BeltLine 101:
An Atlanta BeltLine user’s guide

How to hit the trails without being thrown for a loop
Sponsored by AT&T

So let’s check out the BeltLine. I hope you’re wearing comfortable shoes. Would you like to borrow some sunscreen?

Most Atlantans have heard how the renewal of the historic rail line will link neighborhoods and parks along an “Emerald Necklace” while bringing new commercial investment, low-income housing and revitalized transit. But many haven’t spent much time exploring the actual trails. To see and enjoy the highly- touted city-spanning project right now — like, today — you really just need to follow two key steps.

First, get to the Atlanta BeltLine.

Second, be on the Atlanta BeltLine.

That’s basically it, as the BeltLine doesn’t demand special preparation or strategies. People can experience it in different ways, and often it’s best to visit and figure those out for yourself.

Since the first BeltLine groundbreaking in 2008, different segments of the trail have been in different states of readiness. Know that while the original beltline is the 22-mile rail loop, the completed project is projected to include multiple connecting trails for a combined total of more than 30 miles. So about a third of the Atlanta BeltLine trails won’t necessarily be on the former rail line.

While parking tends to be the bane of many Atlantans’ existence, a good rule of thumb is to find a place for your car in or around the old, new and refurbished parks connected by the project. It may mean a little more walking to get to your preferred destination, but there’s a reason that people who live in connected neighborhoods use BeltLine trails as shortcuts: It takes less time than you might expect to get from one place to another on foot.

Some notes on BeltLine etiquette: occasionally BeltLine bicyclists, perhaps giddy from escaping roads with cars, can get a little overzealous and zoom past pedestrians with reckless speeds. Bicyclists are advised to call out “on your left” when passing, and walkers should listen out for riders coming up behind them: Crashes are known to happen. Incidentally, wheelchairs are the only motorized vehicles allowed.

If you encounter an old friend and want to stop and chat, try to move to the shoulder and leave room for others. If you’re walking a pet, don’t let extending leashes turn into trail-spanning trip wires, and definitely clean up after your animal companion. An unspoken “share the trail” credo extends to everyone.

The finished trails make for fascinating destinations, while still only comprising a fraction of the full project. Ready?

Insider tip

Greg Levine, co-executive director of Trees Atlanta, has a favorite way to bicycle on the BeltLine. “The most interesting thing to do is bike at night,” he says, “because you hear the sound of the crickets — and when you go over a bridge, it stops.”

Eastside Trail. Ask people to think of the Atlanta BeltLine, and they’ll probably envision the 2.25-mile stretch from Irwin Street to the intersection of Monroe Drive and 10th Street. It’s finished and features an abundance of art and commercial development as it touches on such neighborhoods as Virginia-Highland, Midtown, Poncey-Highland, Old Fourth Ward and Inman Park.

But while an increasing number of businesses are situated facing the BeltLine, you need to step off the trail to do serious shopping or dining — don’t expect the BeltLine to offer the commerce of a busy boardwalk with pushcarts and shopfronts. Most of the trail goes through greenspace, making for a leisurely way to enjoy the foliage, art, and historic and new architecture, as well as scope out interesting people and pets.

It’s easy to imagine that when the project reaches its completion date (2031), the loop will look approximately like 22 miles of Eastside Trail. That seems like a tall order for some of the neighborhoods — but then, probably few people probably expected that the long-neglected Old Fourth Ward would see such a transformation.

Best parking: On the trail’s northern end, there’s paid lot beside Park Tavern at Piedmont Park. My favorite places are on-street parking at Historic Fourth Ward Skatepark, which backs directly onto the trail, or the Historic Fourth Ward Park, which requires a short uphill walk via Gateway Trail. Overall, the Eastside Trail has nearly a dozen access points, including ones on Virginia Avenue and North Highland, but not all provide street parking.

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Northside Trail. This 1-mile trail meanders from the back of Colonial Homes and Bobby Jones Golf Course through Tanyard Creek Park to Ardmore Park. It’s an extremely pleasant amble through lots of shady, serene green space in the Collier Hills and Ardmore Park neighborhoods. Having opened in April 2010, it offers a nice linkage of parks and playgrounds, but not a lot of art and no convenient dining or retail options unless you go out of your way to Peachtree Street. Expect an atmosphere more like one of the many PATH trails in the adjacent Peachtree Battle area rather than the Eastside Trail.

Best parking: Along the streets at the entry points of Ardmore Park, Tanyard Creek Park and Goodson Lane. (At the latter, avoid parking within the nearby townhome complex.)

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Photo: Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

West End Trail/Westside Trail: The first completed part of BeltLine, the 2.4-mile West End Trail stretches from the entrance of Westview Cemetery through Gordon White Park to White Street, connecting the West End, Westview and Mozley Park neighborhoods. Occasionally the trail moves through green space, but much of it stands alongside the streets, which can make it feel more like a sidewalk than a respite from the roads.

About a half mile of the West End trail will be shared by the Westside Trail, which makes a 3-mile route from University Avenue in Adair Park to Lena Avenue at Washington Park. Because the trails have some overlap and the Westside trail is currently under construction, you can stand on the finished BeltLine and look down on unfinished BeltLine without requiring some kind of time machine.

The Westside Trail features a great tree canopy and some of the project’s most interesting historic tunnels and bridges, along with some of the most playful artwork, so it’ll be fascinating to see the finished project. Note that the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. discourages visits while the trail’s an active construction site, so it may be best appreciated from afar.

Insider tip

Perhaps the most oft-overlooked segment of BeltLine is the 1.15-mile Southwest Connector Spur Trail that links Lionel Hampton Trail to the Beecher Hills and Westwood Terrace neighborhoods, and will eventually provide a 4.5-mile spur to the Westside Trail.

Best parking: Washington Park at the northern end, Adair Park at the southern end, and street parking on Peeples and White streets near Rose Circle Park (close to mile marker 0 and the “West End Remembers” mural).

Photo: Ben Gray, bgray@ajc.com

Interim hiking trails. If you stumble upon these unpaved dirt or gravel paths, they may initially seem like a time-honored neighborhood shortcut, until you come across an elaborate piece of modern art or an official BeltLine mile marker where least expected. The segment that extends north from the Eastside Trail is one of my favorite BeltLine discoveries: From Piedmont Park, it goes under Piedmont Road and behind Ansley Mall. With the rough paths and the area businesses just catching on, it feels like being “backstage” at the BeltLine. Walk beyond the striking bridge at Montgomery Ferry Drive and you’ll find semi-active rail that eventually passes under I-85, so go at your own risk.

The Eastside Trail’s more industry-influenced southern extension is .4 miles, with a northern boundary at Wylie Street and Hulsey Yard and a southern entrance near H. Harper Station.

Best parking: At Piedmont Park and Ansley Mall for the northern extension, along Wylie Street and Kirkwood Avenue for the southern one.

Insider tip
The trails are funded by a combination of public sources, such as the Atlanta BeltLine Tax Allocation District, and private ones via the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Capital Campaign. For more information on contributing or becoming a member, go to beltline.org/get-involved/become-a-member/