Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: The Complete Guide

Waterfall at Vickery Creek Mill Dam Georgia
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Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area

Address
1978 Island Ford Pkwy, Sandy Springs, GA 30350, USA
Phone +1 678-538-1273

With over 10,000 acres of green space, Georgia's Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a sprawling outdoor space bordering 48 miles of its namesake river. Spanning four metro Atlanta counties and with 15 separate parks, it boasts wide pedestrian paths, winding and wooded trails to hidden bamboo forests and scenic 19th century mill ruins, local wildlife and plants, as well as waters calm enough for canoeing, tubing, and other water sports.

Due to its sheer size and range of activities, navigating a visit to "The River" can be a challenge for first-time visitors, so use this guide to plan your next visit.

Things to Do

Whether seeking a spot for a short and scenic walk or bike ride or searching for a longer day hike or water-based adventure in Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a great option for visitors of all skills and ages. Open to cyclists and pedestrians, trails range from paved, flat, and shady beginner-friendly paths along the river to more technical terrain that takes you deep into dense hardwood forests, to rocky cliffs overlooking the city skyline, through grassy meadows and serene wooded lakes, and to historic sites and ruins. The park is also home to nearly 250 species of birds, wildlife like white-tailed deer and rabbits, and native plants ranging from serviceberries to azaleas and trout lilies, making it ideal for birdwatching, foraging, or nature hikes.

The southernmost trout river in the country, the Chattahoochee is stocked with trout, bass, catfish and 20 other species of fish and is open to anglers with a valid Georgia fishing license. In the warmer months, the calmer stretches of water are popular for canoeing, kayaking, and the city's unofficial summer past time: Shootin' the Hootch. Boat and raft rentals are available at several outposts along the river.

Best Hikes & Trails

Due to its proximity to Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a favorite for locals seeking scenic and shady trails for walking, running, cycling, and urban hiking. Trails range from wide and flat paths along the river banks to steep, technical terrain with multiple switchbacks and dramatic ascents into dense woodlands, craggy cliffs, and grassy meadows dotted with wildflowers. Seven miles of trails are dedicated to cyclists, all within the Cochran Shoals and Palisades units.

  • Cochran Shoals: Year-round, this three-mile loop—dubbed "The River" by locals—is packed with runners, cyclists, bird watchers, and families out for a stroll. Located in Vinings just off I-285, the path starts with a grassy, wide, flat stretch along the riverbanks and loops to an outer graver trail through wetlands and grassland bordering the forest. For a longer excursion, connect into any number of trails, such as the Sope Creek Trail to the Paper Mill Ruins.
  • East Palisades and Whitewater Creek: Palisades is a hidden gem in the heart of the city. The eastern portion ascends through steep terrain deep into woodlands, and the four-mile out-and-back trek includes creek crossings and steep ascents as it winds to several scenic points of interest, including rocky dramatic bluffs and a bamboo forest framed by 30-foot tall stalks. East Palisades also connects into a short, mostly flat dirt trail that winds along the banks of the river near the Whitewater Creek entrance.
  • Vickery Creek at Roswell Mill: Get a dose of history along with stunning views at one of the park's most beautiful hikes. This five-mile trail network features a tumbling spillway waterfall, Civil War-era mill ruins, a covered bridge, grassy creek beds, and pristine forests teeming with wildlife like geese and heron.
  • Sope Creek Trail: With the stone ruins of a Civil War-era paper mill, serene forest pond surrounded by colorful wildflowers, and gorgeous tree canopy, this 1.5 mile out-and-back trail is a favorite of trail runners and families with children. The terrain is easy-to-moderate, and the route is usually less crowded than other trails in the park.

Boating & Rafting

From Class I-II rapids for experienced kayakers to calm waters ideal for a lazy float, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is one the state's top destinations for water-based activities. Several outfitters—including Nantahala Outdoor Center at Powers Island, Shoot the Hooch at Powers Island and Paces Mill, and High Country Outfitters in Alpharetta and Buckhead—provide raft, kayak, canoe, stand-up paddleboards, and other rentals as well as guided river excursions. Boat access is available at several points along the river, including Buford Dam and Morgan Falls Dam at Bowmans Island, Abbotts Bridge, Medlock Island Ford, and Overlook Park, and the park permits boating from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. Jet skiing is not permitted inside the park, and note that Paces Mill is the last pull-out point for boaters.

