As another year comes to a close, it’s time reflect on the past and look forward to the future. What have you accomplished? What did you wish you had done? Sure, you can make resolutions, but while you’re at it, make a checklist of outdoor adventures to accomplish in 2016. RootsRated highlights 20 things to accomplish in Atlanta’s outdoor bucket list.
1. Take a Georgia Conservancy Trip
2. Hike Georgia’s Section of the Appalachian Trail
Georgia is lucky as our state is home to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and the first (or the last for Southbounders) 78.6 miles of the trail. Hikers trek through the Blue Ridge chain of the Appalachian Mountains, reaching many peaks above 4,000 feet in elevation. Break up your hike over a few weeks or plan to mark off sections throughout the year. Your reward is beautiful scenic vistas and bragging rights.
Touted as one of the best hostels on the Appalachian Trail, both Josh and Leigh Saint are, well, saints when it comes to AT hospitality. The Hiker Hostel offers bunk rooms, individual rooms, and container cabins to thru-hikers, plus shuttle service to and from the trail. Home-cooked, hearty breakfasts are served every morning before the shuttle departs. Not hiking the trail? The hostel is available for all outdoor enthusiasts year-round.
3. Find a Hidden Gem at Georgia State Parks
Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites celebrates 75 years in 2016, and to commemorate the achievement it is launching the Hidden Gem Series. A series of events led by those who spend the most time in the parks—the rangers—showcase the undiscovered side of Georgia State Parks. From historical landmarks to wildlife viewing, visitors can uncover new facts about the parks, such as the Moonshine Truck at Amicalola Falls State Park, or the Chocolate Plantation Ruins at Sapelo Island.
4. Master SUP Yoga
Come Spring, the Chattahoochee River and surrounding Atlanta-area lakes will become populated with SUP yoga classes. No matter which talent you favor (yogi or SUPer), these classes meet you in the middle with easy yoga poses that test your balance. A few places to find classes: High Country Outfitters or Atlanta SUP Yoga .
5. Hike Stone Mountain
The summit trail on Stone Mountain is one mile, and at the top, you’ll get a fascinating view of the Atlanta skyline. The last quarter-mile is the steepest part of the hike, and your calves will be burning by the time you reach the top. For an added challenge, bike the PATH from Midtown to Stone Mountain, then run around the mountain, and finish with a hike up and down the mountain.
6. Race the Trails of Sweetwater Creek at Night
Running at night is invigorating, but it’s even more thrilling when you are racing on a dark trail with 300 other insane runners. That’s the experience you get during the Yeti Nightmare , a race put on by two of Georgia’s craziest race directors, Sean Blanton of Run Bum Tours , and Jason Green of Yeti Trail Runners . Choose between a 5 or 10-miler through Sweetwater Creek State Park’s trails. Both end with beer at the finish.
7. Take on the Georgia 4,000 Challenge
The Georgia Appalachian Trail Club created this challenge for those who want to hike Georgia’s 32 highest peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation. Simply hike the peak, track your progress, and upon completion you’ll receive a badge. Download the list of peaks here —and start checking them off.
8. Explore Georgia’s Waterfalls
With more than 120 waterfalls in Georgia, it’s hard to choose which to visit. RootsRated highlighted 5 in North Georgia that you can easily hit over a weekend. The ample rainfall, free-flowing streams, and steep terrain make Georgia’s waterfalls a beautiful sight.
9. Follow the Path of TV and Film
Georgia’s film economy is growing, and some of the popular movies filmed on our trails include The Hunger Games series and A Walk in the Woods. Many scenes in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay were shot at Sweetwater Creek State Park, just 20 minutes from Atlanta. Trek along the red trail to the New Manchester Manufacturing Mill, where Katniss and Gale spent time together on-screen. At Amicalola Falls State Park, hike the Springer Mountain Approach Trail, the same that Robert Redford took when filming A Walk in the Woods .
10. Take a Stroll on the Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail
So the Atlanta Beltline will eventually be fully paved, but for now, the 2-mile stretch of the Eastside Trail is a popular pedestrian byway from Midtown to Old Fourth Ward. Don’t expect to walk fast, especially when the weather is nice, because the path gets extremely crowded. But it’s worth taking the time to amble along the path, and be sure to stop at Atlanta’s popular new food halls: Ponce City Market and Krog Street Market.
