Getting out in nature is one of the best bonding experiences a family can have. Athens has so many great nature trails and easy hikes that the whole family can do together. And, as the Valentine family shows in their photos below, you are never too young! Tommy and Laura Valentine have taken daughter Norah with them on hikes around Athens from the time Nora was a wee babe, and Norah was walking mile-long paths before she was a year and a half old! What an inspiration!
Norah is not just a trails trailblazer, she's a fashion trailblazer as well and has preferred to hike in dresses even before that became all the rage.
So, grab the kids and set out together for a refreshing hike or walk. Here are some of the best hiking and nature trails for families in Athens, with our guide Norah and her parents! All photos are courtesy of Tommy and Laura Valentine.
Let's Go for a Hike!
Memorial Park and Birchmore Nature Trail
The Birchmore Trail is a 1.25 mile natural surface trail located at Memorial Park off of S. Milledge Ave., in the Five Points Neighborhood The trail winds through a mature hardwood ravine, over bridges, near creeks, and along a massive stone wall built by Fred Birchmore while he was in his 70's. The trail is intermediate difficulty and does include some uphill climbs and small creek crossings. Trailheads are located behind the Administrative building and along Gran Ellen Drive.
Oconee Forest Park
Oconee Forest Park is a 60 acre natural area nestled behind the Intramural Fields of the University of Georgia. The park has over 1.5 miles of hiking trails. The trails wind through a 100-year-old oak-hickory forest, along the Lake Herrick shore, and into open areas of landscaped lawn. There is an abundance of wildlife to be on the lookout for. Over 100 different species of trees and shrubs have been identified and tagged along the Tree Trail. The tree numbers found on the brochure map mark the approximate location of each specimen and correspond to the numbered names inside the brochure. To see a list of trees found in Oconee Forest Park, click here.
Handicap access to Oconee Forest Park is provided by the A.D.A.- compliant boardwalk and bridge donated by the family of Leon A. and Eugenia C. Hargreaves. The boardwalk begins at the parking lot near the tennis courts.
Oconee Forest Park is just across the street from the UGA Visitors Center. Sign up for a free tour, or just stop by to view the interactive exhibits, learn more about what's going on these days at UGA, and perhaps inspire a new generation of Bulldogs!
Sandy Creek Nature Center
Sandy Creek Nature Center offers a number of short, easy trails to explore, including an ADA accessible boardwalk trail. All trails are well under a mile, and some are just 1/10 or 2/10 of a mile, which is perfect for youngsters just getting started with nature walks and trails.
Pine Ridge Trail (.2 miles) ADA Interpretive Trail
Starting at the rear of the Education and Visitor Center, this walker- and wheelchair-accessible boardwalk enters woodlands and continues to a tributary of the Oconee River. Great short trail for all ages. Features interpretive areas and a wildlife observation blind.
Brick Factory Loop & Log House Loop
Starting at Walker Hall, these trails form several loops around the ruins of the Georgia Brick Company (circa 1900) and an early 1800's log cabin moved on-site from Oglethorpe County in 1980. in addition to these cool building remains, you may see squirrel nests and lizards sunning by the log house.
Claypit Pond Trail (.5 miles)
Starting at Walker Hall, the trail follows the shoreline halfway around Claypit Pond. Keep your eyes peeled for the beaver sign and lodge on the small island in the pond, turtles basking on logs, fish, frogs, snakes, and great blue heron.
Crossridge Trail (.1 miles)
Connects Kingfisher Pond Trail with the Claypit Pond Trail, passing through pine/ hardwoods and crossing the Pine Ridge Trail.
Hooded Warbler Trail (.2 miles)
A short loop in the upper Claypit Pond wetlands. Dense thickets of privet and tall trees make excellent cover for many bird species like the warbler namesake of the trail. You may also see salamanders!
Kestrel Trail (.7 miles)
The trail follows the Oconee River floodplain with several beautiful views of the river. Named for a small falcon that may be seen in the forest edge area. You might also find deer and turkey along the edges between the woods and fields,plus turtles and occasionally otters in the Oconee River
Kingfisher Pond Trail (.3 miles)
This trail winds through the Oconee River floodplain along Kingfisher Pond and follows a creek for most of its length. There are pretty wildflowers particularly in the spring, plus wildlife around the pond.
