Last weekend we took a trip to a new location: Sawnee Mountain Preserve in Forsyth County. This area has a visitor’s center and two other parking lots with amenities and playgrounds. There’s plenty of parking and really good signage for (and on) the trails. There isn’t any parking fee and the website looks like it has lots of opportunities for fun and educational activities. Unfortunately there are no dogs allowed on any of the trails, but it’s still a great place for a hike or a challenging trail run.
There are essentially two loops in the Preserve. Check out a map of the trails here. The more northern of the loops is about 3.5 miles and leads up to the top of the mountain to a natural rock feature called the Indian Seats. From here you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.
The southern loop is about 5.5 miles, depending on which trails you actually take. This section of the preserve has more climbs (both gentle and severe) and the trails have a bit more loose rock and uneven terrain. If you run clockwise, good luck with the connector part of the Mountain Trail that has a consistent 15-16% grade, or if you run counter-clockwise there’s a section with a 28% grade on the Mountain Trail. TrailRunProject ranks both the northern and southern loops at intermediate running trails, so we knew what we were getting into.
The trails were challenging, but the views and terrain made our 9.5 mile trek absolutely wonderful. Compared to many of the forested trails we normally run, Sawnee has more rock formations, more open tree canopies (especially towards the top of the Indian Seats trail), and bright green palmettos right near the trail to brighten the winter scenery. It was lovely! Highly recommend!
We went up to Red Top Mountain Saturday morning for a nice long run. I always love driving up 75 and seeing the fog from Lake Allatoona as a nice cool welcome for a morning run. We planned to arrive and start running by 8am, as the park gets crowded on nice weekends. We paid the $5 parking fee and used the open and clean restrooms at the Visitor Center on the main road. There is a park office and huge parking lot further toward the lake that connects to the trail system there as well in case there’s no parking at the Visitor Center.
The trails here are well maintained and have a soft padding of pine needles on them at this point in the year. The views of the lake are lovely and there’s not a lot of underbrush, so the views through the valleys of trees are also beautiful (even in the winter). Most of the trails are wide enough for two people to run side by side.
We ran on the Homestead Trail which looks a bit like a lollipop. The non-loop part starts at the Visitor Center which is why we parked here instead of at the park office. We ran the loop part of the trail twice in a counter-clockwise direction and then headed back to the parking lot to round out our 8 mile run. Both directions of the loop are equally hilly, but the counter-clockwise direction gives some time to adjust before the first climb. That being said, the loop part of the trail is rather hilly. There aren’t many long climbs, but there also aren’t many flat sections. No chance of getting bored here.
By 9 am we were starting to see increased traffic on the trails and by 9:30 am we had our masks out to cover up as we were passing people frequently. Again the trails are wide, but better safe than sorry!
It was a lovely morning and well worth the longer drive, although I would recommend checking for highway projects before leaving. There has been a lot of construction on 75 recently (like the last 5 years!) and we ended up taking backroads home because there was a 20 min delay on 75 south. Next time we’ll make sure to bring snacks for immediately after our run in case we run into delays again.
It was our first event yesterday and everything went swimmingly! We held our 5K at Cochran Shoals, part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area. It is a marked 5K course, really flat (remarkably so for Atlanta), with great gravel footing. We started at 8 AM and the parking lot was already crowded. Luckily the trail is really wide all the way throughout and it never felt crowded while running.
It was great seeing how many of our friends decided to show up and spend some time outdoors. Some came out to race, others to test themselves or set PRs, and still others came to enjoy the morning and get some exercise. We had about 14 people show up. It was lovely!
My husband and I decided to make things a bit more interesting. We both set what we figured were realistic goals for the course (both having run here numerous times before) and then I got a time handicap. I started with everyone else and my husband waited several minutes to start. The idea was that if we were both accurate with our estimates, then we would meet at the finish line. It was fun to have someone chasing me and my husband enjoyed having someone to chase. Turns out that my time estimate was better than his because he crushed his estimate by almost a minute and passed me with about 0.1 miles to the finish. I think we will probably try this again for the 10K in a month, but it’ll be a bit harder to get a good estimate because of hilly and less familiar courses. My guess is that it’ll be fun regardless!
While we waited for everyone to finish, I was pleasantly reminded about why I originally decided to organize this endeavor. It was really nice to see friends that I hadn’t seen in months except over a Zoom screen. We stood around chatting in a nice big circle with our masks on, just enjoying each others’ company. At that point it didn’t matter how fast we ran, just being with each other was more than worth the effort of organizing. Looking forward to next time!