The Chattahoochee watershed is one of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. With its headwaters in the Blue Ridge Mountains, 200 feet from the Appalachian Trail, the Chattahoochee flows 430 miles through Georgia. The lower portion of the river is the boundary between Georgia and Alabama and between Georgia and a small portion of Florida. It joins the Flint River at Lake Seminole and forms the Apalachicola River, which flows 106 miles through Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. Paddle Mossy Creek a whitewater tributary of the Chattahoochee in the Appalachian Mountains. Paddle Vickery Creek a tributary of the Chattahoochee in the northern suburbs of Atlanta
See all of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds
The Chattahoochee Watershed System
The Chattahoochee watershed is a part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system that drains an area of 19,600 square miles in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Beginning in Union County, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Northeast Georgia, 200 feet from the Appalachian Trail, the Chattahoochee flows 430 miles through Georgia. It is joined by the Flint River at Lake Seminole in Southwest Georgia. The Chattahoochee and Flint form the Apalachicola River, which flows 106 miles through Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. The largest Georgia cities in the Chattahoochee watershed are Atlanta and Columbus. The Chattahoochee is the primary source of water for over half of Georgia’s population.
How the Chattahoochee Got Its Name
Chattahoochee is Creek for “flowered stones.” It comes from the words chatto, meaning stone, plus hooche, meaning marked, flowered or with designs like flowers. A Creek settlement, Chattahoochee Old Town, at today’s Franklin transferred its name to the river. The first mention of the “Chattahoochee” by that name occurs in Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins travel log of the Chattahoochee River and the Creek country in the years 1798-1799.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is a non-profit organization to advocate and secure the protection and stewardship of the Chattahoochee River, its tributaries, and watershed, in order to restore and preserve their ecological health for the people, fish and wildlife that depend on the River system.
Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Chattahoochee River or its tributaries.
Twenty years before the 1849 gold rush to California, thousands of gold seekers started the nation’s first gold rush by flocking to the Cherokee Nation in North Georgia, which lies in the Upper Chattahoochee Watershed, near the tributaries of the Chestatee River. The towns of Auraria and Dahlonega grew and prospered with this mining activity. Between 1838 and 1861, more than $6 million in gold was coined by the U.S. Branch Mint in Dahlonega. The Dahlonega Gold Museum, formerly the Lumpkin County Courthouse, offers visitors a look at the mining history of Georgia. Gold coins minted in Dahlonega and nuggets – one weighing more than 5 ounces – are on display. A 23-minute film describes the mining techniques and lifestyles of the prospectors through interviews with members of the longtime mining families in the Dahlonega area. In the town of Dahlonega, visitors can shop for gold nuggets and pan for gold.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: All of the tributaries Dahlonega prospectors mined in the hills of North Georgia flow into the Chattahoochee River and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola, Florida.
At the northern end of Lake Walter F. George on the Chattahoochee River, this park is a natural setting for those who love water sports. It is adjacent to a deepwater fishing pier, boat slips, and boat ramp. Before becoming a state park in 1986, the land was used as a private recreation area. The Kirbo Interpretive Center teaches visitors about encounters between the Creek Indians and early settlers, including the burning of the old town of Roanoke located near the park. The center also displays artifacts from the prehistoric Paleo-Indian period through the early 20th century.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Lake Walter F. George is the impounded Chattahoochee River. After two more stops – Lake George Andrews and Lake Seminole (below which the river flows into Florida where it is known as the Apalachicola) – the Chattahoochee eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola, Florida. The plethora of Native American history around the park, including Roods Indian Mounds (tours of which can be arranged through the park), attests to the intimate connection between the inhabitants of the region and the river from prehistoric times until the present.
Located on the shores of Lake Walter F. George, this park features a 30-room lodge, restaurant, cottages and swimming beach. The park’s marina and boat ramp offer easy access to the 48,000-acre lake for fishing and boating. The large, enclosed picnic shelter and numerous picnic sites are perfect places for families to enjoy their catch. A 3-mile nature trail winds through hardwoods and pines.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Lake Walter F. George (known as Lake Eufaula on the Alabama side of the lake) is the Chattahoochee River impounded by Walter F. George Dam. Below the dam, the Chattahoochee makes two more stops – Lake George Andrews and Lake Seminole – before being renamed the Apalachicola River at the Florida state line and continuing 106 more miles to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola, Florida.
In the Chattahoochee Watershed that is so rich in Native American history, this unusual park is an important archaeological site as well as a state recreational area. The Swift Creek and Weeden Island Indians built 7 mounds within the park during the 12th and 13th centuries. The mounds include Georgia’s oldest great temple mound, two burial mounds, and four ceremonial mounds. The Kolomoki museum interprets these mounds and the Indian culture.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Kolomoki Creek is a tributary of the Chattahoochee River. While Kolomoki Mounds is unusual in its wealth of Native American culture, mounds similar to these were built on many tributaries in the watershed.
Visitors are amazed at the vivid colors of Georgia’s “Little Grand Canyon.” The rare Plumleaf Azalea and other wildflowers, as well as the pink, orange, red and purple hues of the soft canyon soil, make a striking natural scene at this unique park. Visitors take in views of the canyons from the rim trail, and backpackers can stay overnight along the backcountry trail.