Where to Stay Nearby

While the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area does not offer onsite camping, nearby campsites are available at Allatoona LakeStone Mountain Park, and other Georgia State Parks. There are also several hotel options at various price points within a few miles of park entrances in neighboring areas such as Vinings, Sandy Springs, and Roswell.

  • Best Western Plus Roswell/Alpharetta: Just three miles from the Vickery Creek Trail, the Best Western is an affordable option, with rates around $120/night. The rate includes complimentary breakfast, free parking, and access to an outdoor pool and indoor fitness center. The hotel is only two miles from historic downtown Roswell's many shops and restaurants.
  • Hotel Indigo Atlanta - Vinings: Located approximately 12 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta, this pet-friendly hotel is a 10-15 minute drive to popular Chattahoochee River outposts, including East and West Palisades, Cochran Shoals, and Sope Creek. The clean, modern property has a 24/7 fitness center, free parking, an outdoor pool, and onsite dining.
  • Hampton Inn/Cumberland Mall: Also in Vinings, this moderately-priced hotel offers free weekday shuttle service to nearby attractions and easy access to nearby restaurants, trails, and attractions like Truist Park. Amenities include a seasonal outdoor pool, free parking and hot breakfast, high speed wi-fi, and in-room dining.
  • Westin Atlanta Perimeter North: This luxury hotel in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs is 14 miles north of downtown Atlanta and is just a few miles off many of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area trailheads. The nearly 400-room property offers clean, modern rooms, many of them overlooking the city's famed tree canopy, as well as onsite dining, a pool, and complimentary shuttle service to and from the nearby MARTA train station.

How to Get There

The park has 15 separate land units, but to get to the most popular trails, use the following instructions:

  • Cochran Shoals: From downtown Atlanta, take I-75/I-85 N and keep right to merge onto I-75/N. Take exit 258, Cumberland Boulevard toward Truist Park. Follow Cumberland Boulevard to Akers Mill Road and then turn left to the parking lot on Eugene Gumby Road, with overflow parking a quarter of a mile down the road at Powers Island.
  • East Palisades: From downtown Atlanta, take I-75/I-85 N and keep right to merge onto I-75/N. Take exit 256, Mt. Paran Road. Turn right on Garmon Road, then follow to Northside Drive. After a mile, turn left on Indian Trail and follow the road straight ahead to the gravel parking lot and trailhead.
  • Vickery Creek: From downtown Atlanta, take I-75/I-85 N and keep left to merge onto I-85/N, then take Exit 87 to GA-400. Continue on GA-400 to Exit 6, Northridge Road. Keep right at the fork and follow signs for Roswell Road/Dunwoody Place and merge onto Dunwoody Place. Follow the road three miles straight to the parking lot.
  • Sope Creek/Paper Mill Ruins: From downtown Atlanta, take I-75/I-85 N and keep right to merge onto I-75/N. Take Exit 260, Windy Hill Road and then turn left on Powers Ferry Road. Turn right onto Terrell Mill Rd/Terrell Mill Road, then right on Paper Mill Road and follow to parking 1.5 miles ahead.

For specific directions to all land units, consult the park's website.

Accessibility

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area welcomes visitors of all ability levels. All of the area's paved parking lots offer handicap-accessible parking spaces, and the park Visitors Center offers accessible restrooms and a drinking fountain. Restrooms at Jones Bridge, Johnson Ferry, Powers Island, Interstate North entrance to Cochran Shoals ,and Paces Mill are all accessible for those with wheelchairs, as are the picnic shelters at Abbotts Bridge, Johnson Ferry, and Powers Island.

Tips for Visiting

  • If visiting more than once, consider purchasing an annual pass for $40, available online or at kiosks at park entrances. Day passes are $5 per private vehicle.
  • Note that no mountain biking is allowed on Sope Creek Trails 24 hours after heavy rainfall to prevent soil erosion. Text "Ride" to 770-727-5061 for the latest trail conditions.
  • All cycling trails are shared with pedestrians, so follow posted directional signs, which vary by day of the week.
  • Arrive early on weekends and holidays, as parking lots can fill up quickly for the most popular trails.
  • Keep dogs leashed at all times and dispose of waste properly.
  • Make reservations for float and kayak rentals and excursions in advance, particularly on summer weekends.
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Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area: The Complete Guide