Stone Mountain Combined Loop: Stone Mountain, Georgia

Not for the faint of heart – ascend the largest exposed face of granite in the world, then depart into the solitude of the forest, crossing sparkling rivers and tracking the dome’s face in the reflection of the lakes below it.

Get Ready: Stone Mountain is part of a park offering recreational, historical and entertainment activities in the town of Stone Mountain, GA. Follow signs for the park along U.S. Highway 78 East. Head to the West Gate Entrance – you’ll need to pay $15 at the gate.

Get Set: Take your a right on Robert E. Lee Boulevard and park in the lot behind Confederate Hall.

Go: Follow signs to the Walk-up Trail and begin a mile-long ascent up the rock face. There are a couple tree-shaded areas along the way, but once you get two-thirds of the way to the top, you’re out in the open. Be warned- if it’s a weekend, there will be LOTS of people walking with you. We chose to climb in one foul swoop – and save our rest for the beautiful view at the top. At the summit, there’s a cafe and the terminal for a gondola that some people choose to take. Follow the trail back the way you came, but look for a trailhead, for the Cherokee Trail, about two-thirds down, and take a left along it. Follow the white blazes for a five mile loop that brings you back to the Walk-up Trail to finish out your seven mile jaunt. Along the Cherokee Trail, you’ll cross railroad tracks, streams, and walk along two beautiful lakes. You’ll also pass a Grist Mill and old covered bridge (the trail does NOT cross it). Towards the end, you’ll arrive in a large grassy field that lies beneath the Confederate Memorial Carving, finished in 1972 after decades of work, and rework.

Effort: This hike will take you a couple of hours. We did it on a time limit, so we were booking it. As for intensity, climbing the rock face will certainly take your breath away, but the view of the Atlanta skyline waiting at the top is worth it. The Cherokee Loop has a nice mixture of flats and climbs, and would make for a nice trail run.

Takeaway: I wasn’t a fan of the crowds climbing the mountain, so I’d try and do it during the workweek between 9 a.m and 5 p.m., or early on a weekend day. Naively, before planning the detour on a weekend trip to Atlanta, I wasn’t aware of the ties the park has to Confederate history, which is on full display throughout the popular areas of the grounds, FYI. I’d recommend reading up on the history before going. All in all, the seven mile loop is a refreshing detour within 30 minutes from downtown Atlanta, and climbing the granite can’t be beat.