Ever wondered what life would be like for Atlantans if the city had been placed in the North Georgia Mountains? I decided to find out. Using Photoshop, I decided to give Atlanta mountains across its skyline.
This is the kind of thing that rolls through my mind as I spend my free time pondering travel ideas. I love visiting Georgia’s mountains and capital city, but it nods to a larger problem plaguing the peach state: the perception that there’s really nothing to do there. Let’s be honest, Georgia isn’t exactly the tourist capital of the U.S. (or even the southeast).
However, it’s not that Georgia suffers from a lack of things to do, but rather from it all being so spread out. Atlanta rests a little northwest over the state’s central line and offers all of the typical amenities of an urban center. About an hour and a half north of the city, you’ll find the North Georgia Mountains. Roughly 3.5 hours to the southeast, the state’s coastline. And if you’re really up for an outdoor experience, you’ll find the Okefenokee Swamp about 4 hours south of the city. Not far from there, Wild Adventures theme park and safari offers a unique family experience of its own.
Bringing it Closer Together
So, I tried to imagine what it would be like if at least some of this was a little closer. The north Georgia mountains contain many hidden natural gems, unknown even to most of the state’s residents. If they were closer to Atlanta, it would certainly help set the city apart. Imagine having the waterfalls of Cloudland Canyon or the southern terminus for the Appalachian Trail just a short drive (or even hike) from the city.
Sure, traffic would probably be even worse (given the challenges of mountainous roads), but at least there would be some awesome scenery along Atlanta’s mountainous skyline. Right now, the city is essentially a few skyscrapers grouped together in the middle of a large, flat forest. For potential tourists who have never visited Atlanta, it probably doesn’t set itself apart from the likes of Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, or any other American urban center (unless you happen to be a fan of zombie outbreaks).
Atlanta’s Closest Mountains
However, the sentiment is not completely lost to reality. While Atlanta may not have any mountains within its city limits, there are a few in the metropolitan area. They may not match the beauty or intrigue of the state’s northern region, but they’re definitely worth exploring. Here is a list of Metro Atlanta’s mountains:
Definitely the most popular in the Atlanta area – and possibly even the state – Stone Mountain emerges somewhat awkwardly from otherwise flat terrain just northeast of the city. In a town of its namesake, Stone Mountain offers visitors the state’s only mountain skylift.
It also features a variety of trails to explore along its rocky surface. A massive carving along its flattest side is brought to life with a laser show. In recent years, the area has been restructured as an all-inclusive family vacation resort, complete with train rides, golf courses and even snow sledding during the winter months.
Just north of Atlanta, the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park infuses an outdoor experience with a touch of history. The spot was something of a stronghold during the civil war. Like Stone Mountain, it rises high above terrain that is largely flat, which provided a strategic advantage for soldiers. Its summit offers a great view of Atlanta to the south and Georgia’s mountains to the north. It also features an extensive trail network with signs pointing out historical sites.
Some find it difficult to actually refer to this as a mountain, but the monadnock does offer a pretty unique experience to visitors all the same. Vernal pools are common here, and visitors are treated to many generations of geological history. Trails are found all around the mountain (including a paved one open to pedestrians and bikers alike). The mountain’s surface itself is completely open for exploration.
Like Arabia Mountain, Panola rests just east of Atlanta and offers its own collection of vernal pools. But unlike Arabia, Panola Mountain is not freely open to the public. Visitors must be accompanied by a qualified guide and bookings must be made in advance. If you do have the opportunity to climb Panola, try doing so just before dusk. The setting sun contrasts well with the the colors of the vernal pool at its summit, as seen to the left in a picture that doesn’t do it justice.
North of the city, Sawnee Mountain serves as a prequel for visitors on their way to the North Georgia Mountains. Found along 400, a popular route to the region, Sawnee Mountain is nestled in the thriving suburb of Forsyth County. It serves as a popular spot for local outdoor enthusiasts.
Pine Mountain is arguably the metro area’s first real look at the North Georgia Mountains. It’s probably also just about as far away from Atlanta as possible to still be considered within the metro area. It’s actually surrounded by the Appalachian Foothills, not far at all from the mountain range. Pine mountain offers trails at all difficulty levels. You’ll find it nestled in the charming town of Cartersville.
Atlanta’s Own Trails
Atlanta does also offer several trails within its city limits that invoke the same feel as the North Georgia Mountains. These trail features include ridges, unique plant life, historical ruins and plenty of elevation changes. Some even run along the Chattahoochee River, where tubers and kayakers can often be seen enjoying its gentle rapids. Here are some of Atlanta’s mountain-like trails:
East Palisades – This is easily one of Atlanta’s most popular trails, and for good reason. East Palisades is probably Atlanta’s most mountain-like trail. This is where you’ll find a high ridge next to the glistening Chattahoochee River. Towards its end, you’ll also find a surprising feature for such an urbanized area: a bamboo forest with stocks as high as trees. Along the way, you’ll also pass ruins of ancient buildings.
Doll’s Head Trail – If you’re looking for a more…unique outdoor experience, there’s also the Doll’s Head Trail at Constitution Park. Shortly after its completion, visitors contemplated how they could best commemorate the decision to build a trail here. After what I’m sure was much deliberation, they decided to tear up some baby dolls and leave their body parts along the way. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that it’s a good idea to recommend this trail. However, it’s certainly an interesting experience to say the least.
The Atlanta mountains skyline may just be a Photoshopped dream, but the city’s (and state’s) seeming lack of real interest shouldn’t deter tourists from visiting. They’ll just need to look a little deeper. The Peach State has plenty to offer, especially for the enthused road warrior. Just be sure to do some detailed planning in advance and be ready for the unexpected.