Trails and Ales in Atlanta: A Weekend Guide to Exploring the Best of Both

Nothing better than a cold beer from Burnt Hickory Brewing after a long day on the trails.
Nothing better than a cold beer from Burnt Hickory Brewing after a long day on the trails. Courtesy of Burnt Hickory Brewing
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Atlanta has an abundance of trails for both trail runners and hikers. In addition to the Appalachian Trail (AT)—the southern terminus of which is in Georgia—you can also find plenty of other trails within a short drive of the city.

The best way to reward a tough day on the trails? By throwing back some of Atlanta’s best craft beers. Here’s a quick guide on how to find the best of both in the city.

Hit the Trails Running

The Pigeon Loop on Kennesaw Mountain is a steep haul up, but well worth the views from the top.
The Pigeon Loop on Kennesaw Mountain is a steep haul up, but well worth the views from the top. Danger-Pop

If you are looking for something close to town, then the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area at Cochran Shoals is your best bet for squeezing in a good number of miles . The beauty of these trails is not just their location along the Chattahoochee River, but that there are a variety of exceptional trails for both beginner and advanced trail runners as well. There is a  three-mile gravel loop, which is often filled with walkers and dogs, that's  a great spot for a warm-up or tempo run. The flat, soft surface is far more scenic than the track. For technical trail running, head into the woods and run along the rims of wooded valleys on a series of winding switchbacks and short, steep hills. A few marked trails are shared with mountain bikers, so run against the flow of traffic to see the cyclists coming toward you.

Atlanta also has a couple of fun mountains: Kennesaw Mountain andSawnee Mountain—both nearly 2,000 feet tall. Some hardcore trail runners actually run from Kennesaw Mountain's base to its summit, which tops out at 1,808 feet. A good rule of thumb is that the west trails are more technical and traverse higher elevation, while the east trails are flatter and dirt-packed. There are a couple of loop trails worth trying out. The first is the figure-eight-style Noses Creek Trail, a great run with wide trails that trace the base of the mountain. They cover many forested sections of Cheatham Hill and Kolb Farm, and the shade from the trees will help keep you cooler in the heat. This loop involves some roller coaster hills, but nothing as challenging as running up Kennesaw Mountain or Pigeon Hill. If, however, you are looking for some serious mileage, you can get some on the longest of the mountain's loops, a 16.8-miler, that runs from the Visitor Center to Kolb Farm.

Sawnee Mountain in also great for trail running and it's hard to find smoother terrain anywhere else in the vicinity. The trails are a mix of red clay and sand, with only a few technical roots and rocky sections on the higher elevations. There is a 3.5-mile loop that covers the sprawling acreage of the preserve. Be sure to note that it’s worth taking a break mid-run to stop at the Indian Seats Overlook and see the distant North Georgia Mountains. With the total mountain elevation topping out at 1,968 feet, the elevation gain is only 580 feet, making this a good start to ease into mountain trail running.

Hit the Trails Hiking

You can find beautiful views from Preacher's Rock along the Appalachian Trail in Atlanta Georgia.
You can find beautiful views from Preacher's Rock along the Appalachian Trail in Atlanta Georgia. Alexa Lampasona
Views from the Woody Gap Overlook in Atlanta, Georgia.
Views from the Woody Gap Overlook in Atlanta, Georgia. Joyce Taaffe

If you hike southbound from Woody Gap, you'll find yourself teetering along the ridgeline of Black Mountain. You'll have to scuffle over boulders on some of these climbs, but will also enjoy hiking through sprawling valleys covered in moss and fern. The summit of  Ramrock Mountain is just 1.5 miles from the parking lot and offers panoramic views.

When weather is warmer, hiking to one of North Georgia’s many waterfalls is a must-do. There are more than 120 waterfalls in the northern part of the state, and among one of the best hikes is to Raven Cliff Falls. The hike is speckled with creek crossings and minimal up-and-down humps of elevation. Since the trail follows a deep creek bed, the southern ridge of the mountain provides shade, keeping it cool year-round. The total hike out and back is five miles, and you'll get to gaze upon three waterfalls along the way. The hike’s namesake, Raven Cliff Falls, is halfway through the hike. It's nestled between two cliffs and cascades 400 feet. Adventure-seekers can catch a bird's-eye view of the falls by climbing the right-hand crag to the top of the cliff. 

Where to Go for a Post-Trail Pint

Having fun on the patio at Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta.
Having fun on the patio at Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta. Courtesy of Sweetwater Brewery

When you are done hiking for the day, there's not much better than kicking back with your friends and reliving the fun of the day over a cold beer -- at an Atlanta Brewery.

When you think of Atlanta beer, Sweetwater Brewery is always front of mind. This pioneer on the ATL ale scene boasts the city's largest tasting room and brewery, with plenty of space indoors and out. Year-round favorite brews include Sweetwater 420, Georgia Brown, and the IPA. On weekdays (except for Monday and Tuesday, when the brewery is closed), Sweetwater hosts comedians, tastings to benefit charities, and live music.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Burnt Hickory touts the title of “the smallest microbrewery with the boldest flavors.” In 2014, it transitioned from a “nano” brewery to a microbrewery, and it now turns out high-gravity, higher-alcohol ales that pack a punch. The flagship beer, Ezekiel’s Wheel Pale Ale, is a grainy malt with a hoppy finish that is not to be missed.

If you're not quite done for the day and want a little more exercise consider combining your beer with running. Visit the Phidippides running store in midtown and join one of the longest-standing running groups in Atlanta for the Orpheus Brewery run held every third Thursday of the month. The three- to five-mile run starts and finishes at the brewery, where afterwards runners mingle and enjoy a few brews. Be sure to try one of the Saison or sour beers that Orpheus is known for.

Another brewery that offers monthly group runs in conjunction with West Stride running store is Red Brick Brewing. Every fourth Wednesday of the month, they hold a 3-mile run that starts at the brewery and meanders around the local neighborhood. Afterward, stick around for hoppy pours of Hop-lanta or the Session IPA.

There's really no excuse to not get your exercise in while in Atlanta. Even if you don't plan on hiking Blood Mountain or trail running along the Chattahoochee, you can at least pick up a few miles running to your beer.

Originally written for Atlanta CVB.

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