7 Must-Do Chattahoochee River Adventures Near Atlanta
You’ll find a full 48 miles of river and more than 50 miles of trails in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, and a good chunk of its best outdoor attractions are within Atlanta or conveniently close to it. In addition to the leaf-peeping charm and spectacularly scenic river-front views, the area is filled with opportunities for mountain biking, paddling, bouldering, fishing, hiking and more.
We’ve rounded up seven of the best trails, parks and other attractions located near Atlanta to help you get started on finding your personal Chattahoochee River faves for a perfect outdoor experience.
1. Cycling from Cochran Shoals to Sope Creek
Mapped out like a figure eight with a bidirectional connector in the middle, the Sope Creek Trail, part of the Cochran Shoals system, includes miles of single track made of traffic-packed gravel, some wider dirt stretches and little elevation changes. That leisurely combination makes for a trek that’s mostly uninterrupted along its approximately seven miles. With a natural kaleidoscope of green, orange and yellow hues enveloping the forested bulk of its nine miles, it’s perfect for picturesque leaf-peeping. And at the grand-finale clearing, mountain bikers are rewarded with a serene stretch of the Chattahoochee, seemingly stretching for days.
Note that these trails are directional, though, and also multi-use. Check the signs at entrances to determine in which direction you should bike, keep your speed at 10 miles per hour or less and always be courteous of other folks, especially those on foot.
2. Hiking the East Palisades Trail
A diverse hike dotted with scenic jaw-droppers, the East Palisades Trail is an easy favorite for Atlanta hikers and runners. From the trailhead near Buckhead at Indian Trail, you’ll blast toward the river before reaching the banks of Long Island Creek, a small tributary, then cross a wooden bridge over another creek, where elevation is upped — you’re now at a bluff with a wide, idyllic view of the Chattahoochee. Yet another creek, stone building ruins and an old bridge later, you’re entering a grove of impressive 30-foot-tall bamboo stalks. Their subtle musicality amid the quiet is a unique highlight, but it’s the collective prowess of all these features that makes the East Palisades Trail so special. Before you retrace the trail heading back, you’re gifted a second bluff — another striking panorama. You can see some of the stunning views in this video from Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie, in which he describes how wild Atlanta helps inspire him.
3. Catch Some Game Fish
Trout, bass and catfish galore — and then some — are the potential prizes when you fish in the cool temps of the Chattahoochee River. The prime area for fishing is the 12-mile stretch between Jones Bridge and Azalea Drive. Algae beds, submerged logs and rocks, plus pools with minimal currents, make for extra productive trout fishing. Expect a mixed pull of small rainbows and browns (the latter is actually naturally reproducing) and, if you’re lucky, some larger holdovers from the season past. Just remember, you’ll need a valid Georgia fishing license and a trout stamp if you’re older than 16.
Novices can even take a class or head out with an authorized guide for insider tips and tricks, be it bank, wading or boat fishing. With the right technique, you might snag yourself a trophy trout: The Georgia state record brown — a whopping 20 pounds, 14 ounces — was caught below the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee in 2014.
4. Paddling the Chattahoochee River
Is shootin’ the ‘hooch the official Georgia pastime yet? It truly should be, and going the full 48 miles — save for an interruption at the dam at Morgan Falls — should be the Peach State’s crowning achievement for super-ambitious, extra-athletic paddlers.
Honestly, though, floating the calm flow of the Chattahoochee is one of the best ways to spend an early autumn day in the Atlanta outdoors. The backdrop — a pastiche of changing leaves along the forest-lined banks punctuated by bursts of birds and other wildlife — can’t be beat, and you’ve got options in the way of physical exertion. Make it a leisurely, relaxing excursion on a tube or raft, or kick things up a notch with a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, challenging yourself to push for faster speeds.
Shorter trips from Don White Memorial Park to Memorial Park (1.5 miles) or Powers Island to Paces Mill (2.5 miles) make for a half-day’s jaunt, or you can opt for the longer options of Island Ford to Azalea Park (3.5 miles) or Johnson Ferry to Paces Mill (6 miles). Bring your own floatation device and life jacket or rent from one of several businesses located at the various entrances.
5. Camp Overnight at Chattahoochee Bend
Spanning nearly 3,000 acres, Chattahoochee Bend is one of the state’s largest parks. Within the gargantuan tract that is this northwest Coweta County Park — only about an hour and a half outside Atlanta — there are umpteen campsite options, including primitive, screened-in Adirondack style, RV-ready sites with electric hook-ups, riverfront platforms and tent-only spots.
Rough it to your preferred degree, but don’t miss the more than six miles of wooded trails throughout and the superb sights from the designated observation platform. There is a five-mile stretch of Chattahoochee River frontage, too. Leave the tubes at home, though: This stretch of the river offers more excitement than most with steep banks, deep areas and changing currents. Conquer the Chattahoochee on canoe or kayak here instead — you can even rent on-site if you haven’t got your own.
6. Running and Dining in the Chattahoochee Hill Country
A tucked-away trove within the lush forest of the Chattahoochee Hills, Serenbe is a community of four hamlets built on the belief that sustainability and creativity are key to living your best life. As calm and serene as its name implies, the setting is peacefully rural — but culture and innovation are a major focus, too. Among the amenities on its 1,000 breathtaking acres: a massive arts complex, a holistic spa, yoga and Pilates classes, stables that offer horseback riding, a farmers and artisan market and, of course, premium farm-to-table dining options with ingredients sourced from Serenbe’s 25-acre organic farm.
Unsurprisingly, the trails at Serenbe are the stuff of bucolic dreams. Trekking down dirt paths, past the occasional blueberry bush and the pastoral peak of the farm, through the rolling hills, you’ll quickly forget you’re just 30 miles away from the perpetual busy buzz of the city. End your run with a seasonal dish or the famous fried chicken at the critically acclaimed Farmhouse, or head for the Hil, helmed by celebrated chef Hilary White.
7. Bouldering on Powers Island Trail
There’s more to this island than a picture-perfect hike or run along its mostly narrow 2.6-mile eponymous main trail. While that’s plenty reason to visit Powers Island, bouldering aficionados will also appreciate its modest but worthwhile crop of problems. Heading down the primary trail, you’ll see a creek, where you’ll bear left so the river’s on your right. That smaller path guides straight to the sizable Sandman, where you can conquer Power Nap and Lullaby, two problems that run out the roof.
Return to the main trail for another roof, easily noticeable just a few minutes in on the left; later, there’s another, more challenging boulder dubbed the Sundrop. Combined with the colorful foliage, a bamboo thicket around 1.3 miles, a vine-filled stretch and striking, unobstructed views of the Chattahoochee, Powers Island boasts a multi-faceted allure for bouldering enthusiasts and hikers alike.
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