The Cherokee Trail at Stone Mountain Park is a 4.6-mile (7.4-kilometer) hiking trail that encircles most of Stone Mountain.
The trail has several convenient access points. One is where it crosses the Walk-Up Trail at 33°48'36"N 84°9'25"W on the west side of the mountain. This is a good starting and ending point if you're also going to walk up to the summit. Another is where the trail crosses the memorial lawn at 33°48'35"N 84° 8'39"W on the north side of the mountain. This is a convenient if you're at Crossroads or the Skyride.
If you're at the Crossroads or Skyride area then of course it makes sense to begin your hike there. But if you're going to hike to the top, you can start the Cherokee Trail at its intersection with the Walk-up Trail.
The summit is a great place to watch the sunrise and sunset, so try to include this in your plans. If you arrive at Stone Mountain before sunrise, consider walking to the top, watching the sunrise, and then walking back down far enough to reach the Cherokee Trail. Then you can walk around the Cherokee Trail back to the Walk-up Trail, and continue down from there. This is the best plan during summer months as it allows you to hike before the hottest part of the day. You can also do the opposite: Walk up the Walk-up Trail to the Cherokee Trail, walk around the Cherokee Trail, and then continue up the Walk-up Trail to the summit and watch the sunset. This is the best plan during winter since the summit can be very cold and windy on a winter morning.
The Cherokee Trail can be hiked in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. This trail guide will be based on walking counter-clockwise beginning at theWalk-up Trail. The trail can be hiked in about two hours walking at a moderate, steady pace.
White: Cherokee Trail
Yellow: Walk-up Trail
Dark blue: Muscogee Trail
Purple: King's Trail
Red: Nature Garden Trail, Songbird Habitat Trail
Brown: Woodland Trail
Pink: Dogwood Trail
Green: Evergreen Heron Trail
Dark red: Evergreen Hawk Trail
Light blue: Evergreen Bluebird Trail
Orange: Connecting Trails
Cyan: PATH Trail
Black: Unofficial shortcut trails
The Cherokee Trail is marked with white blazes and with knee-high granite posts. Blazes can be painted on trees or on stone.
Walking up the Walk-up Trail, the Cherokee Trail crosses about a quarter of a mile (four tenths of a kilometer) from the railroad tracks. This junction is marked with granite posts. To begin walking counter-clockwise around the mountain, turn right. If you're walking down from the top, the trail will be about seven tenths of a mile (1.15 kilometers) from the summit, and you'll want to turn left to go counter-clockwise. Elevation at this point is about 1165 feet (355 meters) and it's the highest point on the Cherokee Trail.
Cherokee Trail along the Walk-up Trail
From the Walk-up Trail, you'll walk about 450 feet (140 meters) through woods before reaching the service road to the summit. Cross the road and continue about 290 feet (90 meters) through intermittent woods and open granite and then about another 800 feet (250 meters) on mostly open granite. These areas are sloped and can be slippery, especially when wet, so be careful. It's easy to fall in this area and the stone is awfully hard and unforgiving.
Near the bottom of this slope, look for quarried stones. You can identify them by a series of equally-spaced drill marks where the stone was split. This is one of the few places where the Cherokee Trail passes through an old quarry area. This quarry is much older and smaller than those further to the east.
Continue for about 640 feet (200 meters) through the woods until you reach the railroad tracks. Along most of this span, you're walking along a creek bed.
About one hundred feet (thirty meters) past the railroad tracks, you'll meet a trail junction where a connecting trail connects to the Nature Garden Trail. Turn left and continue along the Cherokee Trail.
About 170 feet (50 meters) further along the trail, you'll see an old chimney on your right. This is the former location of an old homestead. There is a bench next to this chimney where you can take a rest. Stone Mountain's Orienteering Course begins right behind this chimney. Walk around the back and you'll see a green pole marking station 1 with the bearing and distance to station 2.
Next, you'll walk along an old, low stone wall for a short distance. Be sure to look to your left periodically in this area, as you'll see some interesting views of the southwestern slopes of Stone Mountain through the trees.
About 1800 feet (550 meters) from the chimney, you'll reach the first of two places where the Cherokee Trail crosses Robert E. Lee Boulevard. On the other side of the road and to your right, you'll see the playground and the last restrooms you will pass for quite some time.
