Winter sunset over Bellingham Bay

Merry Christmas!

Or Happy Hanukkah, or however you choose to celebrate the holidays.  I hope the season finds you happy, healthy, and enjoying life!

Including the outdoors, if that works for you this time of year. Short days and cold temperatures make it challenging to keep with an outdoor exercise program. Many are drawn to the gym for treadmills, elliptical trainers, weights, and stationary bikes.

Winter sunrise over Lake Padden, Bellingham

Sometimes, I wish I was one of those people. I belong to a gym, do yoga and occasional cardio there. But most often,  I find a way to get my outdoor fix, taking any sun breaks I can find.  I’ll also suffer through rain, cold, wind, ice, and snow to walk, hike or run outside.

Or seek warmer venues…

Thanksgiving Hiking…in and around Atlanta!

The week of Thanksgiving I headed south to visit my son, Kyle, and his girlfriend, Lauren, in Atlanta, GA. Both both attend graduate school at Emory College, and I had yet to pay them a visit. A Thanksgiving getaway from cold Bellingham seemed like just the thing.

Atlanta may not seem like destination hiking, but, in the six days I was there, we covered five different trail systems, all within a 1.5 hour drive of their apartment. In case you find yourself in the area, here’s a quick rundown of trails we hiked:

Summit of Blood Mountain

Blood Mountain from Vogel State Park

This was my favorite hike, as we hit the Appalachian trail for a couple of miles before reaching Blood Mountain’s summit. Kyle, Lauren, and I wandered the Coosa Backcountry trail and the Bear Hair Gap Trail out of Vogel State Park, a lovely park by a lake that rents cabins of all types and has tent sites from which to explore the miles of trails available.

Lake at Vogel State Park

Kyle and Lauren on Bear Hair Gap Trail

Kyle and Lauren at viewpoint, Coosa Trail

Blood Mountain is the highest elevation summit on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. We saw a few thru-hikers on the AT, an exciting moment for me, although the kids thought I was silly. At the top we were rewarded with a beautiful view out to Georgia foothills, a stone hut, (typical on the AT), and a wondrous crowd of folks and dogs to share lunch with.

At the Junction of AT! See white marker on the tree.

Kyle and Lauren enjoy a summit smile

For more information Blood Mountain and Vogel State Park,  Click Here 

Dogs front and back…

Mother and son…

Stone Mountain

Fall color on Cherokee trail, Stone Mountain

This 3200 acre park is touted as “Georgia’s most popular attraction”.  In addition to 15 miles of hiking trails and an abundance of family activities, the park also has a controversial history. This was THE founding spot of the KKK back in 1915. The giant granite monolith that is Stone Mountain boasts a gigantic carving, created in 1970,  of confederates Robert E Lee, Thomas Stonewall, and Jackson Jefferson on horseback.

Confederate carving on Stone Mountain

Historical significance and controversy aside, there are some good trails there.  Lauren and I took to them on a day when Kyle was still taking finals. We first hit the walk-up trail, a steep but easy mile up to the top of Stone Mountain. It was the first day of Thanksgiving break for kids, so we had tons of company! The views out to the city were quite grand, and the popular Gondola topped out as an option for non-walkers.

Atlanta skyline from top of Stone Mountain

After people watching for awhile, Lauren and I dropped back down to the Cherokee Trail. This 5-mile loop goes around the mountain, and its interesting and variable.

Lauren hiking in Fall color!

Venable lake, Stone Mountain behind

First we traversed a steep section of rock, steeper than expected as we lost the white markers on the rock. We had to retrace our steps then drop down to find the obvious trail. We navigated the trail through prime fall color, past two lakes, over a covered wooden bridge and mill, and into the busy auditorium area.

Wooden bridge and mill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There, they were setting up Stone Mountain Christmas, complete with snow making machines, kids sledding down steep slopes, and music blasting from huge speakers in front of the afore-mentioned memorial carving. The setting was bizarre to say the least — ostentatious and ear-splitting in the midst of an otherwise quiet, serene hike.

Making snow for Stone Mountain Christmas!

Eventually we re-entered the blissful quiet of a forested area, and returned to our car still puzzling out the whole park.

For more information on Stone Mountain hikes, Click Here 

Cochran Shoals Trail

This extremely popular trail traverses the shores of the Chattahoochee River, a name that was as fun to say as the trails were to walk on Thanksgiving day.

Chattahoochee River

Kyle, Lauren and I were not alone in enjoying the warm temps and sunshine. Half of Atlanta and their dogs were out hiking, running, and Mt. Biking on this interesting network of trails before hitting turkey dinners later on.

Thanksgiving day in Cochran Shoals Park

We wandered farther then expected, through woodland back trails that looped around endlessly and somewhat confusingly. Our planned five mile hike turned into eight, with some frustration on Kyle’s part as we kept ending up somewhere other than back at the main, flat, river walk where we started. More miles to work up an appetite for our post-hike Thanksgiving dinner. What a great way to start Thanksgiving day.

Kyle had just about enough of my picture taking by this point…

For more information on Cochran Shoals Park, Click Here

Lullwater Park

This park is right near Emory’s campus, and hence very popular with college kids. It was also five minutes from Kyle and Lauren’s apartment, so I came here several times. Once alone, once with Lauren to run, and once all three of us right after Kyle finished his last exam.

The trail passes the Emory President’s quarters, a 1926 Tudor Mansion. Then it follows some old-growth forest, heads around a lake, and even crosses a suspension bridge to some ruins of an old powerhouse. Each time I was there, students ran, walked, and hung out, reading on grassy slopes above the lake. The trail system was not long, but could be turned into several miles with some creativity.

For more information on Lullwater Preserve, Click Here 

Piedmont Park

This park is centrally located in Atlanta, and hence also very popular. Kyle, Lauren and I hit it on my last day there for a quick run before I’d have to sit on the plane all day.

We split up for this run, as I get nervous running with my son. He’s much too fast for me, and I’ve not been back to running long. Plus, the trails were paved, something that is harder on my body. I knew I’d be slow and didn’t want to feel pressure.

I ran past the well-used sports facility with a nice track going around. Then through grassy meadows and past the botanical gardens, a nice touch even in late November. The loop entered a grove of shady trees and passed a dog off-leash section before coming back to where we started. It was a cool but sunny day, and with layer after layer shed, I was down to a t-shirt by the end.

A great ending to a great trip, and I was sad to have to leave warm, fall-colored, sunny Atlanta for cold and rainy Bellingham.

For more information on Piedmont Park, Click Here 

Get out and enjoy the remainder of 2017 before it’s gone!