Hiking The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Part 1: East Palisades

amazing light on cove flat

Amazing light on a stream cove beside the Chattahoochee River at East Palisades

One of the things that inspired me to create this blog site – and indeed is the premise of this site – was that people started telling me I have inspired them to get out and take a hike, too, and they want more information on our hikes. I love that! So please do keep your feedback coming, either here in the comments section at the end of my posts, or on the Saturday Hiker Facebook Page and let me know if you have a special place that you like to hike. If we haven’t already been there we will add it to our list.

Today’s featured hike is an area well known by many Atlantans and their puppy dogs. East Palisades is part of the U.S. National Park Service’s Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area and is what we consider to the be first leg in a series of fantastic hikes we love to take along the banks of the Chattahoochee River in the state of Georgia. This particular hike has many wide and easy to follow hiking trails with a diversity of terrain, and is located in the Buckhead/Sandy Springs community.

full river view from overlookThe trails here run along the top of bold cliff palisades as well as beside the flatter river bank, and both provide some breathtaking views of the Chattahoochee. The in town location and a small pebbly beach area that I fondly refer to as “doggy beach”, make it a favorite haunt for walkers, runners, and hikers as well as folks with very happy dogs who like to get wet and have a good time! Its wonderful forest trails overflow with native wild azaleas, rhododendron, wildflowers, bubbling stream coves, fern, and even…a hidden bamboo forest.

One of our “closer to home” hikes, we come here several times during the year for our Saturday (or Sunday) outings. Our favorite route is a 5.5 mile trek over some very good stretches of elevation and beautiful views. We actually like to hike it somewhat backwards from the way it is numbered on the National Park Service trail map. You can see our highlighted route on the map graphic below to follow our hike, and you can add the additional spur to marker number 30, which is not part of the 5.5 miles but affords a pretty view of the river. Be forewarned that this spur is one more steep down hill and back up towards the end of your hike if you choose to do so. As you can see, there are also many shortcut trails available in between and around our route, so you can put together as short or as long of a hike as you like.

TrailMapPalisadesEastThe route above will first take you away from the river by following a stream, then up and across the Indian Trail parking lot at marker 19. Walk down the Indian Trail entrance drive a short way to pick up the trail at marker 13. You’ll proceed downhill through the forest to a side trail on your right at the 22 marker, taking that trail downhill through native magnolias and alongside a shady, rhododendron and fern bordered stream. Take a right at the 23 marker and cross the bridge to climb uphill and then down to the river. Turn right when you reach the river at marker number 16 and this will take you through the Bamboo Forest. Marker number 26 is our favorite place to stop and have a bite to eat while sitting on a rock and watching the kayakers run the rapids, beside the geese and ducks.

Retrace your steps to get back to the main trail you left when you crossed the bridge at marker 23, then turn right and climb upwards past the wild azaleas to reach the wooden overlook area high atop the palisades. Here you can enjoy the best long view of the river, sit on a wooden bench and recover from your climb, if needed.

After leaving the overlook, climb one more set of steps, then continue downhill until you run into the river again, where you have a nice, long and flat walk through stream coves along the river bank. Look for butterflies, blue heron, ducks, geese, frogs and other interesting creatures as well as native flora and fauna. Are you beginning to see why we like to do this one backwards? Whenever possible, we always like to get the climbing done first, then cruise the latter part of our hike! See the slideshow below for pictures of the whole hike.

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Due to the in town location of this area, parking is always a challenge and especially during the summer months. We enter and park near the doggy beach at the Whitewater Creek Road entrance to the park, which is accessed by taking Northside Drive north from downtown Atlanta to Mt. Paran Road, then two more turns through a neighborhood. When it’s really busy here, it can become so congested at this entrance that getting in and out of the one lane road can be difficult, much less finding a place to park. There is an alternative parking area at the Indian Trail entrance from Sandy Springs, GA. See this link to download the trail map above as well as others for the entire Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. You can also Google the addresses below to get directions to the two parking areas from your location.

Indian Trail Entrance: 1425 Indian Trail NW Sandy Springs, GA 30327
Whitewater Creek Entrance: Whitewater Creek Road, Atlanta, GA 30327

Additional Trail Tips:

Always check out the markers with maps at the beginning of the trailhead and along the trail in National Parks. These will often show you where you are on the trail so you won’t get lost. When available, pick up or download a map of the trail you plan to hike. And last but not least, download the All Trails app to use when you have service on your phone.

The National Park Service charges access fees to all federal recreation areas. The fee for this area is $5 per day. You can buy an annual pass online or in person if you plan to visit many parks. You can also purchase an annual or a lifetime pass. If you are a senior, you’ll get a discount on the passes. Visit this link for more information.

The usage fee at East Palisades must be paid in cash at the designated box to get a parking hangtag, and there is no ranger on duty at the site. However, rangers do regularly come to pick up fees and check hangtags, and will ticket you if you choose not to pay and get caught.