Woods and water offer ways to run, hike, bike and paddle not too far from the madding urban crowd.
J Mangrum wanted to stretch her physical and spiritual muscles when she walked into the High Country Outfitters Paddle Shack about seven years ago. She walked out as the owner of a used stand-up paddleboard and two new ways to enjoy the Chattahoochee River: riding the board, known as a SUP, and practicing yoga.
This year she joined the woman who sold her that board, Caroline Sloan, in leading SUP yoga classes at the Paddle Shack at Morgan Falls Overlook Park in Sandy Springs a couple of Sunday mornings a month from May to September. Up to 15 people per class pay $45 for an hour plus of down dog and other poses in the river area known as Bull Sluice.
Balancing on the unstable water involves more muscles than yoga on land and develops new neurological paths, Mangrum says. It’s also a more raw experience. “The studio is a controlled environment,” she says. “When I’m on my board, there’s nothing I can pretend I’m in control of.”
For those who prefer paddling to posing, the Paddle Shack rents SUPs and kayaks, starting at $25 per hour. It’s open seasonally Thursday through Sunday. High Country’s flagship store in Buckhead rents those items and more seven days a week.
Robbie Medwed takes a more terrestrial approach to the outdoors. A teacher at the Epstein School in Sandy Springs, he cycles on roads but craves trees and nature for hikes close to home when he can’t escape to the mountains. “I feel a sense of calmness when I’m surrounded by nature that I don’t feel anywhere else,” says Medwed, who suggests searching online database Atlanta Trails by activity, difficulty and location.
Morgan Falls Overlook Park itself is a scenic site for a hike, run or ride. Just across Roswell Road, the John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve
bans running and biking but provides arboreal education and 100 feet of elevation change on its hiking trails.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area winds for 48 miles and includes three sites for challenging runs or hikes in Sandy Springs: Island Ford, Powers Island and East Palisades. The National Park Service charges $5 a day or $40 a year for a park pass.
“The Chattahoochee is such an incredible resource,” says Eric Champlin, who adds that the recreation area’s wooded trails and river views offer the illusion of being far from the city. He co-founded Atlanta Trails to meet his own need for information after he moved to Atlanta in the early 2000s.
Atlanta Trails rates Powers Island as one of the underused units of the river recreation area, despite being possibly more scenic and challenging than the crowded, nearby Cochran Shoals, the only unit of the park that allows bicycles. Medwed praises the extreme isolation of Powers Island: “I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere.” But because it’s just off Interstates 285 and 75, he also finds a trail hike there to be a convenient alternative to a meeting in a coffee shop.
Island Ford, home to the recreation area’s headquarters, also tends to have smaller crowds. Atlanta Trails says the paths are good for new and young hikers and offer wildlife, wildflowers and caves.
Ann Honious, the new superintendent of the recreation area, says park staffers hike, jog and fish at Island Ford after the workday. She caught her first fish there in 2020.
East Palisades is ranked among Atlanta Trails’ Top 10 hiking trails in part because of the views and a bamboo forest. But Jason Toney, the store manager of Big Peach Ride + Run in Brookhaven, says East Palisades also offers some of the most challenging and rewarding trail running in the area, with steep, technical climbs. “It’s another world,” he says. “If you get out there after some rain, it is sure to be a muddy good time.”
Closer to his store in Brookhaven, Toney likes to run on the dirt trails along private Silver Lake, then tack on Inman Road, whose twists, turns, rises and falls remind him of a mountain road. Roots mar the lakeside trails, he says, “but that’s part of the thrill.”
The dirt path around Murphey Candler Park in Brookhaven makes Atlanta Trails’ Top 10 running trails.
Champlin calls it a classic crossover trail that’s great for running or walking, especially if you have pets or children.
For a flat addition to a run or ride through Brookhaven’s Ashford Park neighborhood or Chamblee’s Sexton Woods, Toney suggests the Chamblee Rail Trail, which connects Keswick Park to Chamblee’s retail district and is being extended.
Justin Epstein, the president of the Premier Agency in Brookhaven with a penchant for extreme fitness challenges, likes Historic Brookhaven for training runs. Amid beautiful homes and trees, the changing terrain and mix of flat roads with steep climbs challenge endurance without “allowing you to fully get comfortable.”
For multiple uses in Buckhead, Epstein and Atlanta Trails recommend the paved trail through Chastain Park for its scenery and mileage markers. Epstein appreciates the changing elevation and the option to veer into the surrounding neighborhood for variety.
Toney recommends the urban tranquility of Buckhead’s multiuse PATH400, which runs along Ga. 400 and eventually will enable extended runs and bike rides with links to the Atlanta BeltLine and Sandy Springs trails.
“I think it’s amazing the number of resources that Atlanta actually has for outdoor activities tucked into very urban sections of the city, tucked into neighborhoods,” Champlin says.
Big Peach Ride + Run
705 Town Blvd. Suite Q340
Chamblee Rail Trail
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
High Country Outfitters Paddle Shack
200 Morgan Falls Road
Sandy Springs 30350
John Ripley Forbes Big Trees Forest Preserve
Morgan Falls Overlook Park
Murphey Candler Park
75 N. Main St.
Jack-of-all-trades writer covering almost anything but beauty and fashion at Simply Buckhead; fond of flamingos and sloths.