The Watershed Connection: An interpretive center explains how the ravines (the deepest being 150 feet) were caused by erosion due to poor farming practices in the 1800s when creeks and small tributaries washed massive amounts of soil into the Chattahoochee River.
This Southwest Georgia park is on beautiful Lake Seminole, a 37,500-acre reservoir known for its sport fishing. The lake is shallow, but natural lime sink ponds have left areas of cool, clear water with a variety of fish. The threatened gopher tortoise, the only tortoise native to Georgia, makes its home along a 2.2-mile nature trail designed to interpret the wiregrass community habitat. The park is located near one of Georgia’s largest wildlife management areas, providing great duck hunting and deer hunting.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Lake Seminole is formed at the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and Spring Creek. Jim Woodruff Dam impounds the lake. Below the dam, at the Florida state line, the river’s name changes to the Apalachicola and it flows 106 miles through Northwest Florida to the Gulf of Mexico.
Sweetwater Creek is a peaceful tract of wilderness only minutes from bustling downtown Atlanta. The park features a variety of natural and cultural resources, including the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company, a Civil War-era textile mill. A self-guided tour of the mill ruins and surrounding community is available at the park office. Seven miles of trails, shaded streams, and the George Sparks Reservoir make this a popular outing destination.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Sweetwater Creek is a steep, fast-flowing tributary of the Chattahoochee. The mill is a picturesque example of how steep mountains and Piedmont creeks and rivers, with their ability to produce waterpower, were the birthplaces of Georgia industry.
Nestled in the North Georgia mountains just two miles from the Alpine village of Helen, Unicoi is one of Georgia’s most popular state parks. Throughout the year, the park offers outstanding programs, including a music festival, art show, primitive skills demonstrations and nature programs. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy hiking and biking on scenic mountain trails, while craft lovers will enjoy shopping in the craft shop specializing in handmade quilts. Cottages, campsites and the beautiful 100-room lodge offer a wide choice of overnight accommodations.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: The many beautiful creeks and waterfalls, such as Anna Ruby Falls and Dukes Creek Falls, that visitors see in the vicinity of Unicoi all flow into the Chattahoochee River, then into the Apalachicola River and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico.
One of Georgia’s oldest and most popular state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neels Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. Vogel is particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow and gold leaves. Cottages, campsites and primitive backpacking sites provide a range of overnight accommodations.
The Chattahoochee Watershed Connection: Vogel is at the base of the north side of Blood Mountain. Rainfall on the park flows north into the Tennessee River system and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans via the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Rainfall on the south side of Blood Mountain also reaches the Gulf of Mexico, but via the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers.
Behind New Orleans and Mobile, Apalachicola was the third busiest port on the Gulf Coast in the early 1800s. Cotton and other agricultural products from the Chattahoochee and Flint River Watersheds were transported downriver to Apalachicola via paddleboats. More than 200 homes, commercial structures, and historic sites are located in the 2.5-mile National Historic District of Apalachicola. The Trinity Episcopal Church-sponsored Tour of Homes takes place annually the first Saturday of May. Unguided walking/driving tour brochures are available. More information: Apalachicola Area Historical Society and the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce.
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Staff members conduct educational programs on estuarine ecosystems for large audiences ranging from school groups and the general public to environmental management professionals. Visitors experience hands-on exhibits; guest lecture series; interpretive field trips and hikes into the river, bay and barrier island habitats. Teacher workshops, classroom curriculum materials, traveling displays, and publications are available through the Reserve.
Located on the Flint River where the river begins to back up to form Lake Seminole and near the pre-lake junction of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, Bainbridge is one of Georgia’s most historic river towns. It was an important riverboat port in the early 1800s from which cotton and other agricultural products were shipped to the port of Apalachicola on the Gulf of Mexico. The Bainbridge Heritage Tour is a self-guided driving tour of more than 50 historic homes and churches. A free guide book for the tour is available.
Chattahoochee Nature Center
The Chattahoochee Nature Center sits on 127 acres of river marsh, freshwater ponds and wooded uplands on the banks of the Chattahoochee. Classes include pond study, wetland ecology and wildlife habitats, life on the Chattahoochee 300 years ago and wetland hikes. Also offered are guided wildlife walks for seniors. Summer canoe trips down the river include canoes, life jackets, paddles and naturalist guide.
Although urban sprawl and industrial development heavily affect the Chattahoochee River in certain areas, it is nonetheless one of the most unspoiled, scenic and historic rivers running through any major metropolitan area of the United States. The Metropolitan River Protection Act, passed in 1973, established a 2,000-foot corridor on either side of the river. In August 1978, Congress established the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) to preserve and protect the natural beauty, historic aspects and recreational value of the river and authorized the acquisition of up to 6,800 acres, most of it within easy commuting distance of Atlanta. Today the CRNRA consists of 48 miles of river and 16 separate land units, or parks. The parks are day-use facilities only, made up of hiking trails, picnic grounds, playing fields and, during the summer, two raft/canoe/kayak rental facilities. Where it runs through these parks, the Chattahoochee is a stocked trout stream and includes 19 other game fish. A map of all parks along the Chattahoochee River corridor is available at the CRNRA headquarters.
