You’ve resolved to burn off those holiday calories, and the kids want some outdoor time before heading back into the classroom. A brisk walk on a trail alongside the Chattahoochee River might be just the ticket to get your January started on the right note.
Eric Champlin, creator of the website AtlantaTrails.com, moved to Atlanta 15 years ago. “Once I started exploring Atlanta, I couldn’t believe the incredible resource we have here with the national and state parks on the river. There are dozens of miles of trails, and each park has unique features like rock outcrops overlooking the river, bamboo forests and ancient caves possibly inhabited by Native Americans,” he said.
He finds the Chattahoochee parks with their relatively level terrain particularly good for beginning hikers. “Even if the trail is longer than you anticipate being able to hike, walking a half-mile on a 3-mile trail is a great way to get started,” he said.
Walking the river in January offers a chance to see nature in a different way. ”In winter, without the leaves, you can see how big the tree branches really are. It’s also a good time to look for wildlife, especially deer and turkey,” said Kim Hatcher with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Champlin offers advice for preparing for your winter walk: Wear layered clothing because when the sun starts to set, the temperature drops and it can get cold quickly. A good pair of walking shoes will be fine at a place with manicured trails like the Chattahoochee Nature Center. For more rugged terrain like Bowmans Island or Chattahoochee Bend State Park, hiking boots with ankle support will help prevent injury if you trip over a root or encounter rocks or slippery surfaces.
A January walk will be quieter because there will be fewer people out on the trails. It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going.
“It’s important to prepare in case something happens. Anybody can get lost. You can run a GPS app on your smartphone, but nothing beats having a trail map and a compass. Take water and a snack. Bring a small first-aid kit with at least Band-Aids and a pain reliever,” Champlin added.
THREE SPOTS FOR A WALK ALONG THE CHATTAHOOCHEE
Chattahoochee Bend State Park, operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources
425 Bobwhite Way, Newnan
Park is open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Tent, RV and platform campsites available for overnight stays.
$5 daily park pass purchased at park gate. Annual ParkPass also available, $50, $25 for those 62 and up.
This 2-year-old park is one of Georgia’s largest state parks at 2,910 acres. It protects 5 miles of river frontage. The park has campsites, a boat ramp, gift shop and two rentable picnic shelters.
Nearby: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site and Callaway Gardens are about an hour away. Historic Banning Mills, 18 miles away, offers zip line tours, horseback riding and tandem sky diving.
Chattahoochee Nature Center
9135 Willeo Road, Roswell
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays
Adults, $10. Seniors (65 and up) and students (13-18), $7. Children (3-12), $3. Children 2 and under, free.
The Chattahoochee Nature Center protects 127 acres of native plants and gardens. There’s a half-mile-long River Boardwalk with one-third running along the river, wetland demonstration gardens and woodland trails home to injured, nonreleasable wildlife. Trails on the center property total just under 4 miles.
An easy way to mark your miles: The center’s new Wildlife Walk is 0.3 miles long. Signage along the trail provides information on the river watershed and woodlands. Also along the trail are habitats for rescued and rehabilitated wildlife including red-tailed hawks, vultures, eagles, owls and a beaver.
Bowmans Island, part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, operated by the National Park Service
Access from Buford Dam Road or Buford Highway/Ga. 20.
Park lands and waters are open for day use only, dawn (30 minutes before legal sunrise) to dusk (30 minutes after legal sunset).
$3 daily park pass charged in all National Park Service areas except Buford Dam. Annual park pass also available, $25.
Bowmans Island is the northernmost portion of the 16 units in the national park, just south of Lake Lanier and Buford Dam. It stretches along 2 miles of river and has 7 1/2 miles of hiking and multiuse (pedestrian and horseback riding) trails. It’s named for the island that splits the river.
Nearby: Buford Dam Park at the north end has a beach, picnic tables, playgrounds and volleyball and basketball areas. Laurel Ridge Trail, 3.8 miles, goes through the park. The Buford Trout Hatchery, run by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, provides the fish for the 48 miles of river the National Park Service protects. The hatchery, bird trail and a fishing pond are open to the public 7:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. every day of the year.