Fact: Atlanta boasts some pretty incredibly hiking—lots of cool sceneries less than 20 minutes outside the perimeter, and even a few on the inside.
Fact: We like to think of ourselves as expert hikesmen. Hikesmiths? Hikers. You get it.
Fact: If we're being honest: we're not so good at this exercise thing sometimes.
Solution: We put our heads together with John Sloan of High Country Outfitters to find some of those under-the-radar trails, as well as some common sense tips for setting out on your first hike. And we learned things. Like, Atlanta has some pretty schweet views that don't involve the cement jungle. And, contrary to what your mother told you, it does matter what shoes you wear. Thanks for setting us straight, John.
WHERE TO GO
Gold Branch Loop
This part of the 48 mile-long Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area stretches from Lake Lanier to Paces Ferry Road. Relax–your well-shod feet don't have to carry you along the entire path. Trails abound, each more likely to make you baffled that you didn't know it existed. And lying between Roswell and Sandy Springs, at just under 3.3 miles long The Gold Branch Loop's not too strenuous for the first-time hikers among us. But, it's more than exciting enough to solidly convince you that, though hiking may be many things, boring certainly isn't one of them.
Fort Yargo State Park
Though a bit of a hike (see what we did there?), this park offers 18 miles of hiking trails along with some splendid scenery. Scenery that includes, but is not limited to, a 1792 log fort. Plus, you can rent a lakeside yurt. Despite it's Dr. Seussian name, we have it on good authority that a yurt is actually a furnished wooden and canvas tent. Just the thing for relaxing after a fruitful day, full of impressing your friends with your impressive outdoor survival skills and, you know, hiking.
Sweetwater Creek State Park
Hiking is most rewarding when the top of the trail offers a singular view. Something where you can sigh with satisfaction, plant your walking stick in the dirt and take a big ol' bite of beef jerky (It's necessary, trust us.). And at Sweetwater, the sights include one textile mill, burned during the Civil War (the park even holds candlelit hikes to the ruins occasionally). Of course, there are also rocky bluffs (really!), rushing rapids and plenty of chances to leap between river rocks.
Pst: For some other hiking options in and around Georgia, check out Hike the South.
A FEW TIPS FROM THE PRO
Don't skimp on the shoes.
John sees a lot of first-timers, both in the store and on the trail–and the two biggest newb mistakes he catches are indisputably, footwear and water. It's important to remember that you like your feet, and act accordingly. Trail shoes don't have to be clunky and heavy–remember, you're not staying out in the woods for a week, scout. Instead opt for lightweight kicks. They don't look dorky and (bonus!) they keep you stable and prevent bruising. Did you know your feet could bruise? We didn't, and we certainly don't aim to learn the hard way.
If you're looking to ruin a great hiking trip, here's an idea! Forget to pack water. You might have been planning to be out for three hours, but guess what? One hour in, you're schlepping back to the car. (That's another whole hour without water, by the way.) Luckily, John shared an easy fix with us: Camel Bak Water bladders. First off, they're not actual bladders–let's clear that up right away. They slide into nearly any hiking pack, and you can carry 70 ounces of water snuggled right up against your spine, without any discomfort. We say it's worlds more convenient than bringing a full-size camel along.
Or beef jerky?
We're no experts, but this seems pretty necessary. (See?) Also, it might be a good idea to remember that it gets dark. Don't start your foray into the wilderness at five o'clock in the afternoon. Really, don't do this. Minus the jerky, that is—do that part.