Hike the ultra-scenic Sweetwater Creek Red Trail to a historic Civil War mill on a rushing, whitewater-filled creek at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Atlanta.
The Red Trail is one of the most popular trails at Sweetwater Creek State Park, a rolling, scenic swath of whitewater and hardwood forest near Atlanta. The trail explores the banks of a rushing, whitewater-filled creek, hikes to the ruins of a Civil War-era mill, and explores the boulder-filled sandy shores of Sweetwater Creek, scrambling over high rock outcrops to beautiful, elevated down-creek views.
Sweetwater Creek’s Red Trail is a moderately strenuous two-mile adventure with abundant natural beauty. Looking for an outdoor adventure with all of the beauty of the North Georgia mountains, but without the drive? This is easily one of the best, most scenic hiking trails in the Atlanta area. (And for more adventure at this ultra-scenic state park, check out more of our favorite Sweetwater Creek hiking and running trails.)
Sweetwater Creek Red Trail: the hike
The trail departs the trailhead near the park’s modern, LEED-certified interpretive center (view maps and driving directions), descending through a fern-filled, young deciduous forest. After meandering through broad switchbacks, the trail reaches the creek’s banks at .2 mile, and turns right to follow the Red Trail downstream. Regularly-spaced red trail blazes mark the path, tracing the creek’s broad, slow flow on the left.
The trail reaches the ruins of the New Manchester Mill at a half mile. The mill’s red brick towers more than four stories into the sky, a shell of the former building that was destroyed by Union troops during the Civil War. (Look familiar? The mill was more recently a filming location for The Hunger Games.)
The trail descends wooden stairs and terraces to the right of the ruins, reaching the sandy shores of Sweetwater Creek. The hike departs the ruins, venturing south and following Sweetwater Creek downstream. The trail is sandy, traversing the creek’s floodplain of the increasingly more turbulent creek. The trail explores broad sections of forest bordering Sweetwater Creek, punctuated by outcrops of large boulders that rise sharply from the creek’s sandy shore and floodplain.
The terrain becomes increasingly rocky as the trail continues its southerly journey. The route scrambles over large boulders and climbs over rock outcrops, making sections of the path moderately challenging and steep. The Sweetwater Creek Red Trail crosses a small bridge before climbing a large wooden staircase to an overlook at .75 mile, catching views of the tumbling, rushing, falling Sweetwater Creek valley below.
The trail climbs a second overlook at 1.15 miles, grabbing expansive views of the whitewater and rapid-filled creek below. The creek churns and falls in elongated waterfalls and creates ribbons of white turbulence over its boulder-filled, rocky bed.
The overlook marks the Red Trail’s end. It’s a great place to grab a mid-hike snack with a gorgeous view. Departing the overlook, the hike turns to retrace its outbound path in reverse, passing the New Manchester ruins and reaching the park’s visitor center at 2.3 miles, finishing the adventure.
Note: slippery rocks and fast moving water can be extremely dangerous! Please don’t climb, stand on, swim near, or jump from any waterfall.
More adventures at Sweetwater Creek
Explore the park’s wildlife-filled, grassy lake shore by kayak or canoe. Paddle the glassy waters of the park’s reservoir lake by stand-up paddleboard. Camp in the park’s brand new campground, or overnight in style in Sweetwater Creek’s new yurt village. Find more ideas for adventure in our Sweetwater Creek State Park destination guide.
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33.752517, -84.628050 // N33 45.151 W84 37.683