Exploring the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta

By: Giannina Smith Bedford

March 16, 2016

In landlocked Atlanta, you sometimes need a respite from the concrete jungle. Luckily, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is nearby to answer the call. Running through the northern suburbs of the city, it’s is a top destination for running, walking and biking on shady trails and paved waterside paths as well as floating on its 48 miles of misty waters. Here’s how to get the best out of a day on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta.

Exploring the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta
Early morning fog settles on the Chattahoochee River © Chattahoochee Nature Center


There are 15 land units along the river and several parking areas ($3 daily park pass) that provide easy access to its attractions. Spend just a few hours taking in nature on a leisurely stroll or plan a full day out on the water, where you’re sure to see several locals doing the same. You can show up at without a set agenda and let your inner explorer take the lead or, if you prefer to plan ahead, the Island Ford unit is home to the Visitor Center, where you can pick up brochures and trail maps and ask Rangers questions.

Exploring the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta
One of the many boardwalks to enjoy along the Chattahoochee River © Chattahoochee Nature Center


For rafting, boating or paddle boarding, bring your own equipment or rent it from outfitters such as Shoot the Hooch, High Country Outfitters or Nantahala Outdoor Center. Each offers shuttle service and guided river trips. One of the most popular ways to enjoy the river during the summer is by “shooting the Hooch” on an inflatable float. On a sunny day, it’s not uncommon to see lively groups making a day of a motor- and paddle-less trip down the river. Most of the Chattahoochee River flows at a leisurely pace, but sections can contain up to Class 2 rapids so be ready for a bumpy ride around the rocky shoals. The recreation area allows rafts, canoes, kayaks, motorboats and other small boats, but no jet skis. As you float, keep your eyes open for the wildlife and wildflowers that call the area home. And don’t be shy about taking a dip – the water remains cool (rarely above 50 degrees Fahrenheit/10 degrees Celsius) all year long.

Exploring the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta
Towering trees lining the river provide refreshing shade on a hot day © Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area


Planning an outdoor picnic? There are many tables and even some large pavilions at the different land units. You can also set up your meal on a picturesque rock along the banks. For the history buffs, there are a few historic ruins of bridges, old factories and mills within the recreation area that make good photo ops.

Whatever your visit to the Chattahoochee River has in store, remember that the key to enjoying it isn’t about how far you paddle, run or bike, but about finding your peace with nature in the midst of a bustling Southern city.

Exploring the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta
Look out for the colourful butterflies that call the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area home © NPS


Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Atlanta from London Heathrow, making it easy to explore the Chattahoochee River on your next trip.

Have you explored the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta? What did you do there? Let us know in the comments section below.

Giannina Smith Bedford

Giannina Smith Bedford is a travel and business writer whose work has appeared in a number of national and regional publications, including Condé Nast Traveler, Delta SKY Magazine, AirTran Airways GO Magazine, and Atlanta Business Chronicle, among others. Born in Miami, she grew up in Brazil, Chile, Hawaii and Australia and continues her worldwide adventures—always traveling with a pen in hand. Her published work can be viewed at

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