The next time you pack up and head out for a day-long trail experience, consider a new destination. It’s hard to change habits and venture outside of your comfort zone but there is so much more to biking and hiking near Atlanta than the Silver Comet and Stone Mountain Trails.
Until recently, the trail system we are building along the South River, just twenty minutes east of town, was primarily utilized by local residents and a few curious city dwellers looking for an alternative to the Silver Comet. Now that we have over 23 miles of connected trails in the region, there are many more Atlanta residents flocking to the trail, eager for a new adventure.
Just outside I-285, the Snapfinger Road or Evans Mill Road exits off I-20 East will take you to one of several shiny new trailheads where you can access the trail. PATH and Georgia State Parks have partnered to build new trailheads at the entrance to Panola Mountain State Park on Snapfinger Road (SR 155) and at Alexander Lake at the southern end of Klondike/Flat Shoals Road. A small parking fee helps offset the cost of a full service restroom (at Alexander Lake) and patrolling of the trail and parking areas by Park Rangers. You will be surprised how quickly and easily you get to the trail from the city. It is no more effort than traveling to the Silver Comet from most Atlanta neighborhoods.
When you arrive at any of the trailheads, you will feel as though you are many miles from the city. The air is clean, the woods are thick, and the rushing streams are clear. The trail quickly disappears from the trailhead into a natural wonderland that is reminiscent of Eastern Tennessee or North Carolina. This is an entirely different experience than being on the Silver Comet. You don’t see the backs of apartment complexes or hear busy highways. Here you whiz through the woods, dodge an occasional deer, and marvel at how blue the sky appears.
The South River/Arabia Mountain/Rockdale River Trail system has been a challenge to build. Our design and build professionals were charged with routing these trails through massive rock outcroppings and mountain-like terrain while respecting the environmental sensitivity of the area. We worked closely with representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance before and during trail construction to make certain we were providing respectful access to this incredible conservation park and National Heritage Area. The resulting trail is worth the effort. It allows respectful access to one of the most beautiful natural areas in the southeast.
The Alexander Lake Trailhead is a centrally located spot for accessing the trail. From Alexander Lake, you can visit the crescent-shaped boardwalk across the lake (pictured page 1), ride through the historic barn, and quietly enjoy a view of Panola Mountain from the boardwalk overlook built adjoining the trail.
If you choose to begin your trek at The Mall at Stonecrest, you will travel on the abandoned rail bed that used to serve the granite quarry near the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Center and glide through the covered bridge over Pole Bridge Creek. Starting your trail adventure at Panola Shoals will facilitate a trip alongside the shoals and sandbars in the South River on the way to the Arabia Mountain Trail and Lyons Farm. Maps of the trail system are posted at the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Center, Alexander Lake, and at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.
Any trip on this trail network involves hills and valleys so be prepared to get a great workout while traveling fewer miles. Cyclists, control your speed on the downhills and take a break on the climbs. Remember, it will remind you of Eastern Tennessee and North Carolina, not Florida.
During 2014 PATH will complete the six miles of trail between South Rockdale Community Park and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. On the distant horizon, we plan to connect this entire trail system to the Atlanta BeltLine at Boulevard Crossing. For now you’ll have to pack up your gear and make a short trip to access the trail. It will be well worth your time to do so.