One of the greatest things about the city of Atlanta is its amazing amount of green space, which offers excellent opportunities for recreation and adventure within an hour’s drive of the city limits. With hundreds of city parks, more than 40 state parks and five national parks in North Georgia alone, the American South’s most bustling metropolis also boasts plenty of ecotourism activities ranging from mild to wild. These are just some over the many great family attractions around Atlanta, Georgia.
BIKING THE SILVER COMET TRAIL
Formerly the route of the Silver Comet passenger train, this paved recreational trail extends 61.5 miles from the northwest Atlanta suburb of Smyrna all the way to the Alabama state line. The city’s first rails-to-trails project, the Silver Comet is renowned for its spectacular scenic vistas as it traverses numerous trestles and bridges and offers direct access to Heritage Park, which features more than 14 acres of wetlands and the ruins of Concord Woolen Mills. Don’t have a bike? No problem; just rent one from the Silver Comet Depot.
GO ON A WILDLIFE SAFARI
Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari is a 200-acre drive-through zoo near LaGrange filled with over 700 free-roaming animals from every continent except Antarctica. You can use your own vehicle, rent one of their Zebra Vans or take the seasonally available guided tour bus, and there’s nothing like hand-feeding a slobbering American bison, elk, zebra or giraffe as they greet you along the way. Their Walk-About section features dozens of other exotic animals kept at a safer distance, including Siberian tigers, Bactrian camels and numerous ligers (the species that results from mating a male lion and a female tiger). The park also boasts a Georgia Wildlife Museum featuring wildlife native to the state in a natural setting. Check out Animal Safari for more details about this great family attraction.
MAKE A SPLASH AT LAKE LANIER ISLANDS
In the summertime Lake Lanier Islands transforms into LanierWorld, a family-friendly party broken into three separate sections: Big Beach features a 50-foot Ferris Wheel, Super Slide, floating stage for live entertainment, beach parties every weekend, and fire pits for nighttime bonfires; Family Fun Park features water attractions such as Wild Waves and Raging River, live musical performances, and “Dive-In Movies” on an inflatable screen every Saturday; and Sunset Cove attracts a huge boating crowd, with an ice cream shop for kids, an adults-only beach café, beach volleyball and the Lakeside Links mini-golf course. Kids of all ages have a blast at LanierWorld.
ROLLERBLADING AT PIEDMONT PARK
The 189-acre Piedmont Park is to Atlanta what Central Park is to NYC. A Midtown landmark for 115 years, the park has become a haven for rollerbladers, who find refuge gliding along its main roadway and the 10th Street Meadow Path while simultaneously enjoying some of the city’s best people-watching opportunities. If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent it from Skate Escape, which is located right across from the park at the 12th Street entrance. A family vacation in Atlanta’s mellow “down time” is easily spent at Piedmont Park.
SHOOTING THE HOOCH
Made nationally famous by country singer Alan Jackson, the Chattahoochee River stretches from northeast Georgia down through metro suburbs such as Roswell, and “shooting the ‘hooch” on a raft, tube, canoe or kayak has been a local tradition for decades. Companies such as Chattahoochee Outfitters offer trips ranging from three to 6.5 miles, with shuttle service to return rafters to their cars after the trek is over. It’s an excellent way to laze away a hot summer afternoon, with excellent scenery that’s perfect for waterproof camera buffs. Shoot the Hootch on the Chattahoochee River!
TRAVERSING THE ROPE COURSE AT SKY HIKE
From the ground, this popular attraction at Stone Mountain Park doesn’t seem all that intimidating. But climb the stairs to the third level of this ¼-mile rope course—where you cross suspended wooden bridges, leap from one thin wooden slat to the next and balance on wiggling tightropes 40 feet above the ground as your hands sweat and legs shake—and you may find yourself questioning the “moderate” adrenaline rating above. Fortunately, there are also 12- and 24-foot-long trails for beginners (or those with a healthy fear of heights). But fear not; this is a great family attraction! Stone Mountain Park really is fun for all ages and activity levels.
WHITEWATER RAFTING ON THE CHATTOOGA RIVER
Designated by Congress as one of America’s “Wild and Scenic” rivers in 1974, the Chattooga River (where much of Deliverance was filmed) offers challenges for rafters of all skill levels. For extreme adventure lovers, there’s Section IV, where Class IV and V rushing whitewater speeds you down the river at a breakneck pace, climaxing with an invigorating plunge down the legendary Five Falls and Soc-em-Dog. For families, there’s Section III, a beginner-friendly float trip with a Class IV ending at Bull’s Sluice. Going with a tour outfitter such as Southeastern Expeditions will ensure maximum safety and enjoyment of your trek.
ZIPLINING IN NORTH GEORGIA
Picture yourself strapped onto a suspended cable high up in a lush forest canopy, soaring among the treetops, tiptoeing across two sky bridges and racing your friends as you zip over rushing river rapids. Inspired by their travels abroad, North Georgia Canopy Tour Owners Kirk and Leah Watkins have recreated the consummate Costa Rican zip line adventure in the foothills of the Appalachians. Zip lining is great fun, especially for those with a taste for soft adventure travel. The pulse-pounding, mile-long zipline course takes you around and across the Ocoee River, providing spectacular views of serene scenery that will leave you breathless and begging for more. North Georgia Canopy Tours makes for a great family travel experience.
If you want to mix in some non-outdoorsy museums and attractions, head to Downtown Atlanta. Surrounding Centennial Olympic Park is the Georgia Aquarium, Children’s Museum of Atlanta, CNN Studios, World of Coca-Cola, SkyView Ferris Wheel, Football Hall of Fame, and The Center for Civil and Human Rights.
And if you are traveling with tweens and teens, don’t miss Six Flags Over Georgia, located just outside the city limits. Visit Hurricane Harbor in the summer, Fall is Fright Fest, and we love the holiday lights during Holiday in the Park. And if you are traveling with toddlers, here are 52 of our favorite things to do with the little ones.
A great place to grab a bite is Atlantic Station. There is shopping here, easy parking, and plenty of choices for picky eaters.
DRIVABLE WEEKEND GETAWAYS
Atlanta is a great launch point for amazing drivable weekend getaways too. Within five hours you can be on the Georgia Coast, in the North Georgia mountains, or on the beaches of Florida. Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International airport is consistently one of the busiest, making pretty much anywhere from the Caribbean to the ski slopes out west, to Europe easily accessible.
Bret Love is the Co-Founder/Editor-In-Chief of Green Global Travel, a web-based magazine devoted to ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation and sustainable living. You can also follow him via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.