Are you looking for a remote, scenic hike in the busy Atlanta metro area? The trail system at Sweetwater Creek State Park may be right for you. The park's constantly expanding trail system lies on both the west and east sides of beautiful Sweetwater Creek. You can explore the historic mill ruins and the numerous rapids on Sweetwater Creek, visit the historic farming area on Jack's Hill, or traverse the dry ridges on the east side of Sweetwater Creek. This hike was a partial redo of a previous hike of mine at Sweetwater Creek State Park. This hike occurred on August 29th, 2015. My plan was to hike the Red Trail to its southern terminus and then follow the White Trail over Jack's Hill and back to the trailhead.
R/T Length of Trail: 4.4 Miles
Duration of Hike: 1:50
Type of Hike: Loop
Difficulty Rating: 2 out of 10
Pros: Well-marked and easy-to-follow trails
Points of Interest: Sweetwater Creek Falls/Rapids - variable rating (2 stars for normal water levels, significantly higher rating for above average water levels); Historic Mill Ruins
Trail Blaze Color(s): Red Trail - Red; White Trail - White
Best Season(s) to Hike: Winter; Spring
Beginning Point: Sweetwater Creek State Park Visitor Center
Directions: From Lithia Springs, GA: Follow Sweetwater Road south for 2.2 miles. Then, continue straight as the road name changes to Mount Vernon Road. Continue for another 1.5 miles. The main entrance to Sweetwater Creek State Park will be on the left. Turn left and continue straight to the end of the road at a large parking area by the visitor center.
Sweetwater Creek State Park has one of the most scenic hiking trail systems in Metro Atlanta, and by far one of the most remote. The park has many trails, including several new ones. The Yellow Trail crosses Sweetwater Creek from west to east on a bridge and forms a loop on the east side of the creek along dry ridges that have good winter views. The new Orange Trail is an extension of the Yellow Trail's loop - I haven't hiked it as it was recently created, and on the day I did the hike described on this page, I didn't have time to do the whole trail system like the first time I hiked in the park. The Red Trail is the only really popular trail in the park - it is an out and back trail that extends from the visitor center along the west side of Sweetwater Creek, past the historic mill ruins to the most powerfoul rapids on Sweetwater Creek, also known as "The Falls" (although it's not really a waterfall). The White Trail is a mostly remote loop that travels the perimeter of the majority of the western side of the par, visiting the historic Jack's Hill farming area and Jack's Lake. The Green Trail is a new connector trail that connects Jack's Hill to the historic mill ruins. The Brown Trail is another new long and probably remote trail (that I haven't hiked) that runs from Jack's Hill south along Sweetwater Creek to a dead end at private property. On this hike, I only did the Red Trail and the White Trail, but if the opportunity will be present, I may return and do some of the new trails soon.
All of the park trails start at the visitor center. Walk down the paved path from the parking area. The Red Trail starts shortly on the left. Follow the Red Trail and its red blazes downhill to Sweetwater Creek. At 0.2 miles, reach Sweetwater Creek. An extension of the Red Trail that leads to the Yellow Trail goes left. The main Red Trail turns right along Sweetwater Creek. Turn right. The trail closely parallels Sweetwater Creek that is quite calm here. At 0.4 miles, a spur trail leads left to a small island in Sweetwater Creek. The rapids begin here, and there is a good view from the spur trail. But if you go here after significant rainfall - the sight will be 10 times more breathtaking. Following the spur trail, the White Trail briefly merges with the Red Trail from the right (if you take the White Trail to the right you will reach the Green Trail to Jack's Hill shortly). At 0.5 miles, reach the historic mill ruins, visible from the trail to the left. There is an observation deck with a view of the ruins as well as some information about them. The ruins are of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, also known as the Sweetwater Manufacturing Company. The company was a five-story mill and a factory that produced cotton, yarn, and fabric. At the factory's peak, it produced 700 pounds of cotton per day. But in 1864, during the Civil War, the Union Army stormed the factory, arrested all employees, and ordered to shut it down. It was then burned - flammable substances were poured onto all 5 floors. Nowadways, all that remains from the mill are ruins of the walls.
