Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls (But really, do.)

By Chloe Eng, 2nd Epidemiology

As busy grad students, those rare bits of free time we have often turn into Netflix and chill. As in, literally watching Netflix and not moving to conserve mental energy. Which is all good in moderation, but that sedentary lifestyle isn’t very public health-y!  Luckily, Atlanta’s a great place to be active with tons of running trails, as well as yoga and barre studios on almost every corner and Emory’s own Lullwater Park is right across the street.

However sometimes nothing beats getting out of the Emory area to explore, and one of my favorite ways to do so has been checking out the different hikes around the area. My preference is anything with a waterfall, but there are gems for whatever setting/length/difficulty level you want! While this is by no means an exhaustive list and there are so many spots I have yet to get to (I see you, Appalachian Trail), here are a couple of places to grab a couple of grad school peeps and get started.

Stone Mountain (About 20 minutes from Emory):

You can’t talk Atlanta outdoors without mentioning Stone Mountain. Which is exactly what the name says – a giant rock that you can climb. It’s close, easy to get to, straightforward to get to the top, and if you’re just so exhausted once you get there that you can’t make it down, there’s a convenient gondola (it’s only a mile hike to the top though. You got this). Plus the Rollins Outdoor Club hosts an excursion each year so there is not excuse not to visit, even if you can’t make it up the mountain.

Tip: Dress warm for sunrise hikes, the wind can get insane and you’re not guaranteed to see the sun. We might look happy in that second picture, but we’re not. And don’t let the confederate flags deter you – Stone Mountain actually has an awesome history from the Civil War era, and if you go at the right time, you just might get to see a civil war re-enactment via laser show!

Sweetwater Creek State Park (About 30 minutes from Emory):

When we started here, we wanted to find the hardest trail we could to work off some steam and get our empowerment on. However it didn’t take us long to realize that the trail we had chosen was nowhere near the creek! If you end up here, no matter which route you take, make a trip down the red trail. It’s cited as the easiest, but was by far the most interesting. The trail itself is along the creek, and the rockiness definitely reflects that. Plus let’s be honest, everyone has an inner child that loves jumping from rock to rock. There’s also the ruins of an old textile mill along the creek, which was awesome for a history buff like me!

Pro tip: Jumping in the creek might not be the best idea, because I came down with a nasty cold afterwards. I’m not saying that correlation equals causation and my friend who did as well was fine, I’m just saying that the timing was pretty suspicious.

Vickery Creek (About 30 minutes from Emory):

Vickery Creek is less well known than Sweetwater Creek, but it was just as rewarding! The falls themselves are man-made (it IS a dam after all) and it’s definitely a city hike, but the trails are well marked and the sound of the park drowned out the distractions.

Tip: The deer here mean business! When we were next to the river, we saw one and ended up stopping to watch it since it was so close to us. It was awesome until it decided to run directly at us.

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Cochran Mill Park (About 45 minutes from Emory):

After a little bit of confusion about where the heck the trail started, we were so excited to finally make it to the falls! This felt the most like a nature walk than a hike and is relatively flat, but still a great place to get away nevertheless. The trail itself is beautiful, and there were multiple waterfalls along the way. We were reminded the hard way however that wet rocks are slippery, and going the day after a rainfall does not bode well for keeping your shoes and ankles clean.

Tip: The trails aren’t hard to follow, but they’re pretty terribly marked so make sure to stop and get a map!

Raven Cliff Falls (About 1.5 hours from Emory):

Not a strenuous hike, but decently long! The trail itself is about 5-6 miles, and follows Dodd Creek, so there are plenty of mini-falls along the way. Definitely a great way to get to know the North Georgia mountains.

Tip: Explore! The last falls are between two cliffs, and depending on where people went they got completely different views. We climbed onto the rocks and got up close to the bottom where they run into a shallow pool, but other people climbed up the questionably treacherous (I’m a wimp when it comes to heights) cliff to get a view from the top.

Cloudland Canyon State Park (2+ hours from Emory):

Sometimes, the longer drive is worth it! Cloudland Canyon is a gorgeous area, with trails ranging from vast canyons walks to wooded trails – we were able to do both on a day trip! The canyon itself was stunning, and the wooded trails lead to an impressive waterfall with a wading pool at the bottom. It was a little too cold to swim when we went in the fall (er I mean, there were some very strongly worded signs prohibiting it…) but that’s apparently a popular option in hotter summer days.

Tip: if you make the drive all the way up here, might as well make a pit stop in nearby Chattanooga! We rewarded ourselves afterwards with beer, brats, and a beautiful sunset over the Chattahoochee to end the day.

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