I’ve learned that when I’m drained, I need to get out of the city and find a place to breathe. But it can be hard to travel the distance to the mountains, and the ocean is even further. By the time you drive two hours one way and two hours back, it almost leaves you feeling more drained than before you left.
Fortunately, Atlanta is a city full of fantastic day hikes that will make you feel like you are on a trail in the mountains, or in a backcountry wilderness. You just need to know where to look and where to go to create the experience you are looking for.
The first trail I want to talk to you about is the East Palisades Trail. Just 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, the East Palisades Trail runs along the banks of the Chattahoochee – featuring 20ft cliffs you can dive off of into the river, a small bamboo forest, and a dog park (which is arguably the happiest place on earth). The trails are well marked, the views are incredible, and you can also shoot the hooch if you’re trying to escape the heat. This trail (about 4 miles) is part of what gives Atlanta it’s name, “city in the forest”.
Your best approach if you want to have a good day hike is going to be to park off Indian Trail Northwest (Atlanta not Lilburn), which is off of North Side Drive. Enter the directions via Waze whereas maps has the address wrong. Parking here is centrally located on the trail, and will make it so you enter at a well marked map. Various points are marked on the trail maps with EP points on signs. When you arrive, locate the nearest map at the entry point of the trail. The Dog Park is located at EP1. If you want to dive off the cliffs you will want to head to EP30 and go north a bit off the trail, follow the banks of the river, and it will lead you straight to the rocky cliffs. Head to EP16 if you want to run through the Bamboo Forest.
If you decide to come here, know that it’s really well maintained. Bring a doggy bag as it is expected you clean up after your pet. Various waste disposals bins are strategically located. The park rangers have tried to make cleanliness really easy to make the experience great for everyone.
There is also a small beach head where you can feel free to bring a lawn chair and relax. A lot of people love reclining in their chairs while throwing a toy out into the river for their pets. I would also note, there is a parking lot located not far from this EP point. So if you come with a chair and don’t want to hike, I’d consider parking closer to the destination.
This is a popular place for cliff diving on the Chattahoochee River, however 3 people have died in this area this year already. So we strongly recommend not doing this despite the insatiable urge you will feel to do it.
You will also notice a lot of people tubing on the other side of the river here. Feel free to bring a float along and hop in at any location. There usually aren’t people renting tubes or kayaks, so if that’s what you are looking to do, make sure you bring your gear along. I’d recommend coming with two vehicles so you can park one up river and the other down river. That way you have a way back to your launch site.
If you want a place for a good photo shoot that is really unique, the bamboo forest is the place to be. The sun sets across the river, so the golden hour illuminates the forest perfectly. There also plenty of trees on either side if you want to bring a hammock. This part of the trail is particularly isolated. Even on the weekends we didn’t run into anyone while we were here. Be careful with the bamboo though. They aren’t the sturdiest trees, so avoid climbing or hanging hammocks from the bamboo.
Overall this is absolutely one of my favorite Atlanta hikes. I think the main reason I enjoy it so much is its versatility. There are just not that many hikes anywhere that allow you to take a 20ft dive into a deep river, are in a secluded forest, offer great kayaking and tubing, and allow you to bring your dog. This hike just has something for everyone.
The only real downside I want to talk to you about is the foot traffic. This hike gets really crowded on weekends, particularly Sunday’s. If you really want to get away I’d consider going on a weekday. The earlier the better. We hope you enjoy this location as much as we did! If you do make the trip and want to share some photos, #wandernorthga so we can see your adventure and for a possible feature.