Hiking the ’Hooch

Head to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area for quiet wilderness and deep-woods hiking right in the heart of Atlanta.

The Chattahoochee River has been the lifeblood of North Georgia since time immemorial. Over time, its shape has changed, but its wild spirit has remained the same since it was first settled by Cherokee and Muscogee peoples hundreds of years ago. Visit the park today, and you’ll still experience the awe that has been drawing hikers, bikers, anglers, and paddlers ever since.

Now part of the U.S. national parks system, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NRA) encompasses 48 miles of river stretching from Metro Atlanta to Lake Lanier. It’s home to nearly 1,000 different types of plants and about 200 bird species, including ospreys and bald eagles, which fish for plentiful trout and nest along the Chattahoochee’s banks. 

Here’s how to see all that and more—without ever going too far from home.

Recommended Hikes

The Chattahoochee River NRA boasts dozens of miles of trails. But for easy access, deep shade, and consistent challenge, these three are tough to beat.

Vickery Creek Loop 

Located right across the street from Roswell Park, the Vickery Creek trails are a popular training spot for local cross-country running teams in the summer—and popular among hikers year-round. To do a 3-mile loop of the whole unit, first park at either the Vickery Creek Trailhead or in Roswell Park. Head northeast to pick up the Vickery Creek Trail going clockwise. Be sure to stop at the famous Roswell Covered Bridge and adjacent waterfall along the way.

Island Ford Figure-Eight 

At 6.4 miles, the Island Ford Trail is one of the longest in North Atlanta. The route encompasses two separate loops and starts right by the Chattahoochee River NRA visitor center. To do it, park at the trailhead parking area and head north. You’ll cross Summerbrook Creek as the trail starts to head uphill. Keep heading north to reach the unit’s northern extension and the trail’s terminus. Follow each loop clockwise to get back to your car.

East Palisades Trail Loop

This 3-mile loop winds through dense forest, tackles two big hills, and offers continuous views of the river for nearly a mile. Start at the East Palisades Trailhead area. Head toward the water, then follow the trail north along the riverbank. After about 0.6 mile, you’ll turn right to head uphill (at intersection EP5 on this map). Wrap your way around the loop clockwise before veering back south at intersection EP24.  

A long covered dark wood bridge over the Big Creek river surrounded by lush green lush green trees at Vickery Creek in Roswell Georgia

Other Activities

Hiking isn’t the only activity Chattahoochee River NRA is known for. Mix it up with one of these three adventure options.


The Chattahoochee’s waters stay cool year-round, providing perfect habitat for trout, catfish, and bass. You’ll need a current Georgia fishing license with a trout stamp to fish in the Chattahoochee NRA. (Also be sure to read through the area’s special fishing regulations before you head out.)


Shoot the ‘Hooch on a flatwater paddling trip. You can book one of several outfitters that line the river’s banks, or launch your own kayak or canoe at one of the boat ramps. The water stays cool for most of the year, which makes paddling the best way to beat the heat on summer days.


In the Palisades and Cochran Shoals units (both between Sandy Springs and Marietta), you’ll find 7 miles of gorgeous, wooded trails open to biking. One of the more popular options: the Cochran Shoals Fitness Loop. Level, wide, and 3.8 miles long, it makes a great jaunt for cyclists of all ability levels.

Getting There

You can find the Chattahoochee River NRA visitor center and one of the park’s most popular trailheads in the Island Ford unit in Sandy Springs. To get there from Atlanta, take state Route 400 going north. Keep going straight as it turns to U.S. Highway 19. Then take Exit 6 and follow Dunwoody Place and Roberts Drive north. You’ll reach the visitor center about a mile after getting off the highway.

The Chattahoochee River NRA is a sprawling one. As such, it has more than a dozen distinct park units and 25 different parking areas spread along either side of the river. Some are free to park, and others require a small fee. You can find information on all the locations, fees, and busy times online. More info: nps.gov

Refresh & Refuel

If you’re hiking in Cochran Shoals, grab a cup of coffee and a waffle at Apron and Ladle before you hit the trail. After your hike, consider Rays on the River for a drink or dinner. A little farther south, Canoe offers similarly upscale dining with a cozy, Americana vibe.  

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.