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.


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