Sweetwater Creek is a peaceful tract of wilderness only minutes from bustling downtown Atlanta. The most popular trail (red) follows the free-flowing stream to the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a textile mill burned during the Civil War. Beyond the mill, the trail climbs rocky bluffs to provide views of the beautiful mile-long stretch of white-water rapids below. The 215-acre George Sparks Reservoir is popular with anglers and provides a pretty setting for feeding ducks and canoeing. Fishing supplies are available in the parks bait shop, while wildlife and history displays, trail maps, snacks and gift items may be found in the Visitor Center -- the most environmentally responsible building in Georgia (LEED plantinum status).
Hiked the white trail on a rainy afternoon. We started right (counter clockwise). The first half of the trail is pretty uneventful, mostly a wide gravel path with little to see. The second half follows the creek and is a tougher trail with lots of great water views. Total is about 5 miles and was right at the edge of endurance for my 9 and 7 year olds. We will definitely return on a nicer day. Only negative is the visitor's center uses no-water, recycling toilets with a compost under the building, so it smelled like a sewer around the building.
If you do the full Yellow, Red, and White trails, this actually comes out to be about 9 miles.
Started on the Yellow trail (3 miles, 300 ft elevation gain) as a nice warmup to the longer red/white combination. The yellow trail starts to the left and climbs quickly before leveling off with a more gradual return down along a creek back to the starting point. A beautiful bridge over the creek just before the climb makes for great photo ops - otherwise there isn't much to see during the Yellow Trail. Return back to the starting point to hike the red and white trail. The red trail passes the old New Manchester Mill ruins which provides a great background with the rocks and weak rapids in the creek for photos. Pause here to climb out onto the rocks for a snack or to cool off in the water! Return back to the red trail and then link to the white trail for the 5 mile loop. The white trail has some nice views of the creek and a small "canyon" about halfway through the loop, followed by a flat trail along the creek before climbing "jack's hill" back to the top of the ridge. This hill is gradual but long, and will get your legs pumping. Otherwise, the trail is pretty easy.
Be alert as the trail has been eroded away by rainfall leaving lots of exposed roots which can be easy to trip over, along with many rocks and quick steps. At times the trail crosses over other trails, and its not blazed very well so be alert to not lose the trail. Otherwise this is a great way to spend 3-4 hours! Some great views, some elevation, a workout, and a place to cool off in the creek. You'd never know you were so close to Atlanta!