If you read the Georgia State Parks website section about hiking, here’s what you’ll find: “Georgia’s diverse landscape makes for a hiker’s paradise. In the north Georgia mountains, hikers will find waterfalls and colorful autumn leaves. Trails in middle and southern Georgia highlight sandhill communities with longleaf pines and gopher tortoise burrows. Along the coast, hikers can explore salt marsh and Spanish moss-laced trees.”
I tried to paraphrase that statement several times, but honestly it’s exactly what we wanted to say here, so we just quoted it directly! Georgia is, indeed, a hiker’s paradise, for all the reasons you read above, but also because we have some of the best weather in the world for hiking almost year-round. And, for serious hikers, we also lay claim to the start of the Appalachian Trail, with its first southern steps beginning at Amicalola Falls State Park.
And for Athens residents, hiking is one of the most accessible, beautiful and healthful ways to spend your free time. Right here in Clarke County, you will find:
• Cook’s Trail – Part of the Athens Greenway and Riverside Parks system, Cook’s Trail runs alongside the creek, through lightly forested areas, and even across manmade and natural surfaces for about four miles. At the end of the trail, you’ll find Sandy Creek Nature Center.
• Lakeside Trail – Walk the 2.5 mile pathway along Lake Chapman’s shores to the wetlands.
• Sandy Creek Park – With more than 10 miles of trails, hikers and walkers have access to different terrains that can accommodate any age or ability.
• Swimming Deer Trail – Follow this three-mile path around a different side of Lake Chapman.
• Buckeye Horse Trail – The hikers at this trail are horses! It’s large enough to accommodate groups of horseback riders; walkers will want to let the four-legged hikers (and their two-legged riders) enjoy this four-mile trail.
Elsewhere in North Georgia, Athens residents will find easy-to-challenging trails throughout the mountains. In many areas, primitive camping is allowed with advanced reservations. In addition, several trails are accessible to wheelchairs and strollers, and some feature spectacular views, waterfalls and other natural sights that not only offer healthy exercise alternatives but also fun exploration and beautiful views. What child – or adult, for that matter – doesn’t love the sound and feel of a rushing stream, or the sight of birds landing on wildflowers, or the occasional sighting of a bald eagle or deer in its natural habitat?
Kim Hatcher, public affairs coordinator for Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites, says this about hiking as a form of exercise and relaxation:
Hiking is great exercise, while it also helps relax your mind and rejuvenate your soul.
The best part is that you can choose from a fairly easy trail if you’re just beginning to work out, or you can spend all day exploring tough back country trails. Since seasons change and you’ll see something new every time you hike, no workout will be the same.
The Georgia State Parks website – www.gastateparks.org – is a good resource for finding trail locations near you. Each park page has a map and most have trail descriptions. In addition, reports Hatcher, UGA has the Georgia Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP) and non-students may participate in many of their activities. Also, you may find clubs whose members enjoy similar activities at www.meetup.com. Particularly kid-friendly venues for hiking and outdoor activities can be found.
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