On approach, Georgia's Stone Mountain, with its soaring granite face, looks like it might be a tough climb. But no worries -- no mountaineering gear is required. A short, easily accessible trail leads to the summit of the Peach State's most famous natural landmark. Stone Mountain is contained entirely inside Stone Mountain Park, which serves as a quick and easy outdoor recreation getaway for residents of the Atlanta area and a destination spot for tourists. A vehicle entry fee is charged to drive into the park, but pedestrians and those on bicycles can enter for free.
The Walk-Up Trail
You have only one option for hiking to the top of Stone Mountain: a one-mile walk-up trail. The trail begins behind Confederate Hall at the western base of the mountain. Park at Confederate Hall, cross the railroad tracks and head up the well-worn and well-marked stone pathway. Though easy at the beginning, the path gets much steeper on its final stretch just below the summit; comfortable athletic shoes with rubber soles are recommended. Open from dawn 'til dusk, the walk-up trail is popular with locals as a daily exercise spot, so expect crowds at any time of day, especially before sunset when the after-work crowd descends on the mountain. The payoff for making the trek is a splendorous panoramic view of the Atlanta area.
If you don't want to make the round trip to the summit, you can hike one way. The Summit Skyride aerial tramway carries riders up and down the mountain. The Skyride is wheelchair accessible, as are the viewing platforms at the summit house. One-way fares are available, so you can hike to the top and take the tramway back down, or vice versa. Keep in mind that you'll have to walk 1.1 miles back to your car between the tramway station and Confederate Hall, but, unlike the walk-up trail, the path is mostly flat and well-shaded.
You can also hike all the way around Stone Mountain. The Cherokee Trail circles the base of the mountain on a rewarding five-mile journey. On this lengthier sojourn, you'll traverse woodlands, trek past a shimmering lake and get up-close views of the granite mountain slopes that most visitors to the park never see. The more moderate 1.5-mile Muscogee Trail, as well as shorter nature trail loops, also highlight the plentiful plant life and foliage of the area, such as colorful wildflowers and soaring trees. Stone Mountain Park contains a total of 15 miles of hiking trails.
Stay a While
It's possible to spend an entire vacation inside Stone Mountain Park without leaving its grounds. The park contains two hotel properties, a campground, eateries, shops and multiple amusements and attractions. Some don't-miss offerings beyond the hiking opportunities are the nightly laser light show, a scenic railroad circling the mountain, boat rides on the lake and a snow-tubing run down a slope covered with artificial snow during wintertime. The park is also large enough to contain two 18-hole championship golf courses.