Fall's cool, crisp temperatures make the season prime time for all sorts of outdoor adventuring. Couple the idyllic weather with the colorful, soft mosaic of the changing foliage, and you've got the stuff of dreams—especially for trail runners.
In and around Atlanta, there are numerous trails perfect for viewing beautiful fall foliage in already stunning scenery. Riverside jaunts, treks along ponds, and even urban in-town runs all get a boost from the seasonal colors this time of year, and the options run the gamut of skill levels. Here are seven of the best places to run when the leaves start falling.
1. Sweetwater Creek Trails
Sweetwater Creek State Park, which is a quick 20 minutes or so from downtown, boasts three history-rich trails, and each of them is exceedingly gorgeous in the fall. The shortest is the beginner friendly Red Trail, which half a mile in meets the ruins of the five-story New Manchester Mill, part of a mid-19th Century mill town. Experienced runners and hikers can hit the White Trail, a 5.2-mile loop that passes several stream coves and leads upstream to Jack's Lake. The trail then passes through a farming community that has plenty of pretty, open meadows. The Yellow Trail, accessible where the Red Trail meets Sweetwater Creek, is a moderate 3.4-miler. Take the wooden footbridge across the water and find a challenging ascent up the ridge and through stunning hardwood forests on the left. The south side of this trail is marked by a massive rock overhang that archaeologists believe was used for thousands of years as shelter by Native Americans.
2. Atlanta BeltLine Northside Trail
The April 2010 opening of this mile-long trail around the Collier Hills neighborhoods marked the first BeltLine trail on the north side of the city. Its best feature is easily its stretch through Tanyard Creek Park, which is full of lush greenery and includes passage through a wooden bridge beneath the railroad line. Enter on Collier Road between Peachtree and Northside Drive; there's a parking lot across from Overbrook Drive that leads to a public entrance.
3. Atlanta BeltLine Eastside Trail
This two-mile, paved, urban trail doubles as a sightseeing tour of some of the city's coolest attractions. It encompasses three neighborhoods—Midtown, Inman Park, and the Old Fourth Ward—and starts at 10th Street and Monroe Drive by the iconic Piedmont Park and ends at Irwin Street near DeKalb Avenue. Sporadic murals and commissioned sculptures along the entire route offer museum-worthy sights. You can hop off at the Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark to watch skaters dominate the ramps and bowls, or exit the trail at North Avenue for a break at Ponce City Market. There, you can shop and eat, or, at its rooftop Skyline Park, play games, breeze down the slide, or get a lift on the Heege Tower. This trail is easily the most popular of the BeltLine offerings, and it's poised to be an even bigger hit once construction through Kirkwood Avenue in Reynoldstown is completed.
4. Cochran Shoals
If you're a long-distance runner that favors flat trails, but doesn't want to sacrifice exciting terrain and interesting views, you'll appreciate the 5k loop at Cochran Shoals. Not only do you run alongside the Chattahoochee River, but you get to run through a well-groomed marsh area, too. Advanced runners can opt to extend their run to 8.5 miles by adding the Sope Creek Trail, a more technical trail full of tricky roots and rocks that ends at a serene pond.
5. Tribble Mill Park
A short, fully paved 2.8-mile path, this Gwinnett County spot is ideal for new runners. The expansive playground and multiple pavilions mean families will love it, too. Tree-lined Ozora Lake, around which the trail wraps, is especially picturesque during fall—and that's a sight anyone will enjoy. Thrill-seekers can still get a quick rush, too: There are a few dirt side-trails leading into the woods that will add some length onto your run.
6. East Palisades Trail
Let rushing water and the knocking of towering bamboo stalks be the soundtrack to your run on this in-town Chattahoochee River trail. Start the 4-mile route by crossing a wooden bridge over Charlie's Trapping Creek before heading north to a bluff overlooking the river—below, you'll likely catch kayakers traversing the minefield of angular rock slabs jutting out from the rapids. A descent toward Cabin Creek and a north turn across an old stone bridge will ultimately land you smack-dab among towering 30-foot bamboo stalks that, with enough wind, will add a perpetual percussive element to your run. From there, go down the bluff again, run the switchbacks south of Cabin Creek, and a travel along a gravel path to the finale.
7. Piedmont Park
Piedmont Park is a long time staple of Atlanta, but that doesn't make the 4-mile run any less special. Head out from the 10th Street entrance across from Argonne Avenue and run north into the park. You will pass the sports fields, tracks, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which requires a ticket to enter but still affords a peek at its gorgeous exhibits from the outside. A more recent addition, the Legacy Fountain, is up next, and is followed by two off-leash dog parks on either side, as well as an unpaved Wetlands Trail. You'll spot the pool, circle Lake Clara Meer, loop around folks relaxing or flying kites on the meadow, then ascend to run alongside 10th Street to the finish. The skyline views you get throughout are simply unbeatable.
Originally written for Atlanta CVB.