Atlanta has never been known as a waterfront city; most residents hit the coast or the North Georgia lakes for a splash. Some of us only associate Chattahoochee—a Creek Indian word for “painted rock”—with a corny country song or the tristate water wars, so it’s easy to forget we have one of the country’s oldest and most stable rivers running right through our city. Most public access in and around town is in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area ($3), designated a part of the National Park system by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. But there are also several city and county parks where you can shove off or cast a line.
The river stretches from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Apalachicola Bay, but this section is the closest for most urbanites, covering seventeen miles from Roswell to northwest Atlanta that offer floating, fishing, swimming, and wildlife-watching. Here are some tips for exploring our oasis.
Know Before You Go
‣ The water level varies by the hour and depends on releases by the dams upstream. It can be dangerously high or low at any time; call 1-855-DAM-FLOW to check first.
‣ According to Sally Bethea of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, rivergoers should stay out of the water during or after a heavy rain, when stormwater picks up pollutants. Visit ga.water.usgs.gov for the twice-weekly bacteria level.
‣ The water temperature is chillier than most expect, ranging from a bracing 55 to 65 degrees.
‣ Life jackets are required—even for inner tubes. (But those over thirteen can just clip it to the raft.)
Beyond the map
‣ Downriver Southwest of the city, the banks become increasingly industrial, and there is little public access. But since the sewer system was updated, water quality has dramatically improved, and several organizations are working to bring this section back to the people.
‣ Downstream 114 miles to the whitewater course in Columbus
‣ Upstream whitewater, wilderness parks, Lake Lanier
The river follows the Brevard Fault, a unique species corridor.
‣ Red-tailed hawks
‣ River otters
‣ Great blue herons
‣ Eastern box turtles
Despite the warning sign at Powers Island, you will not see an American alligator. (Several years back, some fool released his former pet.) Find a printable wildlife checklist at nps.gov/chat.
Did you know?
At the notorious Ramblin’ Raft Race, an annual Memorial Day event, drunken revelers floated downstream in everything from a piano to a Volkswagen bug. The race was terminated in 1980.
This article originally appeared in our June 2014 issue.