2 miles, or continue onto the more strenuous White Trail for a longer hike.

Above is the second half of the Red Trail. Put your cursor over any photo to see a caption or click on any photo to get a slideshow with captions.

The White Trail
The White Trail is a 5-mile loop which passes through some of the more remote areas of the park and is considered a moderate to difficult trail. It intersects the Red Trail at the New Manchester mill ruins, and it connects to the end of the Red Trail. Saturday we connected to it from the end of Red Trail at the 1-mile mark, and continued our hike on the White Trail to its end.

This scenic trail is all about streams, wildlife, birds, flowers and plants. Where it connects with the Red Trail you’ll view the largest rapids of the creek. Continue downstream past several stream coves and then turn west at the 2.5 mile marker towards the visitors center to hike uphill along Jack’s Branch and to Jack’s Lake, where there is a pretty little waterfall. You’ll climb out of the lake valley hiking alongside the lake first and lush forest, then at the summit you will come into an open meadow where you may see birds and other wildlife. Be sure to stay on the trail as the pasture is a habitat for the Timber/Canebreak rattlesnake. We’ve never seen one and I’d like to keep it that way! You continue on the White Trail, passing the Brown and Green Connector trails, until it returns you to the shelter areas and eventually back to the Visitor’s Center.

Above is the White Trail. Put your cursor over any photo to see a caption or click on any photo to get a slideshow with captions.

The Yellow/East Side Trail
This is a nice, shaded forest trail, great for when it’s hot, and it can be accessed by starting on the Red Trail at the Interpretive Visitor’s Center, then either turning left at the first Yellow Trail marker you come to, or continue down hill and turn left where the Red Trail meets Sweetwater Creek. It heads upstream to a bridge that crosses the creek. After crossing the bridge, take an immediate right and go downstream and across a wooden footbridge to the fork in the trail. The trail is a loop with an elevation gain of 350 feet. For a gradual ascent to the ridge, take the left fork. You’ll pass through beautiful hardwood forest as you ascend to the ridge, then you’ll descend into a ravine on the south side. Look for a large rock overhang used by Native Americans for shelter for many thousands of years, but please protect this archaeological site by not climbing the slope or on the rocks. As you leave the ravine and the trail levels, you’ll see Mountain Laurel (Rhododendron) in stands alongside the creek blooming in spring. In winter you can see the area where the bricks were made for the mill and the extraction pits. The loop ends at the fork and you return to the visitor’s center the way you came.

Above is the Yellow Trail last year when the water level was lower. Put your cursor over any photo to see a caption or click on any photo to get a slideshow with captions.

The Orange Trail
The Orange Trail is a lollipop trail that begins on the east side of the Yellow Trail. This moderately difficult trail is accessed by walking from the Interpretive Visitor’s Center to the Yellow Trail and taking the Yellow Trail up to the point right after you cross the bridge. The Orange Trail starts at the bridge and runs for 2.3 miles with 700 feet of elevation gain. In the past, we have continued on the Yellow Trail and accessed just the loop part of the Orange Trail from the halfway point of the Yellow Trail loop. It is a beautiful hardwood forest trail with high overlooks of the whitewater rapids of Sweetwater Creek.

***As of August 2018, a new section of the Orange Trail has opened, connecting to the lollipop loop without taking the Yellow Trail. You can start the Orange Trail by continuing straight after crossing the bridge and past the trailhead for the Blue Trail, until you see the orange marker on your right. When you reach the end of this new section, you can either continue on the lollipop loop Orange Trail, or pick up the Yellow Trail. I highly suggest picking up a revised map at the Visitor’s Center to see the trail connections.

The Blue Trail
This is a trail we have not yet hiked. It’s a 1.44 mile moderate loop trail beginning on the east side of Sweetwater Creek, which passes through varied terrain and habitats in the northeastern section of the park. Like the Orange Trail, you must walk the Yellow Trail to the point of crossing the bridge over Sweetwater Creek to reach the trailhead for the Blue Trail, then follow the blue blazes.

Sweetwater Creek State Park
1750 Mount Vernon Road
Lithia Springs, GA 30122

Additional Trail Tips:

Check out the Sweetwater State Park link in bold at the beginning of this post for directions and more information.

When hiking the through the pasture on the White Trail in hot weather and especially after a rain, (90 degrees+ F), it’s best to avoid walking through tall grasses if you can. Our first trek through there was after a torrential rain storm in 95 degree weather and we were attacked by chiggers.

You are in a natural habitat for many creatures including snakes, and this is true in any wooded area anywhere. Generally they are afraid of you and on those rare occasions that we see them, they are either playing dead or trying to get away from us. We saw a Copperhead trying to get off the trail and back to water on Saturday. We have not seen rattlesnakes here, but parts of the trail do go through their habitat. Just stay on the marked trail, keep a sharp eye out and all should be fine.

Due to the popularity of this area, arriving early means a better parking spot.

If you don’t already have a hiking stick and wish to purchase one, the gift shop in the Interpretive Visitor’s Center here sells them. They are fully equipped with paracord grips and loops, but are pricey. Sometimes they have plain sticks you can customize yourself for much less. See my section about hiking sticks on the Gearing Up For Fun page of this site for more information about customizing a stick.

expensive stick and cheap stick

In the Beginning, there was Arabia Mountain.

Pano on the way to the top

Panoramic view on the way to the top of Arabia Mountain.


The diamorpha looks like a topo map.

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.

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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.

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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