Just Minutes From Downtown Atlanta Is An Underrated State Park With Mesmerizing Trails

With its bustling arts neighborhoods and towering skyscrapers, you might not think of Atlanta, Georgia as an outdoorsy destination. But just 18 miles from the downtown core sits Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs — a beautiful state park that covers a little over 2,500 acres with a 215-acre lake inside. You can camp, fish, visit playgrounds, see the ruins of a mill from a town that no longer exists, and hike along its lovely trails. You can even get married here with park permission. 

This beautiful place has just about everything you could want for an outdoor adventure. There are yurts and campsites if you want to stay overnight, and if you're a "Hunger Games" fan, you may just recognize a certain spot from one of the films. Let's visit Sweetwater Creek State Park, learn about what to do there, and see what trails you can take to really experience this gorgeous area.

All about Sweetwater Creek State Park

Sweetwater Creek State Park has lots of land and water to explore. However, if you know the place, you probably know about the ruins you can see above. This building was once a five-story textile mill that began construction in 1846 and opened in 1849. The mill produced cotton yarn and cloth and, later, linen. The town that once surrounded it, New Manchester, no longer exists. Though it once housed many people who worked in the factory, the Civil War broke out in 1861, and the town was occupied soon after by the Union Cavalry. The mill burned down in 1864, and very few people returned to the area with no place to work. These days, you can hike by it to get a glimpse of its history. You might also remember Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) chatting by these ruins in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I." 

If you're a water sports fan, the lake in the park is a great spot. You can fish here (with the relevant license), and there is even a seasonal bait shop that is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends. You can bring your own boat, or rent (seasonally) kayaks, aquacycles, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards to use on the lake. There is a boat ramp for your use as well. If you're more of a land person, there are picnic shelters, two playgrounds for the kids, and plenty of wildlife to spot while walking.

Hiking and camping at Sweetwater Creek State Park

The park is open from 7 a.m. through dark, and parking is only $5 with a day pass. If you plan to visit more than one park, there are seasonal passes as well that you can get here. If you plan to camp, you only have to pay for parking for one day, even if you stay for several. If you like to camp, this is a great spot with 10 yurts to rent (no dogs in those) and five tent campsites, which you can reserve here. You can even access wifi during your stay at the visitor center and bait shop, so you can get away from it all without actually being that far away.

There are 15 miles of hiking trails at Sweetwater Creek, though some routes are temporarily closed or include detours to allow for renovations. The White Trail is a 5.2-mile loop that takes you past the mill ruins and streams, across ridges, then brings you to Jack's Lake and into the meadows. If you're looking for something a little shorter but still challenging, try the Yellow Trail, which brings you across a wooden footbridge and past a rock overhang that is believed to have sheltered Native Americans in the area for thousands of years. If you have mobility issues, you can still hit some of the trails with an all-terrain wheelchair you can reserve for free.