Her father (Iasus or Schoeneus) wanted a son, so after Atalanta's birth he left her exposed on a mountaintop. Artemis sent a female bear to suckle her and eventually a group of hunters raised her.
Years later a beast called the Calydonian Boar was stalking the land. King Oeneus sent his son Meleager to gather up heroes to hunt the Boar. Among many others, Meleager chose Atalanta, who by now was a young woman and a fierce huntress, with whom he fell in love and who returned his love.
Atalanta participated in the hunt and struck the first wound, though Meleager killed the boar. Since she had caused the first drop of blood to be shed, Meleager awarded her the hide. According to one account of the hunt, the two centaurs Hylaeus and Rhaecus tried to rape Atalanta, but Meleager killed them. Also during the hunt, Eurypylus and Iphicles insulted her, and Meleager killed them.
Since Meleager had killed her two brothers, Althaea Meleager's mother placed the magic log upon which his life depended on a fire, killing him.
The grief-strickened Atalanta sought out her father who claimed her as his offspring and wanted her to get married. Although a very beautiful maiden, Atalanta felt marriage would be a betrayal to Meleager. In order to get her a husband, her father made a deal with Atalanta that she would marry anybody who could beat her in a foot race. Anyone who tried to beat her and failed, however, would be killed. Atalanta agreed, as she could run extremely fast.
She outran many suitors, who were then executed. The suitor Hippomenes (also known as Melanion) knew that he could not win a fair race with Atalanta, but was enthralled by her beauty. Atalanta, too, found him most agreeable both physically and as a person, and so she begged him not to race her (and risk his life), but he could not be dissuaded. Hippomenes then prayed to the goddess Aphrodite for help. The goddess gave him three golden apples (in some variations the fruit was instead quince) and told him to drop them one at a time to distract Atalanta. Sure enough, she stopped running long enough to retrieve each golden apple. It took all three apples and all of his speed, but Hippomenes finally succeeded, winning the race and Atalanta's hand. Some versions hold that she used the apples as an excuse to let him win.
In some versions of the quest for the Golden Fleece, Atalanta sailed with the Argonauts as the only female among them, suffered injury in the battle at Colchis and was healed by Medea. Other authors claim Jason wouldn't allow a woman on the ship.