With springtime on the horizon, there's no better time to get out and enjoy the many outdoor activities in and around Atlanta. Research has shown that spending time in nature is associated with decreased blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as stress reduction and a boost in creativity. The health benefits of nature have also been linked to prevention of diabetes, asthma, arthritis, musculoskeletal conditions and even cancer.
If this has you itching to get out and enjoy the great outdoors, you're in luck, because this is the season to take advantage of all of the outdoor activities metro Atlanta has to offer. From hiking and camping to rafting and climbing, we're breaking down the best places to get back to nature.
The Case for Getting Outdoors
If you thought getting outside was just a luxury during the warm weather months, think again. According to the U.S. Forest Service, parks and other natural environments are a fundamental health resource, particularly in terms of disease prevention. A single trip to nature actually provides maintenance levels of cells that work to prevent cancer development. And it's never too early to reap the benefits of getting outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation found that spending time outside raises levels of vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues.
Getting back to nature can do wonders for your mental health as well. A Japanese study in 2009 found that breathing in antimicrobial compounds found in the essential oils of trees increases relaxation and improves stress management, which translates to less anxiety, depression and anger. An added bonus to exercising outdoors is that it can trick your body into working harder while feeling it less. A 2011 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that people who walked on an outdoor track moved at a faster pace, perceived less exertion and experienced more positive emotions than those who walked on an indoor treadmill.
So are you ready to be outside yet? Check out these great outdoor spots, breathe in some fresh air and get moving!
Explore the Silver Comet Trail
Located 13 miles northwest of Atlanta, the Silver Comet Trail takes walkers, cyclists and hikers through Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties. At 61.5 miles long, it starts at the Mavell Road Trailhead in Smyrna and ends at the Georgia/Alabama state line, near Cedartown and The Esom Hill Trailhead.
If biking is not your thing, then get your running shoes on and take a jog or walk down this scenic route. If you want to challenge yourself don't miss the Silver Comet 10K on March 9, which is the last qualifying race for the Peachtree Road Race of 2013. Presented by Get Fit Atlanta, proceeds from this race benefit numerous community and school running programs and Cobb County Parks & Recreation Outdoor Programming Unit.
For additional information visit www.silvercometga.com
Get on the Water
For anyone who wants to learn to paddle, climb and travel through the backcountry, Georgia is home to a number of rivers and lakes that are perfect for water sports. This spring is a great time to take up a new activity like SUP Yoga, river rafting, sea kayaking, windsurfing and more.
In collaboration with SUP YOGI, High Country Outfitters (HCO) offers stand up paddle boarding yoga classes taught by their own certified yoga instructor, Caroline Peters. Classes are 90 minutes and open to all levels.
Experience the thrill of rafting the Ocoee, the Nantahala or the Chattooga rivers. No matter what your skill level or previous experience may be, make sure to find a guide that will take you and your group through the rapids safely.
Paddling enthusiasts can take advantage of Georgia's vast mix of rivers, lakes, swamps, saltwater marshes and the ocean with the fantastic sport of sea kayaking. Sea Kayak Georgia is located in Tybee Island and offers classes for children and adults of all levels, plus tours of the beautiful Georgia coast.
Lake Lanier is home to the Atlanta Board Sailing Club, one of the oldest windsurfing clubs in the country. Beginners can visit Windsense Windsurfing in Flowery Branch for lessons, rentals and more.
For additional information visit www.highcountryoutfitters.com, www.ocoee-river.net, www.chattooga-river.net, www.nantahala-river.net, www.seakayakgeorgia.com or www.lakelanier.com/activities/windsurfing
Escape to Lake Lanier
This 1,500-acre resort offers activities like golf, horseback riding and boating. With over 30 miles of walking, hiking and biking trails winding throughout the four islands that make up Lake Lanier Islands Resort, the options for outdoor fun are endless. Trail systems are comprised of paved pathways, man-made trails on varying terrains and natural hiking trails for a more challenging adventure. Beginning in March, the Islands will also offer the following springtime activities:
The Stables / Equestrian Center
Saddle up for a ride through a set of scenic trails along the shores of Lake Lanier Islands. Older kids and adults can enjoy a 45 minute ride, and younger kids (ages two and up) can go on a 30 minute ride. March, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. For reservations, call (770) 932-7233
Canopy Tours / Zip Lining
With seven zip lines and two sky-bridges all located around Legacy Lodge, this unforgettable tour boasts spectacular views as you zip through the tree canopies. For reservations, call (678) 622-3990 or (770) 828-7654
Camping at Lake Lanier and Shoal Creek Sites
Spacious and scenic, the sites are ideal for RVs and tents. During the day, guests have easy access to all the excitement of Lake Lanier Islands Resort, including LanierWorld Waterpark, award-winning golf facilities, rejuvenating spa treatments, the equestrian center, zip line canopy tours and more.
Boat Rentals at Harbor Landing
Rent a pontoon boat for eight to 20 passengers‚ or rent equipment for an amazing afternoon of wakeboarding‚ fishing and tubing. Your group can choose to ride the waves‚ or spend the afternoon fishing.
For additional information visit www.lakelanierislands.com
Camp out at The Rock Ranch
This beautiful 1,250 acre cattle ranch is located about an hour south of Atlanta in Upson County. Owned by Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, a day at the Rock Ranch is packed full of adventures including train rides, zip lines, cane fishing, paddle boats and horse rides.