Cochran Mill Nature Center
Environmental education programs include pond and stream ecology and natural history of Georgia. Programs are available to schools and organized groups and nature camps are offered during the summer.
Columbus is the head of navigation on the Chattahoochee. In the early 1800s, steamboats traveled from Apalachicola on the Gulf of Mexico up the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers to Columbus. At that point on the river, rocky shoals prevented further paddleboat travel. In addition to being an important collecting point for cotton and other agricultural products, Columbus became one of Georgia’s first industrial centers because water falling over the Fall Line shoals at Columbus powered some of the first textile mills in Georgia. Today, Columbus Riverwalk, along the banks of the Chattahoochee, is one of the most attractive and inspiring urban experiences in Georgia. There are three historical walking or driving tours around downtown Columbus: Uptown (business district), the Historic District and High Uptown (residential districts). More information: Brochures and self-guided tours are available at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The permanent exhibition, “Chattahoochee Legacy,” depicts the cultural history of the Chattahoochee Valley human occupation, including a replica of a pre-Columbian Native American building, a turn-of-the-century schoolroom, and a 1930s shotgun house.
Elachee Nature Science Center
Stream ecology instructional programs include a pond study class and a stream survey class for grades 4-8 and “All Wet,” a week of aquatic studies for teacher education.
Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge
Located on both banks of the Chattahoochee in Southeast Alabama and Southwest Georgia, this refuge provides a variety of wetland and upland habitats for a diverse amount of fauna. In addition to on-site and off-site environmental education programs, a wildlife drive, walking trails, hunting, fishing, and boating are also available.
Eufaula was an important riverboat port along the Chattahoochee, and the Eufaula Pilgrimage celebrates the region’s heritage with an annual tour of antebellum and Victorian mansions in the Seth Lore-Irwinton Historic District of this beautifully preserved Alabama river town. Events include storytelling at Fairview Cemetery about the town’s famous and not-so-famous historical residents. At other times of the year, self-guided walking and driving tour brochures of the city’s historical treasures are available.
Fort Gaines sits on the southern end of Lake Walter F. George, high on a bluff overlooking the Chattahoochee River. Artifacts found there indicate that a large prehistoric Indian village was located on the site between 900 and 1400 AD, and more than two centuries ago, the Creek Indians had a town of some size there. After the first Creek War in 1814, General Edmund Pendleton Gaines established a frontier fort on this site. Standing on the bluff 130 above the Chattahoochee and looking at the magnificent view brings a startling revelation as to why Indian sites and forts were built on bluffs in the first place: the river view extends in both directions. This perspective reveals what a perfect site this was from which to guard access to the river, the standard means of transportation for friend and foe alike in centuries past. In the 1830s, Fort Gaines was chartered as a town and its real heyday began. Known as the “Queen City of the Chattahoochee,” it was a shipping point for cotton planters whose plantations extended for many miles on both sides of the river. The town was one of the most important points on the Chattahoochee between Columbus and Apalachicola until the railroads arrived in 1858, their tracks replacing the river corridor as the dominant means of transporting farm products. A self-guided walking tour of the bluff and town is available. More information: Clay County Library, 208 S Hancock, Fort Gaines, GA 31751. 229.768.2248.
Historic Chattahoochee Commission
A joint effort between the states of Alabama and Georgia, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission is dedicated to promoting tourism and preserving the history of the Chattahoochee River Valley. Self-guided driving tours include the Garden Spot Tour, War Eagle Tour, Historic Landmarks Tour, Classic Mansion Tour, Frontier South Tour, Wiregrass Tour and Scenic Forks Tour.
Historic Roswell Mill Village
Roswell King, a former coastal plantation manager and entrepreneur, and a group of business associates founded Roswell and built an important pre-Civil War textile industry powered by water cascading through the rocky creeks leading to the Chattahoochee. Guided tours of historic homes and landmarks in the Roswell Historic District leave from the Roswell Visitors Center on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Tours of the Mill Village and Founders Cemetery are available by reservation.
Lanier Museum of Natural History
A Water Ecology/Quality program for third graders focuses on relationships existing in various water habitats. Outreach programs for grades 4-12 include river ecology with students exploring diverse plant and animal life found in habitats throughout Yellow River Park in Centerville and woodland/wetland bio-diversity with students examining the importance of wetlands to all life on earth at George Pierce Park in Suwanee.
Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center
Educational programs for all ages focus on the diversity of riparian wetland habitats of the Chattahoochee River floodplain. Bird watching, hiking, guided trail walks and workshops are available.
Saint Vincent National Wildlife Refuge
Saint Vincent is an undeveloped barrier island just offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River that supports wetlands, dunes, cabbage palm and pine habitats. Staff-guided tours may be arranged for school groups and conservation organizations. Public tours emphasizing wildlife habitats occur in October. Hiking, hunting, fishing, and boating are available.