“A lovely day run rolling through woods and by ruins and creeks, all within a stone's throw of the Atlanta Perimeter!”
— Heather Pruner
These two trail systems are popular with hikers, runners, and mountain bikers alike, and are usually done in a figure 8 pattern if doing both trail loops.
Most of the trails have gentle grades, with just a few more challenging sections. One can get a very substantial run of at least 8 miles or more, depending on how much trail you want to cover. There are several places one can turn back or at least rest as well, so it is a great place for a developing runner to begin testing their endurance. It is also easily accessible from the Metro Atlanta area, just off of Interstate 285. The shady wooded trails take runners by rivers and streams, and even past the impressive ruins of an old Civil War era paper mill.
This is also one of the only singletrack mountain bike trails in any national park.
Features: Fall Colors — River/Creek — Views
Need to Know
The Columns Drive Parking lot can be found by plugging this address into google maps:
152, 168 Columns Dr, Marietta, GA 30067
Bring $3.00 cash exact change for the parking pay station or purchase a year pass from Island Ford Visitor Center for $35.00.
Much of this trail system is shared with mountain bikers, and those sections are clearly marked on all the trail map signs posts. If you are running, note that on the Columns Drive and Sope Creek
Loops, there are signs that denote which way mountain bikers should go, depending on the day (one direction on Sun, Mon, Wed, and Fri, and the other way on Tues, Thurs, and Sat). Runners should try to go the opposite way of bikers, (this description is based on a Wednesday run) but always assume that bikes could come from either direction and be alert and ready. Bikes technically yield to runners, but stepping aside to let them pass is always a good idea and will be much appreciated.
Start at CS 10 near the restrooms at the parking lot. After a few minutes or less on the wide gravel fitness path, take CS 11 on the right to enter the wooded trail, and then a left at CS 12. Keep in mind you are now sharing the trail with mountain bikers. Stay left at CS 13 and take a right at CS 16. You'll be back on the fitness trail for a bit before taking a right again at CS 17 just before the bridge. There will be a stream on the left for a while before CS 15. Keep following the shared trail to CS 2 along the outer loop. Stay straight to go to CS 1 and take a left, heading north, which begins the connector trail up to the Sope Creek
Follow the connector trail to SC 24 and stay right. This starts a counterclockwise loop, making a figure 8 with the Columns Drive section. Stay straight at SC 25 and SC 9 to stay on the outer loop. The section between SC 9 and SC 8 follows along the top of an elevation ridge with Sope Creek
below on the right. Be careful to watch out and listen for mountain bikers here, as this is a narrow section with blind turns and a drop-off on one side.
At SC 8, take a right onto the hiker-only section, and another right at SC 7. The elevation descends again for a while to a creek crossing with some large rock formations. The creek bed is often nearly dry and is an easy crossing. Shortly after this, take a left at SC 6 and then keep right at the fork to switchback up another ridge. You'll come to what looks like another intersection where you'll get your first glimpse of the paper mill ruins and the road beyond on the right. Keep left here to follow the main trail (no marker here). At SC 26, then take a right and go through SC 27 for a side trip to see the paper mill ruins, a beautiful photo opt and exploration area.
Go back to SC 27 and take a hard right to go over the bridge on Paper Mill Rd. There is a small gravel area and a gate with a stop sign on it. Going around this on the right, you'll find signpost SC 28. This begins an out-and-back section (about 0.25 miles each way) which follows the river. About half of this section can be quite overgrown and tight, so only crash through here if you are feeling adventurous and are wearing long pants. If you do, you'll be rewarded by the stone wall ruins of the other part of the paper mill. The trail actually runs on top of some of the wall sections in this segment. As of July 2016, there is no marker map for SC 29, but just turn around when a smaller creek makes the trail dead-end as it merges with the Chattahoochee. Go back the way you came to continue the loop: over the bridge, right at 27, straight at 26, and arrive at SC 4.
Make a right at SC 4 and bear left at SC 3. If you need to replenish water, you can go right/straight at SC 3 to the parking lot off of Paper Mill Road, then meet back up with SC 2. Take a left at SC 2 (or straight if coming from the parking lot) to SC 15. Take a right at SC 15 and Sibely Pond will be on your left until you reach SC 17. Keep right here (NOT crossing the wooden footbridge) to head to SC 18. Take a left at SC 18 and then a right at SC 19. This rejoins you with the shared running/mountain bike trail. There is a false trail off to the right (as of July 2016) which will appear after SC 19, but stay left/straight. It has an “Area Closed” sign. Continue to follow this section as it winds back to SC 24, where you started this loop. Take a right here to follow the connector trail back to CS 1.
At CS 1, take a left to finish the other side of your original loop down in a clockwise direction. Go straight through CS 4 and hard right at CS 5. For about a mile, you'll have no intersections. Just continue following the winding trail as it gently roller-coasters through the woods. When you arrive at CS 12, take a left and another left at CS 11 to take the fitness path back to the parking lot. Now do a happy dance; you just enjoyed about 8 miles on a lovely trail system just barely outside the Atlanta Perimeter.
History & Background
gets its name from a Cherokee Indian known by many as "Old Sope" who lived near the river in this area and befriended many of the European settlers.
The mill accessible from the Sope Creek
trails produced mostly linen writing paper and newsprint, starting in 1855. Because it manufactured the cartridge paper for Rebel guns, it was a high-profile target in the Civil War and was burned down in 1864 by Sherman's cavalry. It was rebuilt once more after the Civil War, but damaged in another fire in 1870.