Atlanta is well known for traffic, a massive airport, CNN, Coca-Cola, conventions, and Gone with the Wind. It seems almost cliche-ish when defined in these terms and I can certainly understand that these form or inform people’s image of the South’s “Gate City,” as it was known in the mid 19th century. What local residents and frequent visitors know, though, is that the city is a vibrant and diverse collection of areas. The international farmer’s market by I-285 is a great example of this diversity that visitors don’t often get to see.
Another fact that may be surprising is how this city, so built up and loaded with cars, is actually in the midst of the great outdoors. I shared already about how close Sweetwater Creek State Park is to the city (only 15 miles). Here I want to shared another great nature spot, right within and right outside the city’s ring road (I-285): the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, part of the U.S. National Park Service.
The lay of the Chattahoochee River
The Chattahoochee River, or the “Hootch“, starts up in the North Georgia mountains where the Buford Dam was established to control its flow and accumulate water to provide for the city. It then makes its way to the Gulf of Mexico via western Atlanta then Alabama, then Florida. The river does not cross the modern city center as rivers tend to do in other cities. The city’s location was driven by railroad lines connecting the Gulf, the Atlantic ports and the Midwest back in the first half of the 19th century. So, we did not end up with a river going through the city center (a shame!).
However, it does go through urban areas right outside the city of Atlanta proper and we were lucky that it became a protected area in the 1970s so we could enjoy this bit of nature. All along the river, as it courses through metro Atlanta, there are parks and trails, offering great walking, running, mountain biking, hiking, picnicking, etc. Here I want to share with you about one of them and hope to continue sharing other spots in the future.
A few miles outside of I-285, as you head up on GA-400, you reach the headquarters of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s headquarters. As with many parks, friendly staff and rangers are a phenomenal source of information and advice, both of which we enjoyed getting.
Again, as with other parks like scene, they park service charges a nominal fee for use of the park in the form of a parking permit that costs only $3. Bring singles as you make payment by putting the three dollars in an envelope and drop it in a box!
The trails around Island Ford provide both flat areas as well as steep hills to challenge hikers. The circuit of trails here could take around 1.5-2.5 hours (depending on how many of the trails you hit and your speed!) and they are suitable for beginners. Apparently, it is also a good spot for trout fishing – who knew!
The Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy supports parks along the river in many ways to ensure our enjoyment of these natural areas. Visit their site and become a member or supporter!
Read about these other great hikes in Georgia:
… and more to come!