Before we moved back to my hometown, I was part of a Hike It Baby group with other local moms. I loved being able to meet up with other moms and kids and get out on the trails together. At the time I started with the group, I had two toddlers and a four-month-old baby, which means that some days we had great hikes, some days my boys ran too far ahead of me on the trail and other times we had toddler tantrums with quite the audience. But the great thing was that these other mamas understood and didn’t judge me as a mama when my child had a meltdown. They didn’t mind that I had to stop on the hike to nurse my baby. It didn’t bother them if I was dead last and went at a snail’s pace because of my young kids. They were supportive and being outside with my kids was so refreshing.
Though there are seven active Hike It Baby groups in Georgia, my hometown doesn’t have a group. When we first moved here, I considered starting a group, but it required some commitment to start one up and I had too much on my plate (and still do!) to launch a group. But even without an organized hiking group, hiking is still one of my favorite things to do with my kids. I hope they grow up loving it as much as I do so we can go on some amazing hikes together as a family when they’re a bit older.
Recently, a friend asked about my favorite local places to hike with kids. And though this will only apply to the local crowd, I wanted to share some of my favorite hiking trails for kids near Gainesville, Georgia. And just a PSA: If any other local mamas want to meet up to hike together with our kids, I’m game! Fall is hands-down my favorite hiking season.
Best Hiking Trails for Kids near Gainesville, Georgia
Chicopee Woods Hiking Trails at Elachee Nature Center
We are a bit partial since our oldest attended Kindergarten at Elachee last year, but we love the hiking trails at Chicopee Woods. Many of the hikes are quite hilly, but there are no steep grades and all my kids had no issues hiking the trails. In fact, while he was in school at Elachee, my oldest child hiked the trails twice a day with a group of 5 and 6 year olds. Because Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve sits on 1,440 acres much of the 12 miles of hiking trails feels very remote and secluded, making it easy to walk up on wildlife (like snakes!) during your hike.
Don Carter State Park
Don Carter State Park is just north of Gainesville, Georgia, and rests on 1,300+ acres bordering Lake Lanier. There are 12.5 miles of hiking trails, most of which are shaded and easy for kids of any age to hike. There are also plenty of paved paths around the park for stroller walks. If you hike in the summer, be sure to end your hike by cooling off at the park’s lake beach, which has beautiful white sand. My kids absolutely love swimming there.
Linwood Nature Preserve
Linwood Nature Preserve opened in 2015 and is within Gainesville city limits. It features two miles of winding trails over a somewhat hilly area bordering Lake Lanier. Some of the hills are more strenuous for kids, but they only climb for a short while before leveling off. My three year old had no problem hiking these trails. We often spot deer running across the trails when we hike.
Laurel Park doesn’t have trails in the traditional sense, but it has a wonderful paved path that is shaded and perfect for stroller walks. The 1-mile paved loops travels around the peninsula of the park that borders Lake Lanier. We have also ridden bikes around this loop, but beware that there is a short steep hill that will be difficult for kids to climb with a bike. My boys just pushed their bikes up the path when it came to this hill.
Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Gainesville Campus
Though admittance to the local botanical garden requires a membership or entrance fee for kids three or older, there is so much to do and see besides hiking so you could make a half day of it. The hiking trails are a bit hilly but walkable for kids that are at least three years old. When we visit, we often hike first while it’s cooler, then walk around exploring the garden on paved paths and end our time in the shade letting the kids snack and play with the garden’s wooden train sets that they love.
I loved frequenting Wilshire Trails park as a child. Now, it’s one of my kids’ favorite parks because it has a great playground, butterfly garden and a fun paved walking trail that crisscrosses with a creek and leads all the way to downtown Gainesville, ending at the main library. You’ll find lots of people on the trail each day, running, walking or pushing a stroller. And a newer addition to the park is a half mile storybook trail, which features pages from “Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek” spaced out along the trail. My kids literally sprinted from page to page so I could read the next part of the story.
Buford Dam Trails
Though these trails are about 30-40 minutes south of Gainesville, it’s worth taking a trip to explore the Buford Dam area. There is a 3.5-mile hiking loop suitable for school-aged kids, as well as shorter paved loops—all overlooking Lake Lanier. We even walked down to the base of the dam where the water was being let out. It was such a fast current—so hold onto your kids—but the bridge overlooking this area was very safe for kids. My kids loved visiting the Buford Dam Park and exploring new trails and paths.
What are some of your favorite hiking trails for kids near Gainesville?