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.

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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.