Get in touch with your wild side within the 10,000-acre span of pristine Georgian nature.
Eleven national park service sites, including scenic trails and historic monuments, are scattered across the state or Georgia. But few areas are as diverse and seemingly endless as the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Depending on how you count them, there are roughly 15 sections of this 10,000-acre chain of parks that stretches from Lake Sidney Lanier all the way south to Atlanta. This can be seen as either a curse or a blessing. On the one hand, the area is too big to cover in a single day (or even a single trip). On the other, there’s plenty of nature here to get lost in—whether you’re hiking with the dog, paddling down the river, or just strolling through the forest listening for bird calls—so it keeps you coming back for more.
The main visitor center, Hewlett Lodge, is just sixteen miles from downtown Atlanta, making it an easy commute for nature-starved locals. Though given the park’s fragmented layout, you’ll want to consult a map before planning your escape.
“We think of the [park’s] different units like pearls on a string,” noted Adrianna McLane, the recreation area’s Chief of Visitor Services. The ‘string’ she’s referring to, of course, is the Chattahoochee River itself, which is crammed with secluded picnic spots, forest trails, and even a few boat launches (in fact, there are quite a few access points).
Check Out the Wildlife
Every park regular is likely to have his or her own favorite spot, though McLane is partial to the Island Ford Trail, a remote three mile loop that starts behind Hewlett Lodge. Being so close to water, the land here is rich with wildlife. No matter what time of year you hike, you’re likely to encounter white-tailed deer, lizards, blue heron, and a host of other species.
Explore the Caves
And if your inner Bear Grylls is itching for more adventure, why not go cave exploring? All along the river corridor, a series of spectacular rock shelters mark the spots inhabited by early Native American fishermen and hunters. Climb, crawl, and wander through the caves to your heart’s content: they’re totally safe for visitors.
Stop by Hewlett Lodge
Though it functions as the park headquarters now, the handsome 1930s Adirondack-style cabin was once the summer home of Samuel Dunbar Hewlett, Sr., a former Supreme Court Justice, and was built with cypress logs from nearby Okefenokee Swamp.
All 48 miles of the trout and bass-filled Chattahoochee River can be rafted, canoed, or kayaked. And since this is Georgia, there’s really no bad season—June, December, March, it doesn’t matter. As long as you’re willing to supply the boat (and there are plenty of rental options to choose from), the smooth, wide current is yours to enjoy.
Gorgeous riverscapes, rushing creeks, and waterfalls aside, here’s the main reason you should visit Chattahoochee: it’s incredibly visitor-friendly. There are well-marked maps at every trail intersection, making it easy to chart your course through the pristine woodlands. You'll effortlessly navigate bamboo forest and countless cross-river bridges, and there’s a distinct sense of adventure here—in the backyard of the ninth largest city in America—which few metro area green spaces can offer.