Ren Davis and his wife Helen enjoy a stroll around Silver Lake in north DeKalb County, an area featured in their “Atlanta Walks” guidebook.

Their walks started as doctor’s orders. In the 1980s, Helen Davis was pregnant and her doctor told her to limit her exercise to taking strolls through the neighborhood.

She worked out a four-mile loop around a Buckhead park. After a while, she and her husband, Ren, decided they needed a change of scenery and thought they’d try other hikes around town. But when they went looking for a book of walking tours in metro Atlanta, they couldn’t find one. So they decided to write one themselves.

Soon the Davises — Helen, then a school teacher, and Ren, then a hospital administrator – were compiling information about all sorts of metro Atlanta places where people could take a walk. Ren Davis had grown up in Buckhead, so “I started out with a list of neighborhoods I knew would be interesting,” he said.

There were times it wasn’t easy. “It’s a challenge in a city that isn’t pedestrian-friendly,” Ren Davis said. “Atlanta’s not famous for walking.”

Over time, their list grew. Eventually, it became their first book, a pocket-sized guide listing 25 places to wander the streets and see the sites of Atlanta. That first guide came out in 1988. They followed that with a suburban supplement. Then, in 1993, they put together “Atlanta Walks,” a full-sized paperback guide with photos and maps for folks looking for places to stroll about metro Atlanta. Last year, the book went into its fourth printing.

Those books led to other assignments. They wrote of Atlanta walks for newspapers and magazines. Now that they’re both 60 and retired, they’ve moved on to other sorts of projects, including a new book about the Civilian Conservation Corps legacy in American parks. “Helen will tell you that for years we didn’t take vacations, we took ‘research trips,’” Ren Davis said.

The newest edition of “Atlanta Walks” runs nearly 400 pages and lists 57 guided hikes in places scattered from Jonesboro to Dunwoody to Stone Mountain to Suwanee. The list includes walks through 10 separate units of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Individual walks include places to see Civil War battlefields, colleges, fine homes and walks through the woods.

“What we try to do is become tourists in our own home town,” Ren Davis said. “We went to places we had never been before.”

One new place they found was Silver Lake, the north DeKalb neighborhood where they now live. Ren Davis spotted the lake on a map, so they went to check it out. “I had been to Oglethorpe University many times, but I had never been back in here,” Ren Davis said. “We thought, ‘If we ever move, we’d like to move here.’”

Within a few years, they had moved into a house just up the hill from Silver Lake itself. Now a four-mile walk through Oglethorpe University and Silver Lake is hike number 24 in their guide.

“We thought of this as our Walden Pond. We pinch ourselves when we take a walk along the lake,” Ren Davis said one recent morning.

Years later, they still walk the neighborhood. Helen Davis said she heads out every morning for a stroll with a group of her neighbors. She usually walks five or six miles a day, she said.

“We just think of ourselves as the neighbors who like to get other people out to walk,” Helen Davis said.


Seven places to take walks in the woods

Tired of sitting in traffic jams or wandering through interchangeable malls? Luckily, if you live in Buckhead, Brookhaven, Dunwoody or Sandy Springs, you don’t have to go far to get away from some of the annoyances of city life. Woodland hideaways are scattered throughout the area.

So if you need a break, here are seven places we have identified in the Reporter Newspapers communities where you can go for a restorative walk in the woods.

Atlanta History Center

The History Center sits on 33 acres of Buckhead woodlands and offers several trails through its gardens. The Swan Woods Trail takes visitors through 10 acres of forest, including pine, beech, tulip poplar trees, ferns and wildflowers, while the 3-acre Quarry Garden trail works its way through nearly 600 species of native plants, and features a pond and bog garden.

Location: 130 W. Paces Ferry Road, NW

Hours: 10 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays; noon -5:15 p.m. Sundays

Cost: Trails are included in price of regular admission to the center, which costs $16.50 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, $11 for patrons aged 4 to 12, and is free for children younger than 4 and for members.

For more information:

Big Trees John Ripley Forbes Forest Preserve

This 30-acre tree, plant and wildlife sanctuary in the middle of Sandy Springs contains two creeks and 1.5 miles of trails through a diverse “middle growth” forest with white oaks more than 100 years old, according to the preserve’s website. The state and the city of Sandy Springs own portions of the forest. It is named for John Ripley Forbes, who lived in Sandy Springs and helped found more than 24 natural science centers and was instrumental in saving this forest from development.

Location: 7645 Roswell Road

Hours: Sunrise to sunset

Cost: Free

For more information:

Chastain Park

Atlanta’s PATH Foundation says the 3-mile path around Chastain Park is one of its most popular trails. It is an urban walk, of course, and not a stroll through an isolated forest. This trail attracts joggers, families pushing strollers and folks walking their dogs. PATH’s website says surveys show 250 people use these trails every hour. Still, there are places where you can wander into a small patch of woods.

Location: Chastain Park; trails are accessible from the “red lot” parking area on Powers Ferry Road.

Hours: Dawn to 11 p.m.

Cost: Free

For more information:

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Palisades unit

This unit of the national recreation area is located in Sandy Springs just upriver of Buckhead. It features trails that allow a stroll along the Chattahoochee or a climb into the hills overlooking the river. Several miles of trails connect to a scenic overlook offering a view of a portion of the river known as the Devil’s Racecourse. The granite palisades that give the unit its name were known as “The Devil’s Stairsteps” during the 1800s, the National Park Service says on its website.

Location: 1425 Indian Trail, NW

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Cost: $3 for a one-day pass; $25 for a season pass

For more information:

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Island Ford unit

The national recreation area, operated by the National Park Service, offers 15 land units scattered along 48 miles of the Chattahoochee River as it winds through metro Atlanta. Federal officials recently declared that section of the river the first “Water Trail” in the country. The Island Ford unit in Sandy Springs contains the park headquarters and visitor’s center. Visitors to Island Ford can take a riverfront stroll of about a mile.

Location: 1978 Island Ford Parkway

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Cost: $3 for a one-day pass; $25 for a season pass

For more information:

Dunwoody Nature Center

The nature center offers about 1.5 miles of trails that wander through the woods of Dunwoody Park in the city of Dunwoody. A loop trail follows Wildcat Creek while a steeper trail takes walkers from the center’s education building to Roberts Drive and back.

Location: 5343 Roberts Drive

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Cost: Free

For more information:

Murphey Candler Park

In addition to baseball, softball and fishing, Murphey Candler Park features a wooded trail that allows walkers to wander through the 135-acre park and around the lake. recommends you get on the trail at the small parking lot you reach after crossing the dam across Nancy Creek. Also, the PATH Foundation’s Nancy Creek Trail connects the park to Blackburn Park.

Location: 1551 W. Nancy Creek Drive

Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset

Cost: Free

For more information:;

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.