If getting back to nature is what you're after, the Rock Ranch also offers Conestoga Campouts aboard a Conestoga wagon. Each wagon is fitted with four sets of bunk beds for a total of eight bunks per wagon. With eight wagons, the ranch can accommodate a minimum of eight and a maximum of 64 campers. If your group is larger than 64, guests may pitch tents for the additional campers in the fenced camping area for $10 per camper. Wagon rentals are $225 per wagon.
For additional information call (706) 647-6374 or visit www.therockranch.com
Go glamping with North Georgia Canopy Tours
North Georgia Canopy Tours has created modern teepees that offer a new way to sleep under the stars and enjoy "glamping," or upscale camping. These luxury canvas teepees come fully equipped with comfortable beds, cedar log furniture, air conditioning, lighting and electrical outlets. Glampers can feel close to nature and then retreat to the comfort of a temperature-controlled teepee. Teepees include the couple-sized 18' deer teepee which sleeps two, the family-sized 22' dream catcher teepee which sleeps up to five and the group 26' hickory teepee which sleeps up to 10.
Located in Lula, GA, North Georgia Canopy Tours offers other outdoor activities as well. If soaring through the trees is your thing, let guides take you on a zip line adventure. Whether you opt for the two-hour Sky Bridge Tour or the three-hour Adventure Tour, you are sure to have a good time. And if you're a newbie to zip lining, you'll go through some basic training before you head out to the trees. If you want more of a rustic camping experience, there are also 15 sites available for those who prefer to pitch their own tent.
For additional information call (770) 869-7272 or visit www.NorthGeorgiaCanopyTours.com
Walk, run or ride the Atlanta BeltLine
As the biggest revitalization effort ever undertaken in the city, the Atlanta BeltLine is providing a network of public parks, multi-use trails and transit by re-using 22-miles of historic railroad corridors circling downtown. The completion of the Atlanta BeltLine will bring together 45 intown neighborhoods, and with the help of the PATH Foundation, it will eventually link them to the entire metropolitan Atlanta region.
Today, parts of the pedestrian-friendly trails are open for walking, biking and jogging. For city dwellers who want to get outside and enjoy the new BeltLine this spring, be sure to check out the West End Trail, which stretches 2.4 miles from White Street to Westview Cemetery. The interim hiking trails also include seven miles of hiking trails on the east and west sides of the Atlanta BeltLine. And the Northside Trail through Tanyard Creek Park treats visitors to one of the most scenic stretches of the trail.
For additional information visit www.beltline.org
Hike Kennesaw Mountain
Whether you want to learn about the history of Kennesaw Mountain National Battle Field or take a hike on one of the many trails, Kennesaw Mountain has something for everyone. On weekdays, visitors can take a drive to the top of the mountain, and on weekends a shuttle bus is available to the mountaintop. Visitors can also picnic in designated areas and then enjoy a hike on the 18 miles of trails.
On Saturdays in March, older outdoor enthusiasts can partake in Fleet Feet Hikes, a short hike geared toward mature adults. The hikes are led by other mature adults who are familiar with the trails of Kennesaw Mountain, and they are divided into two-mile and six-mile lengths. Short hikes are from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and long hikes are from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. No registration is required and the hikes are free.
For additional information visit www.nps.gov/kemo
Take the family to Stone Mountain Park
Say goodbye to the winter blues and a big hello to Spring FUN Break at Stone Mountain Park. Perfect for active children, the park features an array of family-friendly activities that offer nonstop adventure and excitement.
Families can trek through the treetops on one of the nation's largest adventure courses. Complete with an overhead safety system, children and adults can explore the quarter of a mile course that stretches over suspended wooden bridges. Participants can choose from a 12-foot trail for beginners, a 24-foot high trail for the somewhat courageous and the super challenging trail at nearly 40 feet in the air for the true daredevil.
Camp Highland Outpost
Camp Highland Outpost is designed and built in partnership with the staff of Camp Highland in Ellijay, GA. The site features exciting outdoor fun for the entire family including rock walls to climb, a low ropes course with three line bridges and zip lines.
For additional information visit www.stonemountainpark.com
If you're wondering what a slackline is, it's like a tightrope that's purposefully kept loose (or "slack"). This allows you to bounce and sway with the line as you walk, while at the same time working on your balance, posture and core strength. It is also great for your focus, as slacklining requires intense concentration to stay upright.
Instead of a rope, a slackline is flat webbing like the ones you might use as slings while climbing. The best part? All you need to slack are two trees that are a good distance apart and a few key accessories. In Atlanta, you can try slacklining in pretty much any park or outdoor space with sturdy trees.
Beginners should start with the line about 12 inches off the ground, but experienced slackers and rock climbers often go much higher. Most slacklining experts recommend three to five carabiners, a couple of slings to go around the trees and about 20 to 30 feet of webbing. You can find this gear at just about any outdoor store that caters to climbers, or simply go online to purchase a slacklining kit.
Go Rock Climbing
Mountain High Outfitters (MHO) hosts practice sessions for climbers of all levels at local gyms like Atlanta Rocks and outdoor crags like Allenbrook. Their knowledgeable staff is available to answer questions about technique, good climbing locations, gear, appropriate clothing and more. For information on their practice sessions and competitions visit their website.
American College of Sports Medicine - www.acsm.org
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - www.cdc.gov
Let's Move - www.letsmove.gov
The National Wildlife Federation - www.nwf.org
U.S. Forest Service - www.fs.fed.us