Levee Trail (.9 miles)
Follows Sandy Creek past the Log House and continues to the confluence of the North Oconee River and Sandy Creek. Look along the river and creek banks for signs of beavers and raccoons, plus turtles and herons.
Oconee Trail (.2 miles)
Starting at a curve in Old Commerce Road, the trail descends to the North Oconee River and loops back through hardwood floodplain forest. You may see birds in the hedges, as well as salamanders and sometimes river otters.
Pine Ridge Trail (.4 miles)
Walk along the highest point on the property and get a panoramic view of Claypit Pond. Stretches between the Allen House and Walker Hall, passing through mixed pine/ hardwood forest with areas of dense shrub growth.
Screech Owl Trail (.4 miles)
The trail roams through dense woods, climbing to a rocky outcrop and crossing an old roadbed.
So, grab the kids and head out to Sandy Creek Nature Center! Check their events calendar too, as they often have special family programs!
Sandy Creek Park
Looking for a challenge? Sandy Creek Park has the longest collection of trails in Athens, with over 16 miles of trails for all skill levels.The trails are laid out over easy to moderate terrain and good for hikers and walkers of all ages and abilities. There are three different trails, each with its own trail-head and clearly marked throughout.
- Lakeside Trail is 7.5 miles long and follows along the shores of Lake Chapman. It's marked with White blazes and is of compacted earth and moderate difficulty. The trail can be accessed from a number of locations in the developed areas of the park, but we recommend using Parking Lot 14 -- by the restroom! - and starting at the trailhead.
- Buckeye Trail is 4.2 miles and is for use by hikers as well as horse riders. It's marked with Blue blazes. The trail begins aross from Parking Lot 14 just to the right of the horse mounting station and follows the park boundary northward to a dead-end furnished with a picnic table. This hilly trail provides forested views with occasional glimpses of Lake Chapman.
- Cook's Trail and Oxbow Loop are part of the Athens Greenway and Riverside Parks system and run creekside between Sandy Creek Park and Sandy Creek Nature Center, through woods and over boardwalks. As of late September 2020, the upper portion of Cook's Trail is open! Starting at Sandy Creek Park you can get in a nice 5 mile hike by hiking south bound on Cooks' trail looping OX Bow Trail, and then returning on Cook's Trail to the park.
Sandy Creek Park definitely offers a full day's worth of activities, any time of year. Admission is just $2 per person, ages 4 - 64 (those younger and older are free!)
State Botanical Garden of Georgia
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia spans over 300 acres and has a variety of hiking trails and nature walks the whole family can enjoy. The trails wind beside and through numerous natural features and native Piedmont plant communities. Be on the lookout for interesting land features like heath bluffs along the Middle Oconee River and floodplain forest and Piedmont prairie restoration areas. The trails are constructed on native soil, except for wooden bridges over streams and short boardwalks in wetland areas.
The State Botanical Garden is also designated as an Important Bird Habitat. Be on the lookout - you might even spot a barred owl, gold finch and indigo bunting all within a 15 minute period.
- The Red and Green Trails are under 1/4 miles so are good trails to start with for little ones walking on their own.
- The Blue Trail is a bit under 1/2 mile, and the Yellow Trail is a bit under 3/4 miles.
- The Orange Trail is 1.17 miles and follows along a natural levy beside the river. You may be in luck and see activity from beavers or even an otter playing (especially in winter months.) The Orange Trail is also great for wildflower viewing in the spring, and is a good Trail for families as it is rather easy to hike.
- The White Trail is the longest and hardest trail and is 3.22 miles.
Perhaps best of all, the Children's Garden can also be a part of a great family day. It's over 2 acres of wonderful, interactive play for all ages!
We hope you've been inspired by Norah and her parents, Tommy and Laura Valentine! Sharing a love of nature and being active will last a lifetime, and it is never too early to start. So, strap those infants in or lace up those toddler shoes, and hit the trails all around Athens. Our Athens hiking trails page has complete listings for them all!