Choose your Adventure
From sleeping in treetops to swimming with sharks to climbing tall buildings, here are 26 experiences guaranteed to thrill.
with contributions from Grace Huseth, Betsy Riley, Mara Shalhoup, and Myrydd Wells
Illustrations by Koko Lee
Up the mountain
Scale the boulders of Rocktown
South of Lookout Mountain in northwest Georgia is Pigeon Mountain, one of the Southeast’s top bouldering destinations. Nearby “Rocktown” consists of several acres where more than 500 sandstone formations—sharply lined and strikingly shaped (totems, UFOs, oversized raisins)—have stood for millennia. Some, like the Orb, are famous; plenty are small enough for a novice to scramble up. It’s easy to become lost among the maze-like rocks, so pick a cool, clear-weather day when you’re likely to encounter friendly fellow climbers. Access requires a Georgia fishing or hunting license. $15 for annual license, goo.gl/Qv27Nx
Earn your supper at the Len Foote Hike Inn
Who knew a place with bunk beds and communal bathhouses could command a months-long waiting list for a Saturday reservation? But the Hike Inn, as its name implies, is accessible only by foot (five miles from Amicalola Falls) and is an inspiring marriage of back-to-nature simplicity and forward-thinking sustainability. The LEED-certified facility (one of Georgia’s first, in 2002) aims to produce minimal waste with the help of composting toilets, worm beds, and strong advice to clean your plate. The inn does provide warm showers and hot meals. However, cellphones are off limits, compelling you to unwind with board games or watch the sun sink or rise from an Adirondack chair. $180 for double occupancy, hike-inn.com
Step onto the Appalachian Trail
At Mountain Crossings, a historic outfitter and hostel at Neel Gap in Blairsville, you can set foot on the Appalachian Trail in a small breezeway, the only part of the 2,200-mile footpath that passes under a roof. For a real taste, start at the nearby Byron Reece trail, which falls in with the AT on a 4.3-mile round-trip trek to the summit of Blood Mountain. The rocky crest is Georgia’s highest point on the trail, so bring water and trusty shoes for a 1,400-foot elevation gain and astonishing views. mountaincrossings.com
Brasstown Bald: See Four States
At 4,800 feet above sea level, Brasstown Bald offers a 360-degree view of four states. Hike the steep but paved half-mile trail to the summit, or just check out the view on live webcams. fs.usda.gov/goto/conf/brasstown-bald [NOTE: Shuttle and visitors center are currently closed due to storm damage.]
Meet the Adventurers
Warren, 71, is a champion canoer and archer, pianist, and historian. But his love of the forest supersedes everything. His Dahlonega wilderness school, Medicine Bow, teaches Native American traditions and survival skills, including a popular class on edible plants. His books include a series aimed at teaching children about nature, Secrets of the Forest, as well as a memoir about his two years living in a tepee after a fire burned down his home.
Q: What plants in North Georgia make the best eating?
A: One of the best shoots emerging in spring is smilax. Its new growth is delicious raw or cooked. And the cores of cattail shoots are delicious, as is its pollen. In summer, we have wonderful fruits: mulberry, blueberry, blackberry, serviceberry, persimmon, pawpaw. Proper harvest and preparation means the difference between feast or fiasco. For example, an unripe mulberry is toxic. An unripe mayapple can be fatal.
Q: You teach a class on stalking. How does one stalk?
A: Slow, slow movement is virtually invisible in peripheral vision; picture tai chi but slowed down tremendously. That is the whole discipline of stalking. When you go out and have that experience, even if you see nothing dramatic—maybe you see a chipmunk, some squirrels, some birds—you go somewhere you’ve never been before. You are a part of it.
Q: How was living in a tepee?
A: I see this so often with my students—they don’t really know why they come to certain classes, and what I finally get out of them is they have a craving to take another step of intimacy with the forest. That’s what tepee life was for me. The fire was everything—that was the center of my life.
Q: I expect you have thoughts on global warming.
A: Conservation is a big agenda in my work. The end goal is to help people return to a place that we have lost as a culture, which is a real, conscious connection to the resources we use. When we touch a piece of paper in Atlanta magazine, that’s the flesh of a tree we’re touching.