From the mill ruins, continue straight and then shortly turn left down a staircase to continue following the Red Trail. The White Trail leaves the Red trail here and continues farther above the creek. The Red Trail descends to the far end of the ruins and to creek level. Here, turn right onto a wide trail right along Sweetwater Creek. The next half-mile is quite rough as the slow trail constantly maneuvers between and over the numerous rocks and rock formations scattered along the creek. This part of the creek is full of rapids. There will be one long staircase that will take you above the creek just before "The Falls". At the top of the staircase is an observation deck with a view of Sweetwater Creek. Soon after that, at 1 mile, the trail reaches a rock outcrop with a view of "The Falls", a large area of turbulent rapids at a bend in Sweetwater Creek. On my first visit to this location nearly two years ago, the rapids at this location were one big froth of whitewater; on the second visit, just regular rapids. Shortly after the rock outcrop, climb up to the terminus of the Red Trail and the junction with the White Trail. If you turn right onto the White Trail, it will quickly take you back to the visitor center. However, to hike the full loop, turn left onto the White Trail. The White Trail descends back to Sweetwater Creek and continues to follow it for some time, but here, the trail is faster and the creek is calmer. There are some good long-distance views here down the creek, such as the one in the header photo for this post. At 1.7 miles, the trail reaches Jacks Branch, a tributary of Sweetwater Creek. Here, the White Trail turns right and leaves Sweetwater Creek. The rest of the hike is away from Sweetwater Creek.
The White Trail begins a gentle uphill along Jacks Branch. At 1.8 miles, reach a trail intersection. The new Brown Trail crosses the White Trail from right to left across a footbridge over Jacks Branch. Keep in mind that the Brown Trail to the left is a dead end; to the right, the trail is a shorter but steeper alternative for the White Trail to Jack's Hill. Continue on the White Trail. The trail continues to ascend gradually along Jacks Branch before scrambling onto a small dam at the eastern end of Jacks Lake at 2.3 miles. The small lake is more like a marsh, however. The trail turns right here and continues uphill at a slightly higher incline along an old road that at first parallels Jacks Lake, and then, veers away from Jacks Branch. After the trail leaves the Jacks Branch area, there is one final moderately steep uphill pitch and then you reach the top of Jacks Hill. At the top of Jacks Hill at 2.8 miles, there is a potentially confusing intersection with an assortment of old roads leading in various directions. The road to the right seems to dead-end somewhere shortly (according to my topographic map) at the site of one of the old structures that were located here (Jacks Hill was once a farming area). The road that continues straight ahead seems to lead to the Brown Trail. The White Trail turns left onto a different old road that leads into a field. At 3 miles, reach another confusing intersection (although on my more recent visit, both intersections had signs). The Brown Trail starts here and turns right. An old road with an unclear ending continues straight. The White Trail turns left. Then, the White Trail descends to a gap and then ascends to a small rise. At the top of the rise, an old road on the right is the start of the Green Trail that leads back to Sweetwater Creek.
Continue straight on the White Trail past various old roads going left and right. At 3.3 miles, there is a fork in the road, with a road veering both left and right. The White Trail takes the left side. The right side is a dead-end road to what apparently is a staff residence. At the intersection, there is a sign about the trail entering a prime habitat for rattlesnakes. At another fork in the roads at 3.6 miles, keep right - straight ahead is an access to Mount Vernon Road. The trail continues to follow a mostly flat roadbed before reaching a paved park road at 4 miles. Cross the road and continue on a en easy downhill path. Recross the road at 4.3 miles and reach the visitor center at 4.4 miles. Follow the paved path straight ahead past the visitor center and shortly reach the parking area.
Hike just the Red Trail out and back - 2 Miles
Hike the full trail system (Red Trail, White Trail, Brown Trail, Yellow Trail, and Orange Trail) - Exact mileage is unknown; I estimate that such a hike would be 12-14 miles long
Check out the George H. Sparks Reservoir on the north side of Sweetwater Creek State Park
Mark Oleg Ozboyd
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