Hike the Yellow River Trail’s scenic, forested, riverside banks to a terraced waterfall at Yellow River Park near Stone Mountain.
Set in a beautiful rolling forest bordering a wide, smoothly flowing river, Yellow River Park evokes the feeling of a North Georgia mountain adventure. But the park’s trail complex is tucked in a residential neighborhood in the suburban, strip-mall-filled stretch between Stone Mountain and Snellville, just outside Atlanta’s perimeter highway. It’s a fantastic near-the-city destination for hiking, trail running and mountain biking in a beautiful forested landscape.
This 3.2-mile hike explores the most scenic stretches of the river’s sandy, meandering shores. The unpaved trail hugs the river for most of its length, exploring the park’s southwest riverine banks. And the trail’s elevation runs nearly level on this hike, making the trail equally suitable for trail running.
The park’s forested 566 acres offer over 13 miles of hiking, running, equestrian and mountain biking trails. It’s an impressive trail complex, given its proximity to downtown Atlanta. And there’s more on the way: a huge network of hiking trails on the river’s east side is planned for future development.
Yellow River Park: the hike
The adventure starts at the park’s multi-use trail parking area (view maps and driving directions), venturing south on the paved loop trail before departing the pavement. The trail crosses a small wood bridge, diving under the forest canopy. The hike soon reaches a side trail, following the short spur to a wooden observation deck and catching beautiful elevated views of the river.
Leaving the observation deck, the hike continues its southbound journey. The park’s trail network is vast – and though the trails’ tangled web is often signed, navigation the intersections can be confusing. For simplicity, the outbound, southbound stretch of this hike follows the contours of the river’s banks, veering left at all trail junctions to stay on the path closest to the river.
We recommend tracking this trail via a handheld GPS, like our Garmin Oregon 700, or a GPS smartphone app for the easiest wayfinding. There are many intersecting trails in the network – and many signs simply state the distance to the trailhead. But the signs don’t state which trailhead, and with multiple trailheads and weaving, looping trails, navigation can get tricky without a GPS.
The hike crosses a small stream at .9 miles before reaching the river’s shoals at 1 mile. The river spills sheet-like from the wide, flat rock terracing the riverbed, creating a stairway of shallow waterfalls.
Departing the shoals, the trail continues its southbound hike before looping northwest to follow the Yellow River’s wide meander. The trail leaves the river’s shore at 1.6 miles, trailing northwest.
The hike turns here, doubling back on the riverside trail to retrace its steps to the multi-use trailhead. Opposite of the outbound hike, the return route veers right at all trail junctions to remain on the trail nearest the river. The hike reaches the trailhead at 3.2 miles, finishing the adventure.
A loop hike is possible on the park’s trail network – but even armed with a trail map and Garmin GPS, we found the navigation confusing. A more distinct blazing system for each trail, clearer signage or simply fewer trail intersections would vastly improve this trail network for hikers. So, for simplicity, we almost always hike the riverside trail out and back.
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Free parking is available at the Yellow River Park trailhead.
33.791400, -84.071550 // N33 47.484 W84 04.293