Down the road
Burn rubber at the Porsche Experience Center
Sure, a 443-horsepower Porsche 911 Carrera S can go from zero to 60 in just over three seconds, but what’s even more amazing is how quickly it brakes. Ask anyone who’s ridden around Hapeville’s Porsche 1.6-mile test track, and they’ll rave about how deftly the cars stop, corner, and spin. The rush is addictive, so be thankful you can taste it with $575 for a 90-minute test drive instead of paying the Carrera S’s six-figure price tag. Less daring or younger drivers can ride shotgun with an instructor (from $65) or take the wheel in a simulator lab. Porsche’s North American headquarters, built in 2015, also offers a driving school (including an off-road course), a museum, a sleek restaurant, and a boutique hotel. Driving experiences starting from $400 for 1.5 hours, porschedriving.com
Cruise the countryside at Serenbe
This Chattahoochee Hills farm-chic community may not scream “adventure,” but the rolling country roads that surround it—so smooth cyclists call them the “Silk Sheets”—are an agrarian alternative to the tree-shrouded Silver Comet. Garnie Nygren, Serenbe director of operations, suggests this 20-mile loop: Park near the neighborhood’s Selborne Green, ride out Rico Road to Highway 70, then return via Cochran Mill Road to Hutchesons Ferry. Finish with a burger and fries at the Hill. There’s also the Dirty Sheets, a 20-mile gravel loop through bucolic farmland and forest. Peachtree Bikes’s Serenbe outpost can offer route suggestions along with rentals and tune-ups. serenbe.com
Test your mettle with Tough Mudder
Mud runs were introduced about two decades ago, and they’ve already got a federation called the World OCR (obstacle course racing), which is gunning for Olympic representation. The eight- to 10-mile Tough Mudder Classic, a favorite for its phobia-stoking challenges and emphasis on teamwork, has kept things fresh by adding a 5K option and ever-more-twisted obstacles. In addition to climbing up ropes or crawling through pipes, this year’s participants must slither in grime beneath a web of electric wires. Its grueling annual championship, the World’s Toughest Mudder, returns to Fairburn in November. $105 for classic race, toughmudder.com
Okefenokee Swamp: Gaze at the Stars
Enjoy clear night skies at the Southeast’s only “gold-tier” location designated by the International Dark Sky Foundation. Camp or rent a cottage at Stephen C. Foster State Park. gastateparks.org/stephencfoster
Meet the ADVENTURERS
The Marietta resident, age 53, ran her first marathon at age 13 and has run more than 20 100-mile races. She also made the USA Track & Field team five times, was the first woman to break 17 hours in a trail 100-miler, and has completed ultra runs on every continent, including Antarctica.
Q: What compels you to run so far?
A: It’s the challenge of pushing yourself that long and that far and sometimes over difficult terrain. A lot of people do their first ultra, and it’s really exciting, and you’ve accomplished your goal. But I just keep reaching for more.
Q: Any crazy moments on the trail?
A: It was here at Kennesaw Mountain. I went out for a run and was coming downhill and saw a man lying in the woods, and I thought, “What is he doing?” And as I got close, I could tell he was deceased [from a heart attack]. Also, I’ve been in a 100-miler where they had two major lightning storms, and it was hailing so hard, another runner and I were crouched together under a bush.
Q: Are you ever nervous as a woman alone in the backwoods?
A: Those times can be creepy when you see a bear or a weird person, but most of the time, people are nice, and most of the time, the bears run away. Even if I’m with somebody, we’ll see hunters, and sometimes, that is a little creepy; you see a rough-looking guy with a bow or gun walking on the trail.
Q: What’s your favorite Georgia run?
A: Unicoi Gap to Tray Mountain on the Appalachian Trail, preferably in June when the rhododendrons and laurel are in bloom. From the gap to the top of the mountain, it’s about five miles.
