a man and a woman fishing along the Chattahoochee river surrounded by lush green grass and trees at McIntosh Reserve Park in Whitesburg Georgia

Guide to the Chattahoochee River

Experience this wilderness escape in Atlanta’s backyard with the best stretches to fish and float the Chattahoochee, both inside the National Recreation Area and beyond.

The Chattahoochee River starts as a spring on Coon Den Ridge in the mountains of northeast Georgia and runs 430 miles south until it joins with the Flint River in Florida to create the Apalachicola River. Between that spring and that confluence, the Chattahoochee takes on a variety of different personalities. In North Georgia, it’s a shallow, cold trout stream winding through the mountains. For most of its journey in South Georgia, it’s a wide, linear lake, although punctuated by one short stretch of absolute chaos during a mile of Class III-IV whitewater in Columbus, Ga. But the stretch along the edge of Metro Atlanta might be the most spectacular. There, a 48-mile segment of the river is designated the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service and protected by a buffer of green space that’s blessed with access points, boat ramps and trail systems.

The ’Hooch through the National Recreation Area is also designated a National Water Trail. Consider it a sinuous park running along the edge of the busiest and most populated city in the South, giving millions of people quick access to boating and fishing. And the people respond; roughly 3.4 million people visit the Chattahoochee River NRA every year. The trails surrounding the river have become increasingly popular, but if you want a true wilderness escape in Atlanta’s backyard, you need to hit the water. Here’s a quick guide to the best stretches of the Chattahoochee River, both inside the National Recreation Area and beyond.    

Best Spot for Easy Access 

There are a dozen boat ramps scattered throughout the 48-mile stretch of NRA managed by the park service and another half-dozen managed by various municipalities, so access isn’t an issue and you can easily customize a canoe trip that will suit your specific needs. If you’re looking for a short day-trip, consider the 3.3-mile paddle from Powers Ferry to Paces Mill through the Palisades unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The stretch of water is calm, with the occasional Class I-II shoal, making it an ideal spot for beginners on their first paddling excursion. And the scenery is truly wild as the buildings and traffic of Atlanta are replaced with a dense hardwood canopy and the gurgle of the river. More info: nps.gov

A woman paddles in a kayak

Best for Fishing

After the Chattahoochee leaves the mountains and hits the piedmont near Atlanta, it becomes a relatively mellow river. But the temperature of the water rarely gets above 50 degrees, which creates great fish habitat. In fact, the Chattahoochee is the southernmost trout stream in the U.S. It’s a year-round trout fishery stocked with rainbow and home to naturally reproducing brown trout which have been known to hit 20 pounds. The section below Morgan Falls Dam is catch-and-release from Nov. to May 15. The entire 48-mile-long National Recreation Area boasts prime fishing, although fishing from the bank can be difficult and most anglers fish the ’Hooch from a boat. If you don’t have a boat, head to Jones Bridge for the best fishing access. A large public park has a boat ramp, restrooms, and extensive sections that are shallow enough for wade-fishing, so you don’t need a boat. More info: chattahoocheeriverlands.com 

Best for Thrills 

The mile-long section of the Chattahoochee that runs through downtown Columbus, in South Georgia, has been optimized for whitewater. A dam removal and streambed reconstruction have created the longest urban whitewater course in the country with multiple Class III-V rapids. More info: chattahoocheewhitewaterpark.com

Best Overnight Trip 

There’s no camping within the National Recreation Area, but head 50 miles south and you can put together a 10- to 25-mile overnight trip that will have you camping at Chattahoochee Bend State Park, which has eight paddle-in campsites (from $11 a night) and 5 miles of river frontage. Put in at the state Route 16 boat ramp near Whitesburg and travel 8 miles to Chattahoochee Bend State Park, paddling through several Class I-II shoals along the way. After camping at the park, it’s 2 more miles to the Plant Wansley takeout, or another 13 miles to the GA-27 boat ramp in Franklin. More info: gastateparks.org

Regulations To Consider 

Never paddle without a properly fitting life vest (all boaters must have a Coast Guard-approved PFD in their craft at all times). Night boating isn’t permitted inside the National Recreation Area and there is no camping along the river within the park. If you’re fishing, the use of live bait is prohibited within the park. And the section between Sope Creek to U.S. Hwy 41 is a delayed harvest stream from Nov. 1 to May 14, which means it’s catch and release. All units of the NRA charge a $5 day-use fee. More fishing info: nps.gov; more paddling info: nps.gov

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.