Trail running isn’t for everyone. I’m not really sure why it isn’t, but it seems some people prefer the streets. There are so many reasons why I trail run that, really, I could write an entire article just on that. My original motivation for running in the woods was to prevent my bad knees from becoming much worse. But then, once I was out in the woods, I found so many more reasons to do it. I found there was usually better shade there, which is important for people like me who sweat off all of their sunscreen. I have yet to come across any automobile exhaust in the forest. And even though it can be messy when it’s been raining, I like coming home muddy: it makes me feel like I really have lived. I’ve found that my endorphin high from running is boosted just a little bit more from being in the woods. Or maybe it’s a spiritual experience. Who knows?
Many friends of mine run on the streets. They log massive amounts of miles there and it seems to work for them. But for all of you out there who prefer the woods, here’s my running list of local trails that will hopefully keep you from getting knee replacements when your kids are finally grown up. My focus here is not for the more advanced trail runners out there. Rather, it’s for people like me who just want to get out for a nice run without having to drive for an hour, and who may need to bring along a little one in a jogging stroller. Given that trails in the forest tend to be more isolated than city streets, please always be careful when you are out trail running. Always stay alert, and if your instincts tell you to leave, follow them.
The River (Cochran Shoals)
Jogging stroller: Yes
Length: 3.3 mi (5k)
Distance from Smyrna Community Center: 5.4 mi
This is the easiest of the trails I’ll mention in this article. It is wide, very smooth (light gravel) and flat, aside from one small hill, and is perfect for any runner pushing a jogging stroller. Over the last couple of years I’ve taken my daughter in her Bob stroller to this trail. It’s a popular trail, especially on weekends and evenings. It is tree-lined, and shade is generally available. Most of the trail goes along the Chattahoochee River, and the trail is so open and flat that I often look at the river while I run. Usually I see a Great Blue Heron wading in the water, and I often see beavers swimming. My daughter isn’t a big fan of her stroller, so I bribe her by telling her that when we are finished with the run I will show her the beaver dam – that’s a little over a quarter mile into the run – and I will take her down the boardwalk into a wetland area just off of the main trail. The main loop, in the shape of a backwards P, is a 5k all together, with mile markers every quarter mile. I also like this trail because I see everyone on it: walkers, kids with dogs, and serious runners. This trail tends to have a lot of people on it. There is a ranger that comes to the parking lot when it starts to get dark. Parking is $3 or included with a Chattahoochee National Recreational Area annual park pass ($25). The closest lot is located on the west side of the Chattahoochee River off of Interstate North Parkway in Marietta, just east of Powers Ferry Road beside I-285.
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The Stream (Heritage Park)
Jogging Stroller: No
Length: 3.4 mi
Distance from Smyrna Community Center: 4.7 mi
Located on the corner of Fontaine and Nickajack roads in Mableton, Heritage Park is a 1.7 mile trail that connects with the Silver Comet trail. The Heritage Park trail is a dirt trail with a lot of roots and small rocks, so it’s almost impossible to run it with a jogging stroller. Part of the trail is boardwalk going over wetlands, and there are a few small bridges to cross that involve a small step. I love this trail, though, because a good portion of it is shaded, it isn’t very hilly, and it is sort of remote and woodsy. Most of the trail follows a lovely stream called Nickajack Creek, and there are a few places where you can go stretch down by the water. I often do not see another person on this trail, and have seen evidence of car break-ins in the parking lot, so it’s wise to keep your valuables out of sight. The Silver Comet trail, to which it connects at the far end, is a paved trail. If you don’t mind about .2 miles of pavement, you can park at the Silver Comet parking area off of Concord Road just east of the Covered Bridge area. This parking area is 3.7 miles from the Smyrna Community Center.
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The Monument Trail (Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park)
Jogging Stroller: For most of the trail
Length: ~3 mi
Distance from Smyrna Community Center: 8.4 mi
Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park has several trails that link up with one another, offering you a 16.2 mile trail run. If you are a major trail runner looking for a serious workout, this is the place for you. I tend to limit my runs here to the southern-most part of the park. The entrance to this site is about a ten minute drive from my house on the Smyrna-Mableton line. There’s a parking lot along Cheatham Hill Road with a trail leading to a loop. I usually see a lot of people on this trail and in the parking lot, but have never found it to be too crowded. This loop takes you around a beautiful open field and then into woods, has rolling hills throughout, and just near the end comes out at a Civil War monument. Coming down from the monument is a very long, extremely steep hill, followed by two small foot bridges that have small steps on either end. There is also a rather steep incline getting out. If it weren’t for this part of the trail, I would recommend this as a good jogging stroller run. If you have a jogging stroller, you can do the first part of the trail – just turn back when you get to the monument. This will give you a run of probably a couple of miles.
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Sweetwater Creek State Park
Jogging Stroller: No
Length: 5.2 mi
Distance from Smyrna Community Center: 15.5 mi
Sweetwater Creek State Park is kind of a trek from Smyrna, taking at least 20 minutes. I go here when I have lots of time and would like to really get out and run in the woods. There are a few trails in the Park, but the longest one is called the White Trail, which you can take by following the white blazes. This trail has good-sized rolling hills and some rough spots that would make it difficult for a jogging stroller. I walked my daughter in her stroller for part of it to test it out, and I almost had to turn back at one point because the trail was very steep and narrow. Parts of it take you to Sweetwater Creek, which is a beautiful spot worth visiting even if you have no interest in running. This trail goes through a lot of beautiful woods and is probably worth the drive time and the $5 entrance fee. This is a Georgia State Park, so it’s free to visit if you have a State Park pass. The park is usually pretty busy during warm weather, especially on weekends. I have seen park rangers walking down the path cleaning up trash. However, the White Trail does get away from the more popular parts of the park.
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These are just my top four running trails. I am sure there are more in the area that I haven’t discovered yet. I would love to read some comments from you about new trails to try out!