Stone Mountain Trail: hiking the Walk-Up & Cherokee Trails
Hike Stone Mountain's Walk-Up and Cherokee Trails, climbing to exceptional views from the mountain's summit before looping the mountain's lake on a scenic 6.8 mile adventure.
Minutes east of downtown Atlanta, the massive, gray dome of Stone Mountain towers over the city’s gently rolling urban landscape. The mountain rises high from the horizon, visible from much of metro Atlanta.
The mountain is nestled in the 3200-acre Stone Mountain Park, a gated green outdoor playground filled with attractions, campgrounds, glassy lakes and many miles of hiking and running trails. The park blends urban and natural, offering both beautiful swaths of forest and exceptional mountaintop views and a plethora of attractions and amenities.
This ultra-scenic adventure hikes two of the mountain’s most popular trails, the Stone Mountain Walk-Up Trail and the Cherokee Trail, logging nearly 7 miles and bagging some exceptional sights. Combined, the two trails offer sweeping views from the often-busy Stone Mountain summit before dropping looping the mountain on a lesser-traveled loop. You’ll catch views of the mountain’s reflection in a glassy lake, cross an earthen dam, explore a creek-filled forest, and pass a small waterfall. You’ll visit a historic covered bridge, a historic mill, and the stacked stone chimney of a building long gone. And it makes an equally great hike or challenging trail run.
Stone Mountain Trail: the hike
The hike begins on the popular Walk-Up Trail at the base of Stone Mountain (view maps and driving directions), traveling westbound. The trail gains elevation, rising nearly continuously to the mountain’s summit, climbing through swaths of smooth granite and boulder-filled terrain. Wildflowers, pine trees, and grasses grab root in the shallow basins of soil dotting the mountain’s surface.
The hike passes an intersection with the Cherokee Trail at .25 mile, continuing its upward, southeast-bound climb to Stone Mountain’s summit. The trail passes a pavilion at .6 mile. The climb steepens considerably as the trail climbs between two metal handrails at .75 mile, soon catching the first views of the summit.
The trail crests at 1 mile. Spectacular panoramic views stretch in all directions, the Atlanta skyline visible on the far western horizon. Shallow basins, often filled with water after a rain shower, dot the summit’s expansive, rocky surface. Stone Mountain Lake is visible to the east, hugging the base of the enormous, domed mountain.
Though views at the summit are plentiful, crowds of people are often plentiful as well. There’s an alternate route to the top via gondola, and the large interpretive center also houses a snack bar that offers popcorn and a frozen candy bars. (Our by-far favorite times to visit the summit are at sunrise and sunset when the views are simply incredible, and the crowds have usually thinned.)
After soaking in the sublime views, the hike departs the summit, seeking solitude. The hike retraces the Walk-Up Trail, descending the mountain to the Cherokee Trail.
The hike reaches the Cherokee trailhead at 1.85 miles, hanging a left to hike the Cherokee Trail southbound, following its white trail blazes. The trail hugs the mountain’s lower elevations, crossing through sparse pine forest and wide-open, sun-drenched, rocky landscapes peppered with wind-blown wildflowers, flowering trees and grasses. The hike crosses a gravel road at 2 miles, catching another view of the city, before descending into a mossy, creek-filled forest. The trail crosses railroad tracks at 2.25 miles just before passing an old chimney of an abandoned homesite.
The trail crosses a paved road at 2.6 miles before reaching the glassy waters of a small lake, Howell Lake. Just after skirting the lake’s shore, the hike veers left at a fork to continue hiking the Cherokee Trail loop and crosses a small, trickling creek via a wooden bridge. The hike crosses a small creek via stepping stones at 3 miles, just before reaching the shore of Stone Mountain’s Venable Lake.
The lake’s shore offers plentiful views of Stone Mountain’s towering presence, the massive dome reflecting in the lake’s rippling waters. This stretch of the trail is a perfect place to hang a hammock, soak in the views and relax lakeside under the forest’s leafy, shady canopy.
The Cherokee Trail crosses a wooden bridge 3.9 miles, veering northeast to trek across an earthen dam between Venable Lake and Stone Mountain Lake. After crossing the dam, the hike hangs a right, continuing its journey on the Cherokee Trail. The trail skirts the lake’s shore, catching nearly continuous lake views before reaching the park’s historic wooden covered bridge at 4.7 miles.
After passing the covered bridge, the trail hikes a stone path along the lake’s shore before veering westbound to the park’s historic wooden mill.
After passing the historic mill, the trail hikes northbound, following a small stream along the mill’s chase. The trail arcs westbound, crossing a paved road before crossing train tracks at 5.3 miles. The trail follows a gravel road the park’s maintenance facilities at 5.6 miles before darting back into the woods and passing through the park’s often-busy auditorium area.
The trail soon dives back into forest cover, meandering through a young deciduous forest and skirting the mountain’s base. The hike begins an ascent, crossing through a rocky landscape and passing through groves of flowering trees and clusters of wildflowers. The Cherokee Trail intersects the Walk-Up Trail at 6.6 miles. The hike hangs a right, descending on the Walk-Up Trail to the trailhead, and completing the adventure.
(There’s a Stone Mountain in North Carolina, too – located in DuPont State Recreational Forest near Brevard, south of Asheville. It’s a gorgeous hike to a similarly domed summit, but unlike Atlanta’s iconic dome, it’s mostly forested.)