These Stunning Rapids Make Georgia an Under-the-Radar Destination for Rafting

Adventure awaits just a few hours away from Atlanta.

When you think of whitewater rafting, your first thought may not be Georgia. But the state has three major rivers—the Chattooga, Ocoee, and Chattahoochee—that each offer rafting and other outdoor activities in their gorgeous landscapes within a short drive of Atlanta.

From beginner sections and courses that cover the basics to whitewater swells that fall into a class IV level adventure, these rafting destinations have something for everyone. The season typically lasts from March to October, with the spring months offering your first chance to get on the water and the fall surrounding rafters with stunning foliage. Get the adrenaline pumping and gear up for a dose of adventure—here are five places where you can go river rafting near Atlanta.

Clayton, Georgia

This charming North Georgia town is a great place to base yourself for a rafting adventure on the Chattooga. The section of the river that winds through Clayton offers a beginner-friendly Section III and more challenging Section IV rapids.

Claude Terry was John Voight’s stunt double in the 1972 film Deliverance before purchasing the rafting equipment from Warner Brothers and founding Southeastern Expeditions. It’s the only outfitter in Clayton proper as the rest are just over the state line, but the Nantahala Outdoor Center, along with the Wildwater Chattooga Adventure Center, are other great options for rafting.

After taking on the rapids, the region is close to a number of wineries including Tiger Mountain Vineyards, and Moonrise Distillery, which makes whiskey.

This spot is located about two hours from Atlanta, but camping and cabins are popular overnight options, including the onsite yurts at Wildwater Adventure Center and at Hatch Camp and Art Farm, a local fly fishing outfitter. If you’d rather stay closer to town, the White Birch Inn has six guest rooms and a coffee shop.

Columbus, Georgia

The city of Columbus in the southwestern side of the state sits along the Chattahoochee River, which creates the border with Alabama. Today it’s home to RushSouth, the longest urban whitewater rafting course in the world, originally created for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Water levels are controlled, so the difficulty level varies by the time of day. There are five class IV rapids and 10 smaller rapids along the 1.5 mile route. Whitewater Express is the only outfitter on the river, so choose one of the three course options and get ready for an epic adventure.

While you’re here, don’t miss the zipline, which goes across the river, also operated by Whitewater Express. The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning is another must-see, highlighting the important role of America’s soldiers throughout history. If you have time, take the 45-minute drive to Pasaquan, the colorful home of folk artist St. EOM.

Hotel Indigo Columbus is right on the RiverWalk, so you won’t have to go far to get some rest after your rafting excursion. City Mills is a boutique hotel set in a historic brick warehouse with an onsite restaurant.

Rolling Thunder River Company
Photo courtesy of Rolling Thunder River Company

McCaysville, Georgia

Located on the state line north of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and its Tennessee neighbor Copperhill are great bases to raft down the Ocoee, including the middle and upper sections, which contain class III and IV rapids.

Rolling Thunder River Company in McCaysville offers trips on the sections used during the Olympics. Raft One is over the border in Ducktown, while Ocoee Adventure Center and Whitewater Express are based in Copperhill.

After your adventure on the river, check out what this area is known for: fly fishing and apple picking. Mercier Orchards offers U-Pick and has its own restaurant and cider operation.

If you want to be within walking distance of restaurants, The Hampton Inn Blue Ridge is your best bet for an overnight stay in town. But to be closer to the river, stay in one of the cabin rentals outside McCaysville.

Roswell, Georgia

The Chattahoochee River runs through much of the Atlanta area and the calm sections are great for beginners to rafting. The Nantahala Outdoor Center offers self-guided excursions on the river that involve hopping on a personal tube at Roswell’s Azalea Park and riding on for 1.5 miles.

When you’re not on the water, explore the hiking trails of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, including the historic mill. Downtown Roswell has plenty of shops, restaurants, historic house museums, and breweries.

Most Roswell hotels are near the highway, so the DoubleTree Atlanta Hotel Roswell is your best bet, where you can enjoy a post-rafting cookie. The area also has nice rentals.

Sandy Springs, Georgia

Nantahala Outdoor Center also has operations in the Sandy Springs section of the Chattahoochee River, specifically at Johnson Ferry and Powers Island. This area has easy class I and II whitewater sections and visitors can choose from two sections to do or combine them for a full day unguided excursion.

This area also has hiking through the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area like the Palisades Trail, which follows the river in many sections. During the summer and into the fall, head to The Battery, the entertainment complex that is home to Truist Park, the Atlanta Braves Stadium, plus a live music venue, restaurants, bars, and a movie theater.

The Battery has two hotels, but if you want to be closer to the river, Sonesta Atlanta Northwest Galleria and Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria are both convenient to the Powers Island and Johnson Ferry locations.

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Caroline Eubanks is a Thrillist contributor.