On the water
Take a spin at Terminus Wake Park
Whether you routinely throw doubles off the XL kicker or you don’t even know what that means, you’ll have a blast at this Cartersville wake park. Overhead cables tow riders around a pair of oval lakes, one for advanced wakeboarders and one for beginners, past obstacles such as rails, kickers (ramps), and pipes. There’s also a smaller lake with a training cable ($25 gets you a 20-minute private lesson), plus an aqua park with floating trampolines and slides. Spectators can play yard games nearby, but who wants to stay dry? $35 for two-hour summer session, terminuswakepark.com
Shoot the Chattooga, Georgia’s wildest river
Georgia’s undisputed king of whitewater, the Chattooga hasn’t changed much since, well, ever. The state’s only federally protected “wild and scenic river” rushes undammed through a pristine forested gorge along the South Carolina border. Access is tightly controlled, so your group’s raft will be the only one in sight as you hurtle over heart-pounding rapids made famous by Deliverance. Stunt doubles from the 1972 film founded two of the premier outfitters in the area, Southeastern Expeditions and Nantahala Outdoor Center. The climax, a series of class IV and V rapids known as Five Falls, plunges 75 feet in a quarter mile. Rates vary, southeasternexpeditions.com, noc.com
Hunt for Megalodon teeth off Tybee Island
Over the years, Savannah River dredging efforts have dug into the fossil record and deposited the spoils on a series of man-made islands just outside the city. On a four-hour hunt with Tybee Island’s SunDial Charters, which includes a scenic boat ride through the salt marsh, you’re sure to find fossilized shark teeth, maybe even a camel or horse tooth. Guide and master naturalist Rene Heidt says she finds the highly sought chomper of a Megalodon about every fifth outing. To hunt for smaller fossils for free, she recommends scouring Tybee’s north-end beaches by the lighthouse or along the river by Fort Pulaski. $425 for two people ($20 each additional), sundialcharters.com
Ride a natural water slide in Tallulah Gorge
Fall is famously breathtaking at Tallulah Gorge State Park, but here’s a reward for summer. After descending 500-plus stairs, crossing a suspension bridge, and boulder-hopping on what’s generously called a “trail” for about a half mile, you’ll reach the Sliding Rock, a broad, sloping waterfall rushing into a cool pool. The gorge floor is never crowded, as the park only issues 100 permits a day (arrive early on weekends to snag one). Still, you won’t be the only hiker trying out the bumpy slide, which ends with a satisfying dunk. $5 parking, gastateparks.org/tallulahgorge
Take a deep dive at Kraken Springs
Named for a Norse sea monster, the 155-foot-deep Kraken Springs is cavernous enough for a leviathan, but the biggest thing you’re likely to discover is a sunken school bus. Still, the quarry-turned–freshwater spring 50 miles northwest of Atlanta is Georgia’s only recreational open-water diving and nonmotorized watersports park. It offers diving instruction and rents scuba or snorkeling gear, canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards for exploring the 20-acre, spring-fed lake. $35 entry, krakensprings.com
Explore the Georgia coast by shrimp boat
Who knew a retired shrimp boat makes the perfect excursion vessel? The generous roof-deck of the Darien-based Captain Gabby is a cozy perch for cruising through historic marshes, cypress swamps, and coastal waters. Even better, climb into the hammock chair suspended from a pole, and let your toes drag along in the water. Once anchored, the boat becomes a mother ship for swimming or exploring remote barrier islands via kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. A full kitchen, bathroom, and bunks add comfort to day or overnight trips. Not to mention that some crew members are expert naturalists who can identify every flora and fauna. From $69 for three-hour cruise (limit six passengers), captgabby.com
Driftwood Beach: Hang a Hammock
Explore sun-bleached, gnarled tree skeletons on the north end of Jekyll Island. Hook up a rope hammock, and soak up the sun.
Meet the adventurers
The 21-year-old scuba and freediving instructor from Kennesaw took a freediving class last year and fell in love. Essentially epic snorkeling, the sport involves diving for great lengths without a breathing apparatus. He recently trained in Florida to earn his master freediver certification, which requires diving to at least 105 feet and holding your breath for at least three-and-a-half minutes. He hopes to build a community of freedivers in Atlanta.
Q: How deep have you dived?
A: So far, in the ocean, I’ve gotten down to 110 feet. It’s funny, but I’ve always been a little bit scared of depths, so part of my training is really focusing on keeping my mind calm.
Q: So freediving and yoga have a common thread?
A: Naturally, we have a mammalian diving reflex—that’s a state our body puts us in when we’re underwater, to drop our heart rate and shift our blood to the core—and that’s what allows us to dive down and hit the depths we’re hitting in the sport now. [The current world record is a preposterous 702 feet.] However, the mind state is an important part of it. A lot of instructors teach it as part of the class, and freediving, yoga, and meditation go hand in hand, which is interesting.
Q: What does your mom think about the sport?
A: My mom is a bit concerned, but she tends to worry about everything [laughs]. It’s honestly a safe sport. Where people tend to think it’s dangerous is when you look at competitive freediving; that’s when you’re pushing your body to its absolute limits. Recreational freediving is more about trying to enjoy the time you have down there and look at the fish and stay in that relaxed state.
