Culture

Where to Run When You’re in Atlanta

Heading to the Trials? Don't miss out on these great runs that show off the Big Peach.

Thousands of running fans will be heading to Atlanta for the U.S. Olympic Team Marathon trials this weekend. We suspect more than a handful of you will want to go throw on your shoes and go for a run during your time in the Big Peach! Besides trying to run the sidewalks of the marathon course, where are best, signature spots for running in Atlanta? Here’s a guide:

First, a bit about Atlanta’s geography and layout. Atlanta is a huge and sprawling city, with legendary traffic. Fortunately, most of the Olympic Trials-related events are being held in the Centennial Olympic Park area, which is in the heart of downtown and well served by MARTA, Atlanta’s metro.

Atlanta has three distinct high-rise/ business district areas: Downtown, home to many of the city’s sporting venues and tourist spots; Midtown, just to the north of downtown and where you’ll find the iconic Piedmont Park; and Buckhead, also referred to as uptown, a few miles north of Midtown and known for its upscale malls, restaurants, and leafy residential streets. The major beltway around the city is I-285, also called “The Perimeter.” You’ll hear folks referring to areas of Atlanta located “inside the Perimeter” and “outside the Perimeter.’

For those who don’t want to head too far afield, there’s some decent running in the vicinity of the Olympic Trial events and major downtown hotels.

In the immediate Downtown area, we’ve put together two routes that can be run separately or combined. Our Downtown Atlanta Tour, which incorporates many of the city’s landmarks, including Centennial Olympic Park, The World of Coca-Cola, CNN Center, The Georgia Dome, Aquarium, and some festive, upscale streets. An adjacent route features the streets of the State Capitol, and heads southeast to Historic Grant Park, the beautifully landscaped Oakland Cemetery, and even includes a loop around the track that’s home to the Trials-hosting Atlanta Track Club.

Two of our favorite places to run in Atlanta are located in the Midtown area. The iconic Piedmont Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted’s sons and features 4–5 miles of fairly hilly, paved and gravel running trails, ranging from open meadows to wooded sections. Be sure to do a loop or two around the “Active Oval.” At the southeast end of the park, connect to the Atlanta Beltline Trail, a paved multi-use path that’s one of the better off-road running options in the city.

Piedmont Park run in Atlanta
Piedmont Park, Atlanta / photo: Getty Images

For some history and greenery all in one run, head to the Freedom Park area, location of the Carter Center Presidential Library. The 2.5-mile Freedom Parkway Trail connects Carter Library to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. There’s also a pleasant path lining the Freedom Parkway, connecting Freedom Park to Chandler Park.

In Buckhead, we recommend Chastain Park, which is Atlanta’s third largest park and features marked 3 km and 5 km loop trails. You can combine this with the area’s winding and hilly residential streets, which feature a nice canopy and gawk-worthy homes (note: some streets lack sidewalks or a decent shoulder).

In the eastern part of the city, it’s worth it to take a jaunt around the bucolic campus of Emory University. The leafy, beautifully landscaped campus features impressive buildings, numerous walking paths, and the 185-acre Lullwater Park, which has 2-3 miles of trails around gardens and a small lake.

Outside the Perimeter

For those who have the time and the inclination, there are some worthwhile “destination runs” outside of the Perimeter. Our top recommendation here is to head to Stone Mountain Park. Located 15 miles east of downtown, this park is one of Atlanta’s premier recreational destinations. There’s a 5-mile loop trail around the perimeter of Stone Mountain, and extensive trail running options for all abilities.

Running options multiply outside the perimeter in North Atlanta. There’s an extensive series of trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Cumberland, just east of I-75 and south of I-285. Be sure to check out Cochrane Shoals or one of the Pallisades Trails. For a run incorporating scenery and history, we recommend Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, a 3,000-acre National Park commemorating the Civil War’s Battle of Kennesaw. You’ll find extensive trails, ranging from gentler walking trails to some more challenging, hilly trail running. And for those who want a long, off-road run (up to an ultra-distance), the Silver Comet Trail is a paved multi-use path following an old railroad bed for up to 61 miles from Atlanta’s northern suburb of Smyrna, west to the Alabama border.

Atlanta’s weather in late February is pleasant for running—typically in the high 50s to low 60s. Things should also be starting to green up. Hopefully you’ll have some time to explore the city on a run or two!

Check out GreatRuns’ complete running guide to Atlanta.

 —

Mark Lowenstein is Chief Running Officer at Great Runs, the ultimate guide to the best places to run in cities and destinations worldwide. Contact him at mark.lowenstein@greatruns.com.