Oakland Cemetery: running in Atlanta’s historic garden cemetery
Run or walk Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery for a photo-worthy, historic urban adventure with beautiful skyline views.
Historic Oakland Cemetery blankets a 48-acre expanse of planted gardens, shady pathways and gently rolling trails, nestled between Atlanta’s charming Grant Park and Cabbagetown neighborhoods. It offers visitors a glimpse of Atlanta’s historic southern charm, beautiful architecture, museum-worthy statuary and an enormous diversity of plants and trees staged in a Victorian-era garden cemetery.
Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery: the run
Beauty. Tranquility. History. Architecture. Oakland is a cemetery, but so much more: it’s a museum of Atlanta’s past, it’s Atlanta’s third-largest green space, and it’s a gorgeous garden. And it’s free. We left wondering why we hadn’t visited before – and we bet you will, too.
Miles of pathways and trails wind through historical terraced walls shaded by over a thousand trees, some nearly 200 years old. Some stretch tall into the sky, their canopy broad and shady, while some drape toward the ground, their leafy branches blowing like mourning shawls in a breeze. The trails are a fantastic destination for a walk or run in any season: it’s open (and beautiful) year-round. But the cemetery especially visit-worthy in springtime, when blooms erupt throughout the gardens, a beautiful contrast to a graveyard’s ordinarily solemn tone.
Founded in 1850 as the Atlanta Cemetery, the grounds were later renamed for an abundance of oak trees across the acreage. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, and a vibrant gathering place for everything from picnics to guided tours, festivals and events, and even a cemetery race, the Run Like Hell 5k.
This place’s visual beauty is full of contrast – between old and new, life and death, natural and architectural, simple and opulent. Architecturally-notable, extravagant and ornate crypts, statues and monuments are as numerous as simple, weather-worn grave markers on the grounds. Potter’s field, on the cemetery’s eastern edge, is home to 7500 unmarked graves in a gently-sloped grass-covered field. And the towering, modern Atlanta skyline towers on the near horizon, a modern backdrop to the cemetery’s history.
Thousands of Confederate soldiers (and a handful of Union) are interred at Oakland Cemetery, their straightforward markers arranged in military-like, geometric rows.
And in the Confederate memorial grounds, the Lion of Atlanta, an 1894 monument to 3,000 unknown Confederate soldiers on these grounds, depicts the lion of courage mortally wounded by a spear over the battle flag of the Confederacy. Nearby, a towering obelisk pierces the sky, a monument to Confederate soldiers. When it was built, the obelisk was, incredibly, the tallest structure in Atlanta.
And the horticultural beauty of Oakland Cemetery is just stunning. Volunteers maintain the gardens, and the cemetery’s manicured beauty is a testament to their work and dedication. As it once was in the Victorian era, the cemetery is now again a place for gardening, gathering, reflection, and community – and a beautiful, green backdrop for a great run, walk or a relaxing day in the outdoors. It’s a must-see for visitors and Atlanta residents alike, and worthy of a visit in every season.
Oakland Cemetery Running Trail Map, Directions & Details
Free, but limited, parking is available in a small, unpaved Oakland Cemetery lot on Oakland Avenue. On fair-weather weekends, expect to street park in the surrounding neighborhoods, or take public transportation.
33.748071, -84.375153 // N33 44.884 W84 22.509