|Articles & Tips > Off The Beaten Path:
the hills of Atlanta's Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Atlanta is a city that lives for its spring and fall seasons. With
summers that often swelter in the 90s for weeks on end and winters
punctuated by only the occasional snow flurry, the area's "in between"
seasons are the time in which it truly comes alive for outdoor
activities of every stripe, especially running.
So on an early Sunday afternoon in late October last year, as the
leaves all around had begun to turn brilliant shades of orange, yellow
and red, the 5.4-mile Pigeon Hill trail at Kennesaw Mountain National
Battlefield Park was calling my name. Though short trail runs can be
found tucked into parks and natural areas throughout the city, the
Kennesaw park's are perhaps the area's crown jewel both for their
length and size.
Named for the Civil War battle that stalled Union general William
Tecumseh Sherman's march to Atlanta for two weeks in 1864, the park
carves nearly 3,000 acres of rolling hills and greenspace from the
metropolis that is quickly becoming modern-day Atlanta, and is a
favorite of nearby residents for both leisurely walks and moderately
challenging trail runs.
Thanks largely to the battle lines drawn between Confederate and Union
troops almost a century and a half ago, the park's four main trails -
the Kennesaw Mountain top (two miles), Pigeon Hill (5.4 miles),
Cheatham Hill (10.2 miles), and Kolb's Farm (16.2 miles) trails -
feature climbs and descents that are never too difficult yet never too
easy for both novice and experienced runners.
On my weekend run along the Pigeon Hill trail, I had plenty of company.
Saturdays and Sundays see the bulk of the traffic along the park's
trails, everyone from serious runners dressed out in athletic gear to
people on leisurely strolls through the woods. By turns gravelly, rocky
and sandy with quick uphills and downhills, the Pigeon Hill trail
starts off as a narrow single-track through the forest along the base
of Kennesaw Mountain and then, about a mile later, widens into an
avenue that can accommodate hikers, runners and horseback riders.
As it winds around the mountain, the trail is covered by a canopy of
trees that let only shafts of sunlight reach the ground below and make
for a run that at least feels cooler than one you might take in the
city. The two-lane Burnt Hickory Road, about 2.5 miles into the trail,
is the signal that it's time to either continue on toward Cheatham Hill
- a favorite trail of local marathoners-in-training - or to turn around
and head back to the visitor center.
When you're on the trail, it can be easy to miss the park's place in
the region's history. The half-way points on the Cheatham Hill and
Kolb's Farm trails offer a chance to step back in time, however, with
monuments and a restored 1836-era log cabin that tell the story of the
pivotal role the battle at Kennesaw Mountain played in ending both the
war and the Confederacy.
While you're at the park, make sure to take in either a run up the
paved road (for the tour buses that make regular trips up the mountain)
or a walk up the backwoods trail to the top of the mountain. There
you'll find panoramic views of both Atlanta and the foothills of the
Appalachians in the surrounding north Georgia area, which are always
clearest on spring and fall days.
If you have time enough to take in other runs, you'll find that
Kennesaw Mountain is hardly the only worthwhile trail run in the area.
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offers some of the
best light, easy trail running anywhere in the city, with 50 miles of
trails scattered among nine parks along the Chattahoochee River.
In most of the Chattahoochee parks, the trails are wide and soft, with
dirt and gravel surfaces that make for low-impact running along the
tree-lined river. The trails do narrow and become more difficult the
further you get away from the visitor centers, and also include river
overlooks for stopping to watch the kayakers and rafters drifting by.
The fact that they live in a city of about four million people doesn't
seem to bother the wildlife along the Chattahoochee trails, where
you're likely to see river otters, beavers, blue herons, turtles and
many other animals in the wetlands along the river. The parks' variety
of wildflowers is also nearly limitless, blooming in their peak months
from March through October.
So whether you're up for a rugged trail run filled with chest-pumping
hills or an afternoon with a gentler-paced amble through a park, you'll
find what you're looking for when you're in Atlanta for a visit. Just
make sure to pay attention to the thermometer when you go.
Ever run at Kennesaw Mountain, or know of a great off-the-beaten-path
place to run in your local area? Share your opinions -- and your