The Scoop: Monadnock Madness offers adventurous couples an interesting challenge each March. The event allows partners to gain a better understanding of monadnocks — ecological rock formations only found in a handful of U.S. locations. Participants can explore four significant formations — Stone Mountain, Arabia Mountain, Panola Mountain, and, for the first time, Kennesaw Mountain — all found on the outskirts of Atlanta. Couples who enjoy nature can participate by hiking, taking a photography workshop, or experiencing a relaxing mountain yoga class. For providing couples with informative hikes and active experiences, Monadnock Madness has earned our Editor’s Choice Award.

When spring starts, many couples are eager to leave winter weather behind and get outdoors. Some find that Monadnock Madness is just the thing to refresh their bodies and engage their minds.

The event series — which includes hikes, classes, and even yoga sessions — is held each March just outside of Atlanta. It allows couples to get active while learning more about monadnocks, unique rock formations and ecological systems found only in a few locations in the United States.

For the Guided Triple Hike, participants meet up with ranger guides early in the morning and begin climbing up three monadnock mountains. The hike starts by summiting Stone Mountain before moving on to Mount Arabia, and it concludes with Panola Mountain.

Monadnock Madness logo and photo

Monadnock Madness allows people to explore rare natural rock formations just outside of Atlanta.

“You can only summit Panola with a ranger because it’s so carefully preserved,” said Zack Loehle, Communications Manager at Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, the organization that organizes Monadnock Madness.

Along the way, couples can learn about the history of the area, flora and fauna, and the three formations. A monadnock isn’t a traditional mountain; it’s a large outcropping of bedrock that stands high above the surrounding landscape.

“Near Atlanta, we have a number of monadnocks with ecosystems that don’t exist in many other places,” said Zack.

Guides also bring tasty snacks, so hikers will be motivated to reach all three summits. Once participants finish the exhilarating eight-mile hike — which typically takes about seven hours — they’ll be rewarded with s’mores and a surprise.

“When you reach the top of Panola, you get the prize. It’s a bandana, but the color changes every year. Some of the rangers have hiking sticks with bandanas from every year on them. Someone else even made a belt out of her bandanas,” Zack told us.

Encouraging People to Explore Unusual Geology

Monadnock Madness began as a way to spread awareness about the unique rock formations. Though the area has multiple monadnock formations close to each other, many locals didn’t know that these three mountains were part of the same ecosystem.

“We wanted to connect what people see as disparate park sites. It’s an exciting way to connect with the ecosystem outside of a particular area,” Zack said.

Many locals may have hiked Stone Mountain but not realized that it had a similar history and ecology as Panola Mountain. Even Atlantans who are familiar with one or two of the mountains, may not recognize the rarity of the entire swath of ecosystems.

Photo of group on top of a monadnock formation

Monadnock formations are home to some of the most unique ecological environments in the U.S.

The formations are so unusual that Monadnock Madness — entering its eighth year in 2020 — attracts visitors from around the country. In 2019, couples from North Carolina, Florida, and as far as the Midwest, traveled to take part in the event’s Guided Triple Hike.

“Some people have hiked one of the mountains, but as they visit the other mountains they haven’t seen, they get an expression of wonder on their faces,” said Zack.

Monadnock Madness also encourages visitors to learn about the impact humans have had on each of the mountains. For example, because of the rare plants and animals found on Panola Mountain, hikers have to make reservations for a ranger-led hike to explore the well-conserved area.

“You can see both the swath of land in the Atlanta metro and how humans have impacted natural history at each of the sites,” said Zack.

And in 2020, the event series includes Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, another monadnock ecosystem located to the northwest of Atlanta, for the first time as a fourth mountain hiking option. Participants can earn a Kennesaw Mountain stamp on their passports, and even earn an extra prize — in addition to the bandana.

“We are very excited to expand Monadnock Madness to connect another site in the metro-Atlanta area,” said Zack.

Offering Events for All Skill Levels and Interests

Regardless of whether couples participate in the popular Guided Triple Hike, Monadnock Madness offers plenty of other events during March.

Those who want to explore the mountains without hiking for seven hours can participate in the Hike as You Like challenge. Participants earn a stamp on their passport from the visitor’s center at the bottom of each mountain.

That challenge may appeal to hikers who want to split up their trips, as well as those who want to spend more time exploring the features of each mountain. Couples may also choose from dozens of other events throughout the month.

Photo of group on a Monadnock Madness hike

Couples can take a hike that focuses on wildlife photography during Monadnock Madness.

Other notable activities include Sunset Yoga on Arabia Mountain. “Take time to relax and refresh your body, mind, and soul,” reads the website’s description. “You will leave grounded, more aware of your surroundings, and filled with a deeper connection to yourself and the world.”

Couples interested in photography can also enroll in the Landscape, Macro, and Wildlife Photography Workshop with local photographer Larry Winslett. Participants hike Stone, Arabia, and Panola Mountains to take close-up pictures of blooming flora on the mountain. The workshops focus on three areas: landscape photography, close-up shots, and wildlife photography — where participants can look out for birds and white-tailed deer.

“Larry Winslet is a wonderful nature photographer, and his workshop is one of our marquee events,” Zack said.

Those interested in any of the Monadnock Madness events should sign up for them early. The Triple Hike, yoga class, and photography workshops are all capped at a limited number of participants.

Monadnock Madness Allows Atlanta Couples to Explore Their Own Backyard

Though Stone Mountain, Arabia Mountain, and Panola Mountain are within a 20-minute drive of Atlanta, locals don’t always recognize what notable natural wonders they are. As spring begins, they might need a little push to get back into nature. Monadnock Madness can provide that little extra motivation.

“We’re glad to get people excited about these natural wonders hidden in their backyard,” Zack said. “And the sites are just breathtaking.”

Couples don’t need to be fitness buffs to participate, either. While the Triple Hike Challenge is undoubtedly a memorable experience, they can hike at their own pace.

“Because our events are so varied, there’s something for whatever your interest is. We want it to be open to everyone,” Zack told us.

The events both spread awareness and provide financial support for the preservation of a natural area. Though the monadnocks may look like bare rocks, they are home to a wide range of species, including lichens, amphibians, cacti, and trees. These fragile ecosystems were all impacted in different ways by human interference, including the drilling of Arabia Mountain granite for construction projects. Now, these rare formations need to be conserved for future generations.

“This isn’t an ecosystem you can find anywhere else,” Zack said.

Couples have plenty of reasons to attend Monadnock Madness events. Some want a good excuse to get active and explore nature, while others have a passion for flora and photography. No matter the reason, they should buy tickets well in advance so they can start the spring season on the right foot.