Fall is the time to lace up the shoes and hit the trails. Running under a golden tunnel of color makes your runs go by that much faster. With mild temperatures, cool breezes, and picturesque mountain views, fall is the best time for trail runs around Atlanta. Here are RootsRated’s top six picks from the banks of the Chattahoochee River to the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains.
1. Cochran Shoals Trail
An absolute favorite of Atlantans is Cochran Shoals, which is obvious on any Saturday or Sunday visit. Cars pack the parking lot and line into the road, as trail runners flock to this picturesque trail along the Chattahoochee River. A 3-mile pea gravel loop circles under a towering canopy of trees, with one portion of the trail paralleling the rapids of the Chattahoochee and the other portion gently rolling over a grassy meadow. The real challenge is in the trees though, where trail runners can hop on the singletrack trails that weave through the thick forests. Climbs are short and sweet, and the trails wind for miles, offering an abundance of options for long runs. You can park at either Columns Drive or Interstate North Parkway, and there is a $3 parking fee.
2. East Palisades Trail
Close by, and offering a shorter, yet more technical and challenging trail is the East Palisades section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Steep, rocky descents toward the Chattahoochee River coupled with some rock scrambling, narrow trail ledges and a bamboo forest are part of the adventure that you’ll find on the 6-mile loop. Be sure to follow the trail map to marker EP 8 down a set of stone-like stairs and you’ll end up on a rock cliff. You’ll see the Devil’s Race Course shoals, and as fall thins out the leaves, you’ll see the beautiful foliage contrasting with the rushing waters of the Chattahoochee River. If you run the trail to the end past EP 16, you can rock scramble to another lookout point where you’ll see the bend of the river.
3. Kennesaw Mountain
As you look for trails beyond the city, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is the closest “mountain,” great for practicing tough and technical climbs and descents. For a straight up lung burster, begin at the visitor center and summit Kennesaw Mountain. While only one mile, the elevation will keep you working up to the 1,670 foot elevation. For a technical, gradual ascent, start at Burnt Hickory Road and begin climbing Pigeon Hill. You’ll have to navigate through a boulder field, so keep track of your footing and test your energy as you hop over boulders and weave through rock piles. If you want flat and long miles, take the east-west trails that circle the base of the mountain, and run out toward Kolb Farm for a 16.8-mile loop.
4. Gahuti Backcountry Trail
Just outside of Chatsworth, Georgia, Fort Mountain State Park offers beautiful overlooks toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, without you having to actually drive all the way into them. The 8.2-mile Gahuti Backcountry Trail loops around the mountain, crossing over ridgelines below the summit of the Cohutta and Fort Mountains. The trails are singletrack and rocky, but elevation remains steady with only a few difficult climbs throughout. You’re likely to run in solitude during parts of this trail, as it swings out into the remote, yet stunningly beautiful parts of the wilderness.
5. Coosa Backcountry Trail
For those that think Georgia State Parks do not have tough terrain, try running on the Coosa Backcountry Trail. This trail starts in Vogel State Park and follows a loop out of the park and into the Chattahoochee National Forest. The first half of the trail is equally easy and beautiful, a gentle descent through canopied forests. However, after mile 3.5 you climb for 3 miles, and it feels like you don’t really stop. At the peak of this climb, you’ll intersect with the Duncan Ridge Trail, where the trail opens up and the surrounding trees seem to tunnel as you descend to Wolf Pen Gap. After another arduous climb, you descend back into the valley of Vogel State Park. Upon completing the 12.9-mile trail, you’ve run three peaks and clocked more than 5,000 feet of elevation.
6. Benton MacKaye Trail
A favorite trail for running greats in Atlanta such as Mike Cosentino of Big Peach Running and Jason Greene of Yeti Trail Runners, the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail runs from Springer Mountain to the Great Smoky Mountains on rural terrain that begs to be discovered. These trails are for the seasoned trail runner, as many lead through remote backcountry. A few favorite sections is the descent from Springer Mountain, or the trail sections outside of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Running from the Toccoa River offers picturesque views of the Swinging Bridge, or access the trail from Highway 60 for solid 5 mile point-to-point runs with gradual inclines and moderate descents.