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Running Trail Spotlight: Rockdale River Trail

Over the hills and through the woods at Panola Mountain

If you want to get technical, southeastern DeKalb’s Arabia Mountain Trail system—fifteen-plus paved miles winding through two nature preserves between Lithonia and Stockbridge—changes names at the county line. The Rockdale River Trail continues along the South River for five miles and, by next summer, will reach Conyers’ Monastery of the Holy Spirit—where, if you want to get spiritual, you can pray with Trappist monks and buy a bonsai tree.

Last weekend my sister and I checked out a new trail segment (opened in February), lured by a description on the PATH Foundation website: “The portion of this trail that will get even the most avid hill climber’s attention occurs just east of the Alexander Lake Trailhead in Panola Mountain State Park. Expect almost a mile climb as you leave the trailhead before the descent begins into a thickly forested valley, accented by a serpentine bridge high above a trickling creek.”

Location: We exited I-20 at Evans Mill Road and drove about four miles down Klondike Road, by which point this city girl was already hearing banjo music. Fortunately we parked next to a dozen others at pretty Alexander Lake, where there’s a $5 fee and a bathroom.

Distance: From the lake the trail runs four miles to the southeast to South Rockdale Community Park on Fairview Road. Eventually it will extend another few miles to the monastery. I wish I could say my sister and I made it to the end, or that we ran the whole time.

Good for: Hill training! As advertised, the trail led us up (and up) for nearly a mile. Then we went down for a while. Then we did it in reverse on the way back.

Crowd factor: Scant, but not remote. On a hot Saturday morning we encountered maybe a half-dozen joggers and cyclists.

Best feature: The shaded portion along the South River feels like a secret, serene version of the Chattahoochee's Cochran Shoals trail. (Tip: If you want to bypass the hills and the $5 fee, park at the trailhead at Daniels Bridge Road.) At one point this city girl heard a distant fluting sound. “Phone?” I asked. “Birds,” my sister replied.