Thursday, July 25, 2013


Top 5 Things to do in North Atlanta

This Summer, I have asked several friends to tell us the Top 5 Things to do in their cities.  Join us each week as we learn about a new city!  This week let's head to North Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta is rich with fun for families, but don’t stop there!! Head north about 30 minutes to reach what we locals call the ‘OTP’ – Outside The Perimeter. North Atlanta is teeming with opportunities for families to play, learn and connect.  Fill your day exploring the forests and lakes, reliving the past at various historical sites, or discovering new ideas at countless museums designed to engage your kids’ senses. Our family has been benefiting from this area for over ten years. Here are the places we can’t get enough of; the ones we return to repeatedly. Maybe we’ll see YOU there!

1     Stone Mountain Park – Stone Mountain, GA
‘Park’ is an understatement; this is a city within a city, dedicated to enjoyment for the whole family.  Plan to spend a day or two in order to enjoy the full experience of Stone Mountain featuring the largest high-relief sculpture in the world.  The carving depicts three confederate heroes on horseback – so large that workers would stand on the ear of a horse to escape a rain shower!

Families can camp on the property or stay at one of several hotels.  If the age of your kiddos allows then climbing Stone Mountain is a must-do, or you see it by cable car at over 800 feet in the air. After you’ve explored the top, take a ride on the 1940’s train around the base of the mountain.  In the summer the kids will love playing in the Geyser Towers, and in the winter they can tube and throw snowballs at Snow Mountain.  Hike or golf, watch a live show and participate in sing-a-longs, check out the restaurants and shopping. The fun doesn’t stop at night. Bring a picnic and settle down at the base of the mountain while the kids run off excess steam. As the sky darkens the whole family will enjoy music and the play of lasers on the enormous granite mountain, followed by an elaborate fireworks extravaganza.

2    Tellus Science Museum – Cartersville, GA
Tellus Science Museum epitomizes fun in learning.  Kids get excited even before entering the museum; construction trucks with wheels taller than the average adult line the parking lot. In the lobby, while you’re buying tickets, an oversized pendulum clock driven by the earth’s rotation mesmerizes the kids.  Get a ticket for the planetarium show, too. There are viewings for kids as young as three.

The permanent exhibits are so intriguing that it’s hard to decide where to start.  Head to the Mineral Gallery to learn about gemstones and see how the earth was formed millions of years ago.  The Fossil Gallery – dubbed ‘The Dinosaur Exhibit’ by my son -  features some 20+ casts of dinosaurs including a T-Rex, a Megaladon, and fierce and exotic looking giants of the ocean.
The Transportation Gallery highlights modes of movement over the years including bicycles, trains, cars, planes and helicopters. There is a special section – our favorite – dedicated to space flight. It includes a replica of the Apollo I capsule, a Mercury capsule, and Sputnik.  Right around the corner from this is a chance for kids to get wet doing some gem grubbing and fossil digging.  These hands-on exhibits are included in your ticket price and will keep younger ones busy for a while.  My Big Back Yard, yet another exhibit, encourages kids to touch, feel, listen and experiment with general science principles such as weather and magnets.

While you are in the area, consider also stopping at Booth Western Art Museum and Etowah Indian Mounds. 

3.     Chattahoochee Nature Center – Roswell, GA
Explore and learn outdoors at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.  Enjoy the two bald eagles, falcons, and a beaver! Inside the exhibit hall are owls, snakes, fish and more.  Several trails lead you through a butterfly garden and living wetlands.  You can hike a forest area surrounding two lakes; there are five trails of varying levels of difficulty, but nothing too difficult for a preschooler or older.

One of our favorite areas is the boardwalk, which reaches out into the marshlands of the Chattahoochee River.  Kids enjoy the diverse plant and bug life, as well as looking over the river to see a periodic kayaker on expedition.  There are picnic areas, play areas, gardens and outcroppings of old ruins.  Each space within the Center is kid-friendly and encourages exploration.
In addition to housing animals, the Discovery Center engages kids in learning about Georgia’s native plants and animals at the Nature Exchange.  My son loves finding new rocks, leaves, insects, and other bits of nature, and investigating them under the microscopes here.  There are books for kids to peruse in a cozy reading corner, and a coloring station. It’s a wonderful place to cool off in the summer. 

