Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area | PARK AT A GLANCE

Paddling down the Chattahoochee River near Bowman's Island

Paddling down the Chattahoochee River near Bowman’s Island


The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a 48-mile stretch of the river that starts below the Buford Dam near Cumming, Georgia, and ends close to the junction of I-75 and I-285, about ten miles northwest of downtown Atlanta. While the actual body of water within this 48-mile section of the Chattahoochee is owned by the federal government and operated by the National Park Service, not all of the shoreline along the river is under federal jurisdiction. Much of the river bank is private property, and access to the river at these areas would be through the property owner’s approval. However, the NPS does own 15 parcels of land along the river, 13 of which can be accessed by roads. These are known as the “Park Units.” Each park unit has various amenities such as hiking trails, boat ramps, canoe launches, and picnic areas.

Believe it or not, this little known National Park property gets nearly as many visitors each year as does Yellowstone National Park, though the Chattahoochee River is not particularly scenic or exciting. Nobody travels across the country to see it; it’s doubtful many people travel across Georgia to see it. It owes its 3 million plus visitors a year to the simple fact that it is the playground of Atlanta, one of the largest cities in the United States. But when you get right down to it, that’s exactly what a National Recreation Area is all about any—recreation, not scenic beauty. While some National Recreations Areas are beautiful enough to attract visitors from around the nation, most serve as a recreation area for the local population. The goal of any National Recreation Area is to preserve the area and keep it free from commercial development so that the people of today’s generations and all future generations can enjoy outdoor activities.

Unlike many parks where there are set things to see and do that take up a certain amount of time, visiting the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a leisurely experience with no set agenda that visitors must experience. People come to the park in their spare time for exercise and outdoor fun and adventure. National Park Planner gives visitors insight into trail lengths and difficulties, information for planning a river float trip suited to your time constraints and physical abilities, and the locations of historic ruins, boat ramps, and picnic areas.


The Island Ford Visitor Center located at the Island Ford unit of the park is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, except for Christmas day. The grounds of the park are open daily from sunrise until sunset.

Times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to check out the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the latest schedule.


There is a small fee to enter any of the park units. Day passes (currently $5) and annual Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area passes (currently $40) are available. The day pass is good for entrance into as many park units as you can get to in a day, but it is good for only one day.

You can purchase a pass at the Island Ford Visitor Center (cash or credit); in advance online at; or at the park using the Internet and your cell phone. Cash is no longer accepted at the park units. Some units have credit card machines, but most have been shut down and are no longer working. If purchasing a pass at the park unit, you enter your license plate number when purchasing. This is how the park Rangers know which vehicles are parked legally. Park Rangers sporadically patrol the parking lots and will issue tickets for those who have not paid. Keep in mind that this is an entrance fee, not a parking fee, so you need a pass even if you walk or bike into the park. If asked by a Ranger, you must be able to show a hard copy pass or a digital pass on your phone.

Annual National Park Passes are also good for entry.

For current fees, see the the park’s Fees and Passes web page.

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Last updated on September 23, 2020
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