RUNTRAILS' 2022 JOURNAL

 

  

Sweetwater Creek State Park, Georgia

 

   
 
 
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  SCENES FROM HIKES THIS YEAR @    
  SWEETWATER CREEK STATE PARK, GA

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16

"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountains and the sea,    
are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
~ Sir John Lubbock
 
 

Nature is my refuge and this scenic state park with more than thirty miles of hilly trails has become my favorite go-to place for longer hikes. It's about a 45-minute drive from our house and I don't have to travel through metro Atlanta traffic to get there.

Jim and I both *hate* driving in metro Atlanta! That's why we live in exurbia.

I hiked at Sweetwater a total of twenty times in 2022, sometimes with Jim and/or friends and their dogs but mostly just doggie Don and me. I can go at Don's slow pace when it's just us and not feel like I have to rush to keep up with other people.


Hiking buddy Don does a good Lion King impression!

On hikes I let Don do most of the sniffing that he wants to do, which can translate into a 35-40 minute first mile. After that he does less sniffing and we can go at a 25-30 minute/mile pace, including stops for water or photos.

For comparison, if I was alone I'd average about a 20-minute pace/mile.


Lots of stuff to investigate at this large park!

Both Holly and Casey have gotten to hike a few times at Sweetwater the last four years, but only when Jim goes with me. He went just once with me in 2022 and took Holly.

Holly is shown below in the creek, wearing a halter and playing keep-away with a stick with Aloha, our friend Laura's Lab:

Our girls are harder to manage on-leash on rough trails than Don, they are more impulsive with wildlife, and their recall isn't 100%. It's so much easier for me to hike with Don even though he's a big boy.

One time this year Don and I hiked with our friend Steve and his young German shepherd, Buzzy. Another day we hiked with Steve, his wife Pat, and their black Lab, Major, who was placed with them this year by Southeastern Guide Dogs (Don's school) as a facility therapy dog at a Veteran's Administration facility.

Several other times I went with our friend Laura, her husband David, and/or other relatives or friends of theirs. Don has fun hiking with Laura's young exuberant Golden retriever, Moses, and her sweet yellow Lab, Aloha, and is more likely to get into the streams if he's with another dog who likes the water (Don does not like ponds, streams, or even puddles!). We also went hiking one time with Robyn and her handsome yellow Lab guide pup in training, Edison:

  
L-R: Buzzy, Don, Moses, Don, Edison on different hikes, posing on the
awesome bridge spanning Sweetwater Creek on the Yellow Trail

I've hiked at Sweetwater every day of the week, always starting in the morning because the parking lots can fill up quickly on pretty days.

On weekdays, when there are fewer people and dogs in the park, I can let Don off-leash more. I stick to more popular trails on the west side of the creek during the week, for safety reasons.

The most well-traveled trails are the Red Trail that goes from the visitor center to the mill ruins and the five-mile White Trail Loop that runs next to and above much of Sweetwater Creek and through some beautiful ravines and meadows:


Red Trail going south to the mill ruins; mill race (water channel) is on the left  (5-12-22)


Part of the ruins of the New Manchester Mill (4-1-22)


Beautiful section of the creek on the White Trail, down a long set of rickety wooden stairs (4-25-22)

The photo header on the topics page and each entry is also from the White Trail. That spot is at the far southern end of the trail's loop, below a rocky overlook.

On weekends, when there are more people hiking, I'm comfortable exploring unmarked trails and the Yellow, Orange, and Blue Trails on the east side of the creek, figuring someone is more likely to come along if I get hurt.

And Don likes the additional attention he gets from other hikers on weekends! He thinks every dog and especially every person is his friend.

Here are some more photos of the gorgeous bridge across the creek, taken from the Yellow Trail on either side of the creek. The bridge was built in 2012 to replace a less sturdy bridge that was washed out during a big storm in 2009. A few pieces of the old bridge are still in the creek.

 

 

I take a variety of photos every time I'm at Sweetwater, often with Don in them. The pictures in this entry showcase different parts of the park from some of this year's hikes, which were all five to six miles long. Don remembers *every*single*place* I take his picture because he gets a treat for posing. He "reminds" me about each of them on subsequent hikes.

Here is the park's trail map. I added black dots to show the location of some of the unmarked paths on the hills between the Green and White trails, and an old dirt road paralleling the White Trail:

After each hike I mark my route on one of the maps and save it with the photos from that hike. Sometimes I also save the route from my GPS app, such as this 6+ mile hike in October:

   

I don't think I've ever done the same exact route twice! That one included an unmarked trail between the 4th and 5th mile.

With so many miles of trails and intersections, you can do a variety of configurations and levels of difficulty. Flatter trails are usually near the creek. Others go up to ridges. Some trails are smooth dirt or sand; others are rougher, with rock slabs, wooden steps, or roots.


Low, sandy trails like this along either side of the creek are subject to flooding. (10-1-22)

By the end of last year I'd hiked all of the marked trails except for a very short section of the Red Trail downstream from the old mill ruins where it reconnects to the White Trail. It's a very rugged trail next to the creek and often floods.

I'm proud to say I finished that last piece of trail earlier this year when the creek was at a low point Yay! I don't intend to hike it again, though. It is too gnarly and not worth the risk. I hiked it alone with doggie Don and fortunately didn't get hurt. I remember places much worse than this on the Appalachian Trail, but I'm a lot older than I was in 2005!

Here are a couple photos of rocks and roots on that section. The worst spots of the trail were either too ugly to photograph or I was too busy negotiating the terrain. Most of the views of the creek in this section were spectacular, though, and new to me.

   
C'mon, Mom! We can do this!!  (5-12-22)

I think I've also hiked all of the unmarked trails in the park. Even though they aren't maintained regularly by park staff they are pretty easy to follow and a good place to let Don run off-leash. Some go back to old homesteads, while others appear to be just shortcuts between marked trails.

I've seen the creek when it's running so high, fast, and brown that I can't see all of the shoals:


"High tide" near the mill on 12-16-22

I've also seen it when it's been so dry that the mill race is empty and you can almost walk across the very wide expanse near the mill on the exposed rocks:


"Low tide" in the same place several weeks earlier

The contrasts are interesting, even when I've had to detour around flooded spots next to the creek.

The park is also beautiful any time of the year. When the leaves are down in winter months there are more expansive views through the forest and down to the creek from ridges:


One of my favorite sections of the White Trail follows this little feeder stream. In wintertime the brown
leaves of American Elm trees cling to the branches until new leaves come out in mid-spring. 12-16-22)

In spring, it's fun to see the new little leaves and succession of flowers. Here are just a few from two different hikes in April:

    

Lush deciduous leaves offer a shady canopy to make hiking more comfortable from April to October:


Don patiently waits for me to take a picture of the little bridge spanning
a feeder stream on one of my favorite sections of the White Trail. (10-1-22)


Farther up the White Trail from the feeder stream as it winds through ravines to a ridge (4-25-22)

And the leaf colors are beautiful in November:


View looking NW from the bridge over Sweetwater Creek (10-23-22)


Along the White Trail in November

I definitely got my money's worth out of Sweetwater Creek State Park this year. The regular price for an annual state park pass is $50. Seniors get a 50% discount = $25. An additional 25% military discount = a total of only $18.75 to access any or all of Georgia's state parks for a year.  If I get up to the park to hike twice a month in 2023, I'll set a new personal record!

Next entry: scenes from this year's hikes and bike rides in Peachtree City, including Line Creek Nature Area

Happy trails,

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don

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