North Campus at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. (Photo/Caitlin Jett)

Shedding layers and trading leggings for shorts, University of Georgia students and Athens locals alike are warmly welcoming the incoming spring weather. Whether you’re looking for a new place to run, a sunny spot to study or an outdoor adventure with friends, Athens has no shortage of parks and leisure areas.

1. North Campus

Great for: Studying and relaxing

If you’re a student on campus and looking for some outdoor study time, the shaded quads of North Campus might be for you. The grassy areas stretching between UGA’s most historic buildings are popular spots for students to lay out blankets and study, play fetch with their dogs and relax in hammocks. Enjoy the calm and the sunshine in one of the most charming parts of campus.

2. Lake Herrick

Great for: Running and walking, boating, fishing and hammocking

Located near the Intramural Fields on East Campus, Lake Herrick is open to the public for recreational use. The lake reopened for recreational boating in October 2018 and a dock for non-motorized boats such as canoes, kayaks and paddle boards is available to visitors. The area surrounding Lake Herrick also features popular trails for running and walking. Whether you’re looking for a change of scenery, a relaxing spot to string up a hammock or somewhere to spend an afternoon fishing, Lake Herrick has something for everyone. The lake is an appreciated feature of the 60-acre Oconee Forest Park and it’s a valued resource for research and experiential learning.

3. Dudley Park

Great for: Running, walking, picnicking and biking

If you’re looking for trails to walk with your dog, somewhere to run off your brunch from Mama’s Boy or a place to grill out with family and friends, Dudley Park deserves a visit. Located next to Mama’s Boy, this 32-acre park is a short walk from downtown Athens and includes several picnic areas and open fields. The park also serves as a connection between the North Oconee Greenway and the Firefly Trail. These paved trails are popular for running, walking and biking, and fishing is allowed with a license along the North Oconee River at the park.

4. Trail Creek Park

Great for: Field sports, picnicking and mountain biking

Located on Peter Street, the 113-acre Trail Creek Park is a popular site for football, rugby, softball, Ultimate Frisbee games and tournaments for teams from across Northeast Georgia. The park is minutes from downtown Athens and has plenty of green space, an outdoor fitness zone, a playground, a splash zone and picnic pavilions. The park also features a network of over 4 miles of trails designed for mountain biking. The trails range in difficulty from beginner to advanced, and the system was built thanks to the contribution of volunteers with The Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA).

5. Bear Hollow Zoo

Great for: Relaxing, wildlife education and hiking

If you’re wanting to learn more about wildlife native to the southeast region, look no further than Bear Hollow Zoo. Located in the Five Points neighborhood, the zoo is home to more than 35 non-releasable animals residing in natural habitat enclosures and is free to the public. Residents include three black bears, a bobcat, an American alligator, several species of birds and more. On Saturdays, the Reptile House in the center of the zoo is also open for visitation. The animals at Bear Hollow have faced various physical and behavioral challenges that have made their release into the wild impossible. The zoo works to rehabilitate them as they serve as educational opportunities for visitors. The zoo is part of the 72-acre Memorial Park, which also includes a hiking trail and a lake.

6. Ben Burton Park

Great for: Hiking, boating, picnicking and fishing

Ben Burton Park, formerly the site of the hydroelectric generating station until 1964, is a 32-acre wildlife preserve located on the west side of Athens. The park features a short hiking trail through the forest and along the Middle Oconee riverside, picnic areas with grills and a boat launch for non-motorized boats. Fishing in the river is allowed with a license, and leashed dogs are welcome in the park and on the trail. Part of the streambank is dedicated to a stabilization project aimed at improving its lasting health and decreasing erosion.

7. Sandy Creek Nature Center

Great for: Hiking, running, walking and wildlife education

Sandy Creek Nature Center, stretched over 225 acres of woodlands and wetlands, is known as a gateway to outdoor exploration. The property features over 4 miles of trails, including an ADA interpretive trail and connections to the North Oconee Greenway and Cook’s Trail. Visitors should keep an eye out for various creatures and critters, as well as the remains of old buildings while exploring the trails.

Bonus: Sandy Creek Park

Great for: Hiking, walking, running, boating, swimming, horseback riding, picnicking, sports, fishing and relaxing

Located north of the Athens Perimeter, Sandy Creek Park is a 782-acre park that features nature trails, disc golf and boating activities at Lake Chapman. Electric and non-motorized boats are all welcome on the lake via the Lake Chapman Boat Ramp and fishing is allowed with a license. Visitors can relax on the beach or enjoy a swim in the designated wading area. The park features over 16 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to moderate terrain, as well as a 7.5-mile equestrian trail around the lake. The park also has picnic areas, dog parks, playgrounds and amenities for outdoor sports.

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