Our favorite part of the Nature Exchange is the backpack program.  At no cost visitors can check out a themed backpack filled with ideas for exploring the Center in depth. For example, the bird-watching backpack includes two pairs of binoculars, a bird song recorder, bird identification cards, bird coloring sheets and crayons, and other supplies.

After leaving the Nature Center, take a stroll in nearby Historic Roswell. Kids will like eating on the patio at Fickle Pickle, and parents will love the southern deep-fried pickle chips. Morgan Falls is a nearby playground with more trails to explore, and oversized rocking chairs pointed at breathtaking views of the Chattahoochee River.

4.     Southeastern Railway Museum – Duluth, GA
Imagine a train museum where kids are encouraged to climb, explore, touch and crawl – that is SRM.  This museum, primarily situated outdoors, is 35-acres of train heaven displaying over 90 different vehicles including Pullman cars and steam locomotives.  There is also a small collection of old busses, tramcars, fire trucks, and other modes of transportation.
Families can climb most trains and walk through the cars seeing the old-fashioned sleeper beds, restrooms, dining facilities, and more.  For only a few dollars you can climb aboard a full scale train featuring a pair of cabooses and a retired passenger car, and take a ride across the museum grounds.  Or take a turn on the miniature park train, reminiscent of park rides from the 1970’s. 

SRM is our favorite North Georgia attraction. I’ve been taking my son since he was about 18 months old, and at nearly 5 years he still finds new ways to enjoy this train Mecca.  Older kids and adults will love it too.  It is a photographers dream, so don’t forget your camera. 

You can bring a picnic to the museum to enjoy at the gazebo, or drive a short distance to the Duluth Square.  Parents can grab a coffee at Chocolate Perks, and kids will enjoy pizza at Stevie B’s.  The Square also hosts a small playground with a train theme (no surprise), and huge water fountains that kids can cool off in during the peak of summer.

5.     Amicalola Falls – Dawsonville, GA
Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi, and you can get up close and personal with her. The park features camping and a lodge should you want to make it an overnight adventure.  If you are only doing a day trip, don’t skip a visit to the lodge; the floor-to-ceiling glass walls at the back of the building showcases a vista view of the mountains not to be missed. 

Shortly after entering the park you will reach the Visitors Center; it is worth a short stop to see the interpretive wildlife museum and a few live animals, and to pick up a map.  There are also picnic tables in this area and a chance to splash in the reflective pool.

Families can enjoy the trek to the waterfall regardless of the ages of their kids.  For the more adventurous, an 8-mile hike to the top starts at the Visitors Center.  If you have smaller kids then drive the mountain to a mid-point walkway. Here you will find a bridge that lets you see the falls up close. Families can hike 425 steps more to the top of the falls or get back in the car and head to the parking lot a the pinnacle.  Here it is only a short jaunt to look down over the waterfall.

If you are still looking for more adventure after seeing the falls, then learn about the gold rush in Georgia and try your luck at gem grubbing at the Dahlonega Gold Museum.  In the fall you will want to wind your way through the nearby town of Ellijay – the Apple Capital of Georgia.

There you have it – our five top picks for North Georgia. Have you visited one of these treasures, or do you have your own secret North Georgia family fun location?

Lesli Peterson is an unschooling mom to 2 young boys and bonus mom to two teenagers. She and her husband reside north of Atlanta, but they love to make travel a regular part of their life-learning experiences.  Lesli is a freelance writer that regularly shares her family travel adventures. You can follow her on twitter at @leslipeterson


Ann said...

Great tips for N. Atlanta. I've only been to Stone Mountain, which is cool and on my list of things I want to do with my kids. The transportation gallery would be my son's dream.

Tonya {The Traveling Praters} said...

We spent quite a bit of time in Atlanta with my husbands job so my family has explored most of Lesli's suggestions. My kids loved Stone Mountain and the free laser show is a huge hit with the crowd.

Lori Brown said...

Great list! These are some of my favorites that we have made some amazing memories with our besties!!