After crossing the road, the trail continues alongside the playground and then across a dam to the outer side of the lakes that follow the south and east sides of the mountain. You will cross an arched wood bridge, turn left, and descend a series of steps. Then you will cross a flat wood bridge over astream. Soon you will see Catfish Pond on your left through the trees. In a few minutes you will reach Stonewall Jackson Drive. There is a telephone pole here, and behind it is the final marker for the orienteering course, which is station number twenty-three. There's a nice view of the mountain from here.
View from Stonewall Jackson Drive
Cross over the road and continue walking along the south side of the lake. This particular lake is called Venable Lake. This lake is popular for fishing and is inaccessible by boats. The trail continues along Venable Lake for about eight tenths of a mile (1.25 kilometers). This section of the trail offers some of the best views of Stone Mountain you will see on the entire Cherokee Trail. These views only appear every now and then between the trees, and sometimes you'll need to walk a short distance to the edge of the lake for a clear view. There are obvious side trails where people do so. The views of the mountain with the reflection in the water are gorgeous.
Stone Mountain and Venable Lake
Next, the trail turns left and crosses an arched bridge over the stream that connects Venable Lake with the next lake, which is called Stone Mountain Lake. Then the trail follows the dam between the lakes and turns to the right. It continues for about six tenths of a mile (about a kilometer) before you reach some large slanted open granite areas that slope down to the water's edge. This is a popular spot for fishing, playing, or just relaxing in the sun. Another 500 feet (150 meters) or so and you will reach the Covered Bridge. Here is the only place where you can actually park along the Cherokee Trail. There is a small parking area, large enough for three cars, and the trail goes in between two of them. There is a historic marker for the covered bridge which is worth reading. The bridge is one-way and includes a pedestrian lane. Consider walking across the bridge to Indian Island and back. It's interesting and only takes a few minutes.
Beyond the covered bridge, the trail re-enters the woods. It continues along the shoreline for a short distance before reaching a stone walkway that is just above water level. Here there used to be three pairs of heart-shaped flagstone, but sadly one stone has been stolen. This is another popular place for fishing.
Next, continue along the lake's edge for about 800 feet (250 meters) until you reach the Grist Mill. Here the trail turns right and crosses a wooden bridge that's part of the grist mill structure. You can go left here and walk up a short hill to find some restrooms.
Grist mill bridge
Next, the trail turns sharply left and then turns right. At this right turn, you will see an old moonshine still replica that was built for amusement purposes only and never really brewed any moonshine. Slightly further along the trail on the left you will see a spring house. The trail continues, following a granite aqueduct for about 600 feet (180 meters). Then there is a small lake that is popular for wading. The trail makes a few sharp turns here and then it crosses back over Robert E. Lee Boulevard. A few minutes later you will cross the railroad tracks again.
In a few more minutes you will see another nature garden on your left. This spot is dedicated to the National Association of Pen Women, and you will see carved granite stepping stones with member's names and hobbies on them. In this area of the Cherokee Trail, you can see the sheer vertical face of the north side of Stone Mountain through the trees.
Just a few minutes further and the trail will reach the Memorial Lawn, which is the viewing area for the Memorial Carving and the Laser Show. Turn left at the paved walkway, walk under the carving and alongside the reflecting pool, and after the walkway turns right and heads away from the mountain, look to the left for the continuation of the Cherokee Trail. Once again, the trail enters the forest. You can continue up the hill along the Memorial Lawn to the Memorial Hall to visit the museum or use the restroom.
Carving viewed from the Cherokee Trail
Next, the trail continues along the north side of the mountain for about six tenths of a mile (about a kilometer) before meeting a junction. Here you turn left to continue along the Cherokee Trail and back to the Walk-up Trail. You can also go straight onto a connecting trail that leads to Confederate Hall at the start of the Walk-up Trail.
The trail heads through a wooded section as it begins its way back up the west end of the mountain. Sharp eyes may detect one or two quarried stone blocks in this area. Then the trail leaves the woods and climbs up a somewhat steep incline of exposed granite. Look back over your shoulder now and then on this slope as the views quickly improve. Then the trail re-enters the woods and continues uphill for about 750 feet (230 meters) before reaching the Walk-Up Trail. Shortly before this point, there are two trails leading to the left up the mountain. These trails roughly parallel the Walk-up Trail for about half of its remaining distance and offer a nice, quiet alternative to the often crowded main trail to the summit.