Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park | RIVER TRAIL

Hiking route to all Ocmulgee mounds and historic sites

Hiking route to all Ocmulgee mounds and historic sites (click to enlarge)

HIKE TO THE OCMULGEE MOUNDS AND HISTORIC SITES

Stop 8: River Trail

Looking at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park trail map, it appears that when exiting Great Temple Mound (Stop 7) that you must return to the parking lot or walk back down the hill you came up in order to access the path that goes behind the Great Temple Mound area and leads to the River and Opelofa trails. This is not the case. Omitted from the park map, but drawn in on the map provided at the top of this page, is a shortcut that starts at the rear staircase of Great Temple Mound. It’s only a few hundred yards from here to the River Trail, but the path is quite steep. If you want a flatter route, take the stairs at the front of the mound back to the parking lot and look for a dirt trail on your right. This leads to the River Trail as well.

Path to the River Trail from the backside of Great Temple Mound

Path to the River Trail from the backside of Great Temple Mound

From the start of the River Trail to the Ocmulgee River is about a mile, and from there you can continue on to Macon along the paved Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, which ends near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. This report only covers the section to the river and back, a round trip of about an hour (2 miles). The trail is billed as paved and wheelchair accessible, but read on and you’ll soon learn that this claim is just a pipe dream stemming from the minds of inept federal engineers who somehow didn’t realize that the trail passed through a flood zone.

The River Trail starts off on a boardwalk to elevate hikers above the Walnut Creek Wetlands. If you don’t want to hike the River Trail, walk past the boardwalk and stay on the Opelofa Trail towards the last point of interest on the hike around Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, Southeast Mound.

Boardwalk portion of the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Boardwalk portion of the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Walnut Creek Wetlands at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Walnut Creek Wetlands at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

The boardwalk quickly gives way to a paved path that is flat and easy to hike. The creek running along the trail, which can be glimpsed every now and then, is not the Ocmulgee River, but Walnut Creek, which empties into the river. At this point, everything is hunky dory.

Paved portion of the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Paved portion of the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Walnut Creek runs along the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Walnut Creek runs along the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

As I walked down the paved portion of the River Trail, I came across a spot here and there that was covered with dirt. This was no big deal to me since I have no problem walking, and the sections were short enough that somebody in a wheelchair could get through them as well. Hikers are more likely to be concerned about the spiders hanging around the place. I saw a beautiful Golden Silk Spider, and true to its name, its web was gold.

Short, muddy section along the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Short, muddy section along the River Trail at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park

Golden Silk Spider

Golden Silk Spider

But as I proceeded farther down the trail, things got worse and worse. Long stretches were covered with deep beach-like sand, and I found it doubtful that anyone in a wheelchair was going to get through it. Hopefully some park Rangers would be out shortly to clean things up.

Section of the River Trail covered with deep beach-like sand

Section of the River Trail covered with deep beach-like sand

But then I came to a quarter-mile stretch where I didn’t even know if I was walking on concrete anymore. I had to walk through mud and up small hills of hard-packed dirt in some places. This was way beyond what a couple of Rangers could clean up. Bulldozers are needed for this job.

Pavement on Ocmulgee Mounds' River Trail disappears under long stretches of mud and sand

Pavement on Ocmulgee Mounds’ River Trail disappears under long stretches of mud and sand

Now, I hiked the River Trail a week after a flood, so perhaps this was just a freak occurrence and soon everything would be cleaned up. But then I saw grass growing in the middle of the trail—between tire tracks, if you can believe that. Grass just didn’t start growing a week ago. And who the hell’s been driving some sort of ATV through this area long enough to wear tracks into the ground?

Grass growing on a dirt section of Ocmulgee Mounds' River Trail

Grass growing on a dirt section of Ocmulgee Mounds’ River Trail

Towards the end of the River Trail when the pavement reappeared, I ran into a guy coming the other way on a bike, and I told him about what lie ahead (you can ride a bike on the River Trail). He told me the entire trail was like this all the way to Macon, and that it’s like this all the time. Once in a blue moon the National Park Service will bring out bulldozers to clear the path, but all the mud and sand just comes back after the next big rain.

Indians first lived in this area 10,000 years ago. If we could go back in time and ask one of them if paving a trail through this area is a good idea, I’m sure he’d say, “Hell no.” Yet some 21st century engineer working for the National Park Service thought otherwise. If you can walk, all of this is no big deal, as it’s just a standard earthen hiking trail. But if you come here in a wheelchair because the trail is promoted as wheelchair accessible, you’ll probably be pretty pissed off. Thus, be sure to ask a Ranger what the trail conditions are before heading out in a wheelchair.

The River Trail ends at a circular paved path just after passing under I-16. This path functions as a roundabout of sorts and connects to the Heritage Trail. Surprisingly enough, the pavement was in perfect shape.

End of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park's River Trail

End of the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park’s River Trail

So you’ve walked through dirt and mud and sand on a supposedly paved trail just to see the Ocmulgee River. My suggestion is to turn around here and head back to the park because there is no Ocmulgee River overlook, and to see it you’ll have to deal with more mud, some of it deep enough to suck the shoes right off your feet. There are also swarms of mosquitos near the water. But for those who insist, go to the left around the circle and you’ll soon come to an area with some benches, information panels, and the remnants of two stone pillars, which I suspect are the abutments of an old bridge.

Sitting area with information panels at the end of Ocmulgee Mounds' River Trail

Sitting area with information panels at the end of Ocmulgee Mounds’ River Trail

To get to the Ocmulgee River, walk—or perhaps slide—down the hill between the two pillars. If the water levels are high, the area you see may be flooded, but once the waters recede you’ll have to walk a little ways to the river. Try to walk in the light colored sand because the dark stuff is mud.

Muddy path from the River Trail down to the Ocmulgee River

Muddy path from the River Trail down to the Ocmulgee River

The Ocmulgee River is not very picturesque due to its muddy water. Since you can’t see the bottom, it is impossible to tell how deep it is, but it is deep enough for steamboat traffic. In the 1800s, the river was used for commercial transportation of cotton and lumber.

The Ocmulgee River

The Ocmulgee River

If you hike the River Trail, when returning to the main trail, turn right to proceed on the Opelofa Trail towards Southeast Mound. That’s the last stop of interest on a hike through Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.


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Last updated on May 3, 2022
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