In the air
Drift along with Balloons Over Georgia
Hot air balloon pilots “steer” by adjusting altitude to chase wind currents, but they’re always at the mercy of nature’s course. Whether you find this peaceful or unnerving, you’ll feel secure with Daryl Tatum, who has shown Atlantans the joy of floating for nearly 20 years. His typical route over rural Forsyth and Cherokee counties offers views of Lake Lanier and the North Georgia mountains, but naturally, no flights are quite the same. “Just know that we’re flying to an area where we have plenty of places to land,” says Tatum, a four-time winner of the annual Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race. “If it’s private property, we just hope they’re glad to see us, and most people are.” $250 per person, balloonsovergeorgia.com
Go free-falling, no airplane necessary, at iFly
If you’ve ever wondered what a full-body blast from a Dyson Airblade might feel like, head to the indoor skydiving chamber at iFly. For your first two flights, you’ll float chest-high in a glass tube while a staffer prevents you from pinging off walls like a moth in a lamp. For a $10 upgrade, the instructor will escort you on a swirling “high flight” that feels like something you’ve dreamed about. The concluding demo—watch as the pro flips, twists, abruptly blasts to the top of the 45-foot chute, then sails back down—is a persuasive appeal to come back and learn more tricks. Starting at $70, iflyworld.com
Soar like a bird with Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding
You could skip straight to the bucket list item: a tandem flight over Lookout Valley from an elevation of either 1,500 or 3,000 feet. But Georgia is one of only a handful of states in the region with a hang-gliding school (in the almost-Tennessee town of Rising Fawn), so why not start with the half-day immersion that teaches you to “surf” smaller hills solo? The feeling of the glider lifting off your back and your feet lifting off the ground is its own rush. You’ll still conclude with the tandem flight, though no one is running off the side of a mountain (an ultralight aircraft tows you to the proper elevation). $149–$299, hanglide.com
Up a tree
Go glamping in a treehouse
Treetop Hideaways is not the most secluded resort—the town of Fort Oglethorpe is just minutes away. But that’s what makes it perfect for those seeking a nature retreat without really roughing it. The property’s two charming treehouses each have their own perks: The Luna Loft (shown above) features 16-foot-tall windows and fairy lights, while the Elements Treehouse has an upstairs with a romantic view of the stars. The latter’s spa-like bathroom has a heated floor and a luxurious, five-headed shower—while the loft’s shower is in a copper-lined whiskey barrel, its floor paved in pennies. Both boast ultrasoft Tuft & Needle mattresses. Toast s’mores over the firepit out back (bring your own—the provided s’more kit is tiny) or whip up burgers on the gas grill. There’s no television, but the units do have free Wifi and cell service, for those who don’t want to truly disconnect. From $275 per night, treetophideaways.com
Monkey around at Panola Mountain State Park
On the third weekend of the month and sometimes more often, this Henry County park offers a guided tree-climbing experience. Belay up a rope into the canopy of a 100-foot oak, then swing, scramble, and dangle with the abandon of an orangutan but the security of a helmet and harness. Or just find a comfy perch and take a rest. (Periodic “ZZZs in the Trees” events allow you to actually spend the night.) The park has several certified climbing trees, but currently, they use two: a willow oak named Samantha and a magnificent Southern Red Oak, Naomi Ruth. $15, gastateparks.org/panolamountain
Skim the treetops at Historic Banning Mills
You’d have to put in two full days to tackle all the ziplines and aerial obstacles at this 300-acre conservancy in Whitesburg. Most visitors opt for a shorter excursion (multiple tiers available based on age and guts), which might include the world’s longest zipline canopy course or tallest artificial freestanding climbing wall, both certified by the Guinness Book of World Records. On the Flight of the Falcon, soar face-down like a bird of prey—or if you prefer, Man of Steel—over the woods and whitewater rapids of Snake Creek Gorge. Zipline tours from $49, historicbanningmills.com
Swim with giants at the Georgia Aquarium
Swim among thousands of fish, including four 20-plus-foot whale sharks, during a half-hour snorkel in the aquarium’s 6.3-million-gallon tank. During this “Journey with Gentle Giants,” you’ll become besties with the whale sharks and vast manta rays who cavort near the surface. No touching, but you might get bumped or briefly dragged (three master divers stay close by). Scuba excursions require certification but get you nearer sandbar sharks and sawfish. Still, just snorkeling is a thrill: Raise your head in what looks like a huge pump room, then gaze below on a surreal oceanic menagerie. You’ll feel like a rock star swimming over the underwater tunnel as aquarium guests gawk and wave. $234 to snorkel (not including admission), $334 to dive, georgiaaquarium.org
