You don’t have to get out of town to enjoy nature – Atlanta is chock-full of gorgeous hiking spots just minutes from the middle of the city, including Sweetwater Creek State Park.
One of my favorite newly discovered hiking spots, Sweetwater Creek is a Georgia state park encompassing over 2,500 acres of land. Feast your eyes on wooded trails, whitewater rapids, and mill ruins throughout 12 miles of easy to moderately difficult trails.
Getting There & Parking
Located about 18 miles west of downtown Atlanta, you can reach Sweetwater Creek in 25-30 minutes, depending on which part of town you live in. It’s an easy drive that takes you west on I-20, with the park itself about 2 miles off the interstate.
There is an $5 entry fee to gain access to the park, which can be paid at one of a few available entrances.
When you arrive at the state park, you’ll see a variety of different parking options, some a bit more challenging to procure than others. The easiest place to park with the most available spots is off of Mt. Vernon Road at the intersection of Cedar Terrace Road. This area of the park provides the easiest lake access, where kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards are available for rent. However, it is about a 3/4 mile walk to reach the start of the main trails at Sweetwater Creek. On a nice day, I would make the attempt to walk (which we did), but during the boiling summer months, I would aim for a closer parking spot to the trailheads if available.
If you do want to get closer to the trails, there is a parking lot right next to the Interpretive Center and Park Office, which leads into the trails. Be warned that the lot gets extremely crowded on nice days (there was a huge family reunion when we were there), so you might have trouble finding a spot.
Sweetwater Creek has three major trails: the Red, White, and Yellow trails.
You can access the Red and White trails from the Interpretive Center, located toward the left-center of the map below. The Yellow trail is just a short walk off the Red trail; the White and Red trails start at the same point, move apart, and then join again in a loop.
There are also Orange, Green, and Brown trails that are not as commonly used; however, the Green trail does connect two parts of the White trail, serving as a shortcut to make your hike a bit shorter if you’d like.
Sweetwater Creek State Park map
The Red trail is the most popular in the park; it provides stunning views of and access to the picturesque New Manchester mill ruins, which were featured in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 film.
From the parking lot at the Interpretive Center, is it about a 0.5 mile easy walk to the ruins – therefore, this part of the park is typically most crowded. Take a few pictures here, and then continue on the Red trail as it winds parallel with the river to your left.
My favorite park of the hike was when we moved past the crowds and got to the more secluded parts of the trail – the difficulty went up, and we were able to stop in the woods and at different parts of the creek to climb on the rocks and take in the views.
Between the .75 and 1.15 miles of the trail, you can catch sweeping views of the whitewater of Sweetwater Creek (seen at the video in the bottom of the post), so I would recommend a stop here for a good photo op!
If you are looking for a bit more of a remote hike, stick with the White trail, with a 5.2 mile loop winding through some of the most secluded areas of the park.
Bringing Dogs to Sweetwater Creek
As a posted rule, dogs are required to be on a leash up to 6 feet in length at all times in the park. I brought my dog to the park with me, and kept him on a leash about 40% of the time, typically in the more heavily trafficked areas of the park.
However, while on most of the Red trail, I kept Riley off-leash, where the hike got more strenuous and there were much fewer people. Most people were very receptive to Riley being off-leash, as he is a sweet dog, but a few gave me disgruntled looks as we walked by in the more populated parts of the park. Use discretion while keeping your dog off of his/her leash, and if you do plan to do this, I would recommend doing it on the Red trail that runs along the river after the mill ruins when the crowds thin.
Plan Your Day at Sweetwater Creek
For a short day hike, allow at least 2-3 hours to explore the trails at Sweetwater Creek; there are plenty of good places to stop for a picnic or a swim during the summer months.
If you want to stay overnight or for a weekend, you can rent yurts (tent-cabins that sleep up to 6 people) for $85/night, with campsites also available to rent for $25/night.
Don’t forget to take a look at the events calendar for Sweetwater Creek State Park – the park hosts organized hikes, fishing trips, and kayaking excursions at least once a week, typically costing between $5-25 plus the $5 parking fee.