I was talking with a friend earlier this week about how to enjoy the outdoors in this time of COVID. He likes to hike, you see, but he was concerned about constantly passing close to other hikers on narrow trails.
“I wish there were some trails wide enough for social distancing,” he said. “I don’t mind stepping off the trail to let others go by, but that does kind of break the rhythm of the hike. Know what I mean?”
I did know what he means. I’ve done that very thing many times lately, stepping off a trail and into the woods to give other hikers plenty of room. I don’t mind doing that. It’s a small thing that I can do to help all of us safety enjoy some hiking.
Still, it would be nice to be able to hike without having to constantly stop.
“Do you know any places near here where that’s not a problem?” my friend asked.
Indeed, I do. Three come to mind, and I think you’ll find that each of them offers plenty of room for hiking in a social-distance-aware kind of way.
The Big Creek Greenway
The Big Creek Greenway (or just “the greenway,” as it’s usually called) offers miles of hiking on a 12-foot-wide paved trail (or, in some areas, a boardwalk) that more or less follows Big Creek. Right here in the Alpharetta area, for example, you’ll find about 8 miles of trail (with numerous access points). There’s more trail up in Forsyth County too, and long-range plans call for linking the segments together. When it happens, that will be a great trail!
I’ve found a generally high level of COVID-aware courtesy among most of the hikers and bike riders whom I’ve encountered on the greenway. Folks seem to be good at moving to the side as they pass one another, opening up some social distance to help keep others safe and well.
Parking at the designated access points is free.
Noonday Creek Trail
Here’s another neat greenway-style trail with plenty of width for social distancing. Known as the Noonday Creek Trail, it runs from Highway 92 near I-575 all the way to Woodstock, following Noonday Creek for most of the way. Except for some elevation change on the Woodstock end, the trail is remarkably level with very little elevation change.
One of the highlights of this trail is the easy access it provides to “Woofstock,” an epic dog park that your four-footed hiking companion is sure to love. Woofstock is accessible via a short (and wide) side trail leading from the main greenway. A soaring bridge carries you and your pet over Noonday Creek; the dog park is just on the other side.
The only problem with this trail is that there is no trail parking on the south end of the trail at Highway 92. However, there’s free parking at Woofstock. That’s one of my favorite starting points, as it makes it easy to hike the rest of the trail. Ellie, the resident Miniature Schnauser, is particularly fond of this one!
The loop at Cochran Shoals
A third great wide-trail possibility is the graveled “fitness loop” trail at Cochran Shoals on the Chattahoochee River, just upriver from I-285. This trail is a centerpiece of the Cochran Shoals Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Many access it from a parking area off Interstate North Parkway; from there, a wide and graveled trail leads to the loop. Total in-and-out distance is about 3 miles. You can also directly access the loop directly from the second access point, a parking area at the end of Columns Drive.
The loop itself is long and narrow with a cut-through trail near its downriver end. One side of the loop follows the Chattahoochee; the other roughly parallels the toe of a ridge. In between, there is a wetlands area that’s a great place for seeing wildlife, particularly birds and especially if you go early in the day.
That wetland, by the way, was once the home of the legendary Chattahoochee alligator. Some years ago, hikers began reporting sightings of a gator in area, apparently one which someone had released at some point in the past. The alligator has since been captured and relocated, but for a while it was major draw in its own right as folks would hike the loop just in hopes of spotting it!
Note that there is a charge to park in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.