If you regularly drive on Briarcliff Road, you’ve probably passed the sign for the Mary Scott Nature Park hundreds of times. Maybe you didn’t stop because you didn’t think you had time — or you didn’t know what you’d find there.
This tiny, 11-acre green space is a well-kept secret. It’s also well worth a visit — with a friend, with children, or by yourself. If you like to explore, it’s a fun destination even if you don’t live in the immediate neighborhood.
The nature trail here is an easy walk on a level, gravel trail in the shade. It has the added attraction of an old home site ruin. See below for a photo guide to walking the trail.
Parking and use of the nature trail at Mary Scott Nature Park is ALWAYS FREE.
This is a new series. Our idea is to find “secret” pockets of nature close to home. As we wander around parks and trails throughout metro Atlanta, we’ll share our experiences with you. We encourage you to follow in our footsteps and check out a place you’ve never been. Get out and explore!
Take a video tour of the trail
6 things we love about Mary Scott Nature Park
Bonus: Leashed dogs are welcome!
1. The ruin. Okay, so it’s not an ancient ruin like the Colosseum or Machu Picchu — but it’s always fun to visit the remnants of history and imagine the lives of people who came before us. Toward the back of the park are a couple of old brick and stone chimneys, all that is left of a home once occupied by Mary Armstrong. (According to this article, the park is named for Mary Armstrong and Scott Brown.)
2. It’s impossible to get lost. If you’ve ever felt intimidated by the trail systems at state parks, this park is for you! There’s one main gravel trail that loops back to its beginning. And all the smaller trail spurs either loop back on themselves or lead back to the main trail.
3. The solitude. Often we don’t see another soul on the trail; other times we’ll nod to a lone jogger. But don’t worry, you won’t feel unsafe in this tiny neighborhood pocket park.
4. The spring wildflowers. The wildflower plantings along the trail are maintained by the Georgia Native Plant Society. But there’s also a butterfly and native plant garden in the center island of the parking lot, and it blooms all summer long.
5. The shade. When you can’t handle the scorching sun and hot pavement on the BeltLine, you can opt for a quiet walk under a shady forest canopy.
6. Kids love it. Your young explorers will feel like they’re off on a woodland adventure as they follow the paths through the forest. Even little kids can complete the half-mile loop with ease.
Getting there & getting around
Mary Scott Nature Park is located inside the Perimeter, in that section of unincorporated Dekalb County that is sometimes referred to as Notlanta.
It is 13 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, less than two miles from Northlake Mall, and roughly six miles from the main Emory University campus.
The park is easy to get to, just minutes off the Shallowford Rd. exit of I-85, with a main entrance on Briarcliff Road.
If you’re navigating via GPS, use this address:
4150 Briarcliff Rd NE
Atlanta, GA 30345
This address takes you to the main trailhead, where there is a small parking lot. You’ll find eight parking spaces and one handicapped spot — which is plenty, because we’ve never seen the lot full.
There are two other trailheads: Overlook Drive East and Overlook Drive West. These primarily offer access to those who live in the surrounding neighborhood. If you decide to park on the street there, be mindful of the fire hydrant and please don’t block driveways or mailboxes.
If you’re using MARTA, your best option may be to get off at Chamblee Station and take Uber or Lyft to the park (it’s about a 10-minute drive with normal traffic).
Once you’re there, you’ll have no trouble navigating the tiny park and looped nature trail.
Park hours & amenities
No hours are posted officially, but sunrise to sunset is a reasonable assumption.
There are no bathrooms, not even a PortaPotty, so keep that in mind.
What you’ll find there:
- Walking trail
- Small playground
- Bean bag toss (cornhole) game (you’ll find the bean bags in a covered box)
- Dog waste station (bags and disposal can)
- Picnic tables
- Bike rack
- Ruins of an old home site
- Plant labels, for easy identification of wildflowers and native plants
- Native plant and butterfly garden in parking lot
If you come with kids, leave some time for them to spend on the playground or trying their hand at the beanbag toss. You could also pack a picnic lunch or snack, and use the picnic tables provided.
For more info, visit the Friends of Mary Scott Nature Park website.
About the nature trail at Mary Scott Nature Park
This trail is a lollipop loop — meaning there’s a “stem” you’ll start out on to access to the loop, and that you’ll return on after completing the loop. (See the screenshot below.)
The main gravel trail itself is only a half mile loop all the way around.
You can extend your walk by exploring some of the side trails, which lead to the ruin, down to the creek, and to connecting neighborhood streets.
Things to know before you go:
♦ Trail format: Lollipop loop, roughly half a mile.
♦ Terrain: The main trail is all gravel, and you don’t have to step off it unless you want to. There are some natural woodland trails of packed earth that lead to the ruin and down to the creek.
♦ Footwear: Some parts of the path can be muddy — so choose your footwear accordingly.
♦ Strollers: We’ve seen strollers in use on the gravel trail, so it isn’t impossible — although it may not be convenient.
♦ Watch out for: We’re pretty sure we spotted poison ivy off the paths. It’s a good idea to know how to identify it, and to have your feet and ankles covered if you plan to walk off the paths into the woods. While we weren’t bothered by mosquitoes, bug repellent is always a good idea in the woods.
Photo guide to walking the woodland trail
If you come during the warm months, take a few minutes to look around the native plant and butterfly garden near the parking area. There is also a playground and Little Free Library here.
From the parking area, we headed past the Little Free Libary to enter the woods on the main trail, which forms the “stick” of the lollipop. Where the trail splits to form the loop, we went straight to walk clockwise around it. (If you veer right, you’ll go around counter-clockwise.
The trail continues through the woodland. It is very shady in summer, and you’re surrounded by lush greenery. Along the way, there are markers for native plants and wildflowers.
Before long, you’ll catch a glimpse of the chimney ruins through the trees. If you want to explore up close, you’ll have to leave the main gravel trail. There’s a narrow dirt trail leading to the ruins, but it may be overgrown in high summer.
Before you head back to the main trail, you can look down a steep bank to your right to see running water. This is a small tributary of Peachtree Creek, and it runs along the far northern edge of the park.
There are ferns here, and a mossy stone bench. We’ve included a short video loop here, because water is about movement and no still image can do it justice. The bird sounds are an added bonus.
Head back to the main gravel trail.
Before long the trail veers to the right and goes up a hill. As it winds around, you may not realize you’ve rounded the top of the loop unless you’re tracking yourself on an app.
You’ll pass the Overlook East trailhead.
Then the loop brings you back around and you can see the parking lot through the trees. You’re back where you started. See? We told you it’s impossible to get lost here!
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