11. Test Your Survival Skills on the Benton MacKaye Trail
While not as long as the Appalachian Trail, the Benton MacKaye Trail covers 300 miles through Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. The rugged terrain is far more remote than the AT, making it a supreme way to test your navigation skills. Bring a map, compass and GPS for this backpack trip through some of the more remote trails in the state.
12. Mountain Bike the Pinhoti Trail
The 340-mile trail starts in Alabama and winds through northwest Georgia on pristine, singletrack trails. Screaming downhills, technical creek crossings, and quad-burning uphills are all part of the terrain. Riding at least one section of the Pinhoti Trail is a must-do for mountain bikers.
13. Book a Stay at Mulberry Gap Mountain Bike Getaway
While you’re in Blue Ridge, plan to spend the night at Mulberry Gap. The quaint getaway caters to mountain bikers, and its proximity to the Pinhoti Trail makes it the perfect basecamp. Guests are treated to home-cooked, locally sourced meals and shuttles to multiple mountain bike trailheads. Choose to stay in cabins, bunkhouses, or camp by the quiet creeks on the property.
14. Paddle One of Georgia’s Heartland Rivers
Take the opportunity to paddle the rivers in South Georgia during winter, before the bugs come out and the temperatures heat up. A good starting point is paddling one of the Three Rivers: the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, and Oconee Rivers. Known as one of the largest watersheds on the eastern United States, the rivers are wide and waters are calm.
15. Shoot the Hooch—in a Kayak
This popular slang term is used for Atlantans who tube down the Chattahoochee River, typically with beers in tow. But add some paddle miles and see more scenery by kayaking a stretch of the river. A favorite is from Johnson Ferry to Riverside Park, an 8-mile section that passes by beautiful mansions and open fields. This also happens to be the popular course for the Back to the Chattahoochee River Race & Festival hosted by the Chattahoochee Riverkeepers. If you don’t have a kayak, you can always improvise with your own floatation device.
16. Bike the “Gaps”
Cyclists head north of Dahlonega to bike the gaps of the southern Appalachian Mountains. A total of six gaps span 104 miles with more than 11,400 feet of vertical climbing on winding, mountainous roads. Cyclists train on these roads year-round, but the true test of endurance comes during the October Six Gap Century , one of the toughest climbing races in the Southeast.
17. Visit Piedmont Park
As cliché as it sounds, Piedmont Park is Atlanta’s iconic landmark. No matter how long you’ve lived in Atlanta, you can’t resist visiting the park at some point. Any time of year, you’ll find people populating the sloping grassy hills or paved paths, whether to play intramural sports, have a picnic, go for a run, or attend a festival. Bonus: If there is ever a “snowpocalypse” in Atlanta again, this is the place for sledding.
18. Run 100 miles through Atlanta
Last year, the inaugural Great Southern Endurance Run recruited three people to race 100 miles through many of Atlanta’s outdoor treasures: Kennesaw Mountain, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, the Atlanta Beltline, and Stone Mountain. This year’s race will be April 30 and the race director hopes for a bigger turnout.
19. Watch Track Cycling at the Dick Lane Velodrome
One of only 29 velodromes in the United States, Atlanta's own Dick Lane Velodrome is unique at 1/5 mile. The velodrome hosts multiple races throughout the summer, and spectators get a full view of the entire race from the stands, so you can see every tactic play out. The 36 degree banked track looks scary to ride, but cyclists can try out the beginner program to learn the technique of track cycling.
20. Volunteer to Clean Up Georgia’s Natural Resources
We can’t go into 2016 without paying our respects to the outdoors. Many groups and nonprofits in Georgia focus on giving back to the trails and waterways that we use so often. Make a point to sign up for a trail or river clean-up. For the Chattahoochee River, join Sweep the Hooch with the Chattahoochee Riverkeepers. For a hands-on service weekend, take a Georgia Conservancy service trip to the Len Foote Hike Inn or Cumberland Island . For hiking and trail maintenance, assist the Benton MacKaye Trail Association on a work trip or take part in a third Saturday trail cleaning with the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club .