Find a moment of zen at these 5 Atlanta nature preserves

Pockets of wilderness amid the city bustle
Cascade Springs
Cascade Springs Nature Preserve

Photograph by John E. McDonald

Cascade Springs Nature Preserve
In the early 20th century, an entrepreneur named John Zaring built a resort on the healing waters of Cascade Springs in southwest Atlanta. Although it’s no longer there, the springs remain, and visitors to the 135-acre preserve can find the remains of a pump house and a tiny moss-covered stone springhouse. Dip a toe in the waterfalls or hike the meandering hillside trails—plus one of the largest extant old forests inside the city limits. 2852 Cascade Road

Kirkwood Urban Forest Preserve
Not long ago, the Kirkwood Urban Forest Preserve was a kudzu-choked wasteland of debris. But in 2006 the site was turned into a 7.5-acre public conservation park. Strolling through the hardwood forest, spotting red-tailed hawks, or poking around the fruit and nut orchard, you could forget you’re within city limits—if not for the airplanes overhead and the nail-gun thwack from construction nearby. 1807 Dixie Street 

Kittredge Park
It’s only a matter of time before nature lovers take over the network of trails recently built at DeKalb County’s Kittredge Park, near the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff Roads. More than your average park, this 35-acre woodland is hidden beyond the pool, Little League baseball diamonds, and brand-new playground. A short looping trail to the left leads to a picnic area and a meditation-worthy bench under a giant beech. Little painted bird boxes hang in the trees. The trail to the right has a viewing platform for bird watching above a peaceful stream. Go a little farther across the bridge and the trail leads you high into the canopy. At the top, once the site of a private home, is a new gathering of stone benches among azaleas and other flowering bushes and trees. On your way down the switchbacking trail, admire the enormous doubled-over tulip tree. 1520 Kittredge Park Road

Morningside Nature Preserve
The parking lot of the Georgia Power substation on Lenox Road provides an unlikely gateway into one of intown Atlanta’s most beautiful natural areas. Take the steps to a long, shaded boardwalk and hit the trails, which meander among ferns, trillium, and mountain wildflowers. Two highlights of the 37-acre preserve are the wooden suspension bridge over the South Fork of Peachtree Creek, and the bona fide sandy beach below. 2020 Lenox Road

Blue Heron Nature Preserve
Buckhead is better known for shopping and traffic than nature. But just off Roswell Road near Chastain Park, cars unwittingly whiz by a 30-acre sanctuary for urban wildlife, including turtles, red foxes, beavers, and yes, blue herons. Founded in 2000, the preserve stretches along Nancy Creek and includes a community garden, a monarch butterfly meadow, a woodland trail loop, and a pond packed with turtles. 4055 Roswell Road

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This article originally appeared in our June 2015 issue.