Party on the helipad above Colony Square
You could never actually fall off the building—the helipad is a small, elevated platform on a much larger, flat rooftop, and both are secured with walls and railings. But there’s no avoiding at least a touch of vertigo as you step onto those last corrugated metal stairs. The ascent feels like climbing into the clouds. There’s not a more spectacular view in the city. The upper stories of 1180 Peachtree and One Atlantic Center feel close enough to touch. Colony Square hosts two weekly music series here this year: Jazz in the Sky (May) in conjunction with the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Brews in the Sky (October). Not to mention helipad yoga! For info, sign up for Colony Square’s newsletter. colonysquaremidtown.com
Sleep in a Tiny House
Though definitely tiny, this Cabbagetown Airbnb held 30 people during the filming of HGTV’s Tiny House Big Living. The 300-square-foot pad on Estoria Street has two sleeping lofts, a galley kitchen, a bathroom with a flushing toilet and full shower, and even a teeny washing machine. To accommodate cheffy guests, host and nutritionist Nadia Giordani installed granite countertops, a spacious refrigerator, and a sneaky sliding pantry. Venture half a mile to Krog Street Market or Cabbagetown’s iconic Agave. The BeltLine is only four blocks away. Eco features include non-VOC finishes and organic linens. $89 per night, airbnb.com/rooms/17436452
Eat “corpse fruit” pancakes, drink boba tea out of a light bulb, and slurp a monster soup dumpling along Buford Highway
If you’re not acquainted with durian, the Southeast Asian fruit with a scent that’s been likened to rotting flesh (or, as bestselling author Jon Winokur put it, “pig-shit, turpentine, and onions, garnished with a gym sock”), you can find it served multiple ways on Buford Highway. And fear not: It tastes infinitely better than it smells. At Mango Mango Dessert, you can try dishes like a durian pancake, a durian crepe, durian sticky rice, or a durian dessert bowl.
If you’re seeking something sweet with a less repugnant odor, Mist Poke Dessert Bar serves some next-level boba. They take the classic Taiwanese dessert drink—sweetened tea that’s swimming with large tapioca pearls you suck up through a wide straw—and serve it in a light bulb. The pearls themselves also come in the “popping” variety (when you bite into them, the juice inside bursts out).
Speaking of bursting, the Chinese regional specialty xiao long bao (also known as “soup dumplings”) typically are small enough to pop in your mouth (though you’re supposed to place one in a large spoon, puncture it to release a little of the broth, then eat the still-bursting bundle of goodness). But at China Kitchen, about a mile off Buford Highway on New Peachtree Road in Chamblee, the xiao long bao are injected with steroids, figuratively speaking. The “Monster Soup Dumpling” is about the size of a 45 record (remember those?) and fills an entire bamboo steamer. To eat it, you insert a straw and suck out the soup, then chow on the deflated skin and meat inside. mangomangodessert.com, mistpokedessertbar.com, chinakitchenchambleega.com
East Atlanta Airbnb: Sleep with Llamas
The star of numerous TV shows, this urban farm is also a three-bedroom rental complete with a herd of llamas and alpaca. airbnb.com/rooms/plus/18132667
Meet the adventurers
Certified Health Coach and Outings Leader
For much of her life, 70-year-old Hartfield was a mostly sedentary “girly girl.” But after learning she was prehypertensive, the health food store owner got active, discovered a passion for the outdoors, and started sharing adventures with fellow OPALs (Older People with Active Lifestyles). Her Meetup.com group Atlanta African American Adventurers (one of three she organizes) has more than 4,500 members who have backpacked, ziplined, spelunked, and sailed together around the globe.
Q:When did you get the hiking bug?
A:For my 56th birthday, I chose to go on this hike with the [Black Newcomers Network]. I said, “Black people hike? In the woods? What’s up with that?” It was Blood Mountain. It was the most exhilarating experience I have ever had. When I speak to people, I encourage them to try something new, because you may discover something about yourself you didn’t even know you had inside.
Q: What’s one memorable outing you’ve had with your Adventurers group?
A: The first time we went ziplining [in Gatlinburg], I was the cheerleader. We were up on this high platform, and I was saying, ‘You can do this. Just walk off the end of this platform here, and the zip will take you.’ It must have been 10 or 12 of us up there. I was the last one. Was I nervous? Yes. I thought, “All these people have gone. Now, it’s your turn. What are you going to do?” I just held my breath and walked off the platform.
Q: Any intentions of slowing down?
A: I feel fantastic. I tell people, “I am the big 7-0, and I am ready for some mo’.” [Laughs.] Whatever that is.