With only 3 trails- yellow, red and white blazed loop- add up to 9 miles of trail hiking. This is one of the most popular day-use only parks. The highlight is the rock-studded Sweetwater Creek. All 3 trails ramble alongside the creek on their way to the New Manchester Manufacturing Company mill ruins. This textile mill was burned down during the Civil War, and now the worn brick is a mere skeleton of its previous life. If you visit the park in late afternoon, the sun bathes the ruins in a honeyed glow for a dramatic display of man-made creation and nature.
George Sparks Reservoir is the park’s 215-acre lake that is popular for fishing. Bass, crappie and bream swim in these waters and are easy to catch. For paddlers, the reservoir is calm, modest open water for SUP.
The reservoir offers no access to Sweetwater Creek due to the spillway dam. However kayakers can access the creek off the nature trail, and there is a fair amount of whitewater paddling. Kayakers boast that whitewater can get up to class IV at the falls, especially after heavier rains.
What Makes It Great
The most remote trail is the white-blazed 5.2-mile loop that crosses over the stretching fields of wild azaleas and ferns, wanders along Sweetwater Creek, and descends into lake valleys. The beginning of the trail descends toward the creek and passes a ravine with a large rock overhang. This is said to have been a shelter for Native Americans at one point.
Once you pass the textile mill ruins, the trail continues to follow the creekside, offering alternating sections of sandy and rocky terrain. Views of the creek’s shoals are interspersed among the trees.
The second half of the hike darts from the creek side to amble west along Jack’s Branch, a tributary to Jack’s Lake. At one point, a wooden bridge crosses the lake, but this exits the park’s boundary, so continue to follow white blazes west.
From mile 2 to 2.5, the next half-mile rises 200 feet in elevation to reach a gravel path and ridgeline. Below, Sweetwater Creek is more visible in winter months, but in summer you can catch a glimpse through the trees. The gravel path opens into a field of tall grasses, before the scenery dies down and the trek finishes through several park road intersections.
Who is Going to Love It
Just 20 minutes from Atlanta, the urban sprawl disappears when you hike in the valley alongside Sweetwater Creek. The family-friendly Red and Yellow Trails still pass by the textile mill ruins on a tame moderate hike with only a few stair climbs.
Beyond the White Trail, runners or hikers looking for distance can follow a gravel trail past Jack’s Lake out of Sweetwater Creek’s boundaries and into sparse forests.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Access the park from I-20 West. Once in the park, the parking lot closest to the trailheads is off Factory Shoals Road by the Visitor Center. This gives you access to the 1-mile Red Trail, the 3-mile Yellow Trail and the 5.2-mile White Trail. There are no overnight facilities for camping at this park.
Rattlesnakes are popular in warmer months, so make sure you keep yours eyes peeled. Since the trails are close to the creek, gnats and other pesky bugs will nip at you, so bring bug spray.