by Nan Schivone
OCP families have had a fantastic time hiking together this fall. There is nothing quite like the combination of fresh air, abundant nature and light exercise. Children are encouraged to enjoy the outdoors at their own pace. Grownups are encouraged to slow down and either engage with, or simply observe, their child’s free exploration.
One of our six guiding principles at OCP is that nature is revered and integrated into many aspects of the child’s experience at school. In keeping with this, our green curriculum is based on three intentions: to help children feel a connection to nature; to encourage curiosity about the natural world; and to demonstrate ways to be environmentally conscious. OCP green family hikes offer an opportunity – and a simple reminder – to make time for nature reverence and integration into life outside school.
In his book Wild Play, environmental educator David Sobel discusses the useful concept of talking locally. In essence, this is talking to children about nature, paying attention to their words, especially metaphors, and then helping children apply those same ideas in other contexts. Sobel posits that these conversations making connections with nature, using children’s own words, are a critical part of environmental education. Family hikes are a perfect way to provide these primary experiences of nature that are so important to talking locally.
Here are five kid-friendly hikes in Metro-Atlanta where you can walk among tall trees, view mountains and mighty rivers, listen to birds, get muddy, inspect insects, wade through creeks, climb rocks, skip stones, collect pine cones, or simply breathe in fresh air.
(1) Clyde Shepherd Preserve
Logistics: Park at the intersection of Wood Trail and Pine Bluff. Head down the Hardwood Forest Trail and make a loop connecting to the Wetland Meadow; and then at Indian Rock, take the Pine Forest trail to the Creek Trail, looping around to the start. The entire loop is about 1.5 miles and weaves through several types of ecosystems with loads of opportunities to climb rocks, build forts, and watch for birds, turtles, etc. There is a wonderful bamboo grove in between the South Fork of the Peachtree Creek and the Beaver Pond. The trail is not stroller friendly and can get very muddy. Parking is free and there is no entrance fee.
(2) Stone Mountain, Venable Lake loop
Logistics: Park at the children’s playground. Head down the white Cherokee trail past the fence at the end of the playground and loop around Venable Lake from the south, staying on the white Cherokee trail. Turn left on the orange connecting trail, circling the lake and heading back towards the children’s playground. The total distance is around 2 miles. There are interesting trees, mushrooms, insects, gentle sloping trails through the forest, a gurgling creek with tiny waterfalls, views of Stone Mountain, a serene lake, and an old stone chimney. It’s not stroller-friendly. The children’s playground is a great place to hang out after the hike and have a picnic. There’s a fun wooden structure and a large grassy area around shelters with picnic tables. Parking at Stone Mountain Park is $10. The annual parking pass is $35. Note that Robert E. Lee Blvd. is one way, so don’t pass the children’s playground or you’ll have to drive the long loop around the mountain. Note that children’s playground and this hike are separate from the developed more-touristy area of Stone Mountain Park. Also note that there are many wonderful hikes here, including the very popular (and very busy) hike up to the top of Stone Mountain.
(3) Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Johnson Ferry Loop – Northern Half
Logistics: Park in the lower parking lot, past the self-pay bay, towards the shelter (and bathroom/ river put-in area). Head down the hiking trail and wind to your right following the blue blazes, hugging the river and then walking through the forest to make a loop back to the parking area. This hike is really interesting for children because there are great views of the Chattahoochee River, tree falls and benches to rest upon, creeks to wade in, lots of birds, turtles, and beavers, and a nice boardwalk at the end. The total distance is just-under 2 miles. It’s not stroller-friendly. Parking is $3 cash. You have to use the self-pay envelopes at the entrance to the lower parking area. Note that there are many hiking/boating sections which comprise the Chattahoochee Natl. Rec. Area; this is but one of them.
(4) Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve, Arabia Lake loop
Logistics: Park at the Nature Center parking lot. Walk towards Arabia Lake on the Forest trail (E-yellow blazes) and loop back towards the parking lot on the Mile Rock trail (F- marked with cairns, also known as South Lake trail). The loop is about 2 miles. It starts in a pretty deciduous forest with some interesting undergrowth, and then mid-hike is a lovely small lake, with a gentle granite slope – which a good place to stop for a snack. On the way back, the mile rock trail, like the name implies, is a fun jaunt over mostly-flat granite. There are many opportunities for kids to climb and jump around, and get ahead of the grownups for some independent exploration while still in full view. This trail does not accommodate strollers. Parking is free and there’s no entrance fee. This area connects to a longer bike path, for another day.
(5) Sweetwater Creek State Park, Mill Ruins
Logistics: Park at the visitor center lot. Head up the blue trail behind the visitor center and connect up with the red trail at Mill Ruins, looping back to the parking area. This hike heads up a slope through a beautiful mature forest and leads to the historical mill ruins and the gorgeous, rushing Sweetwater Creek. There is an area to wade into the water off the red trail and some boulders to climb on as the trail winds back up to the parking area. This trail does not accommodate strollers. Note that parking at Sweetwater Creek State Park is $5, and you have to pay in cash. The annual parking pass is $50, which you could use at any state park in Georgia. Note that the entrance to the visitor center and this hike is at the main entrance, but it is after the entrance to the lake and general store. The lake is a fun place to canoe and fish, if you’re in the market for an activity for another day.