Atlanta's Weekend Guide to Paddling by Day and Music by Night

Dawn is the best time to paddle the Etowah River when the mist rolls across the water's surface.
Dawn is the best time to paddle the Etowah River when the mist rolls across the water's surface. Angela Greenwell - The Unbored Life
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Georgia is home to 10 major river basins, one of which, the Chattahoochee River Basin, flows right through Atlanta, and that's music to the ears of any paddling enthusiast. Because of this, the city has a multitude of flatwater paddling options for stand-up paddleboarders, kayakers, and canoeists.

When you are done on the water for the day, unwind by tuning into Atlanta’s rich music scene. No matter your style, there's a venue perfectly suited for music enthusiasts of all stripes. Here are some insider tips on where to enjoy the water by day and tunes by night, in the metro Atlanta area.

River Running

A mellow paddle along the Chattahoochee is relaxing and convenient from downtown.
A mellow paddle along the Chattahoochee is relaxing and convenient from downtown. Alexa Lampasona

The closest paddle-friendly water to Atlanta is the iconic 430-mile Chattahoochee River, that's basin flows from the Blue Ridge Mountains to Apalachicola, FL. The  Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is a 48-mile section home to trails, boat ramps, and parks along the river.

For kayaking and canoeing, there’s no shortage of routes. Get out early, and you may find yourself paddling solo through the mystical fog that tends to skim the surface of the water. Among the longer paddling options is the eight-mile section from Garrand Landing to Roswell’s Riverside Park. For the majority of the trip, you will paddle through wide, calm sections of the river with some added fun of a few easy, Class I rocky shoals. This section also happens to be the course for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s “Back to the Chattahoochee River Race” that takes place in early summer.

The 6.5-mile paddle from Johnsons Ferry to Paces Mill features a mix of easy flatwater for the first three miles, and a series of shoals on the second half. After passing Powers Island Park and the Interstate 285 bridge, the water picks up the pace through the Devil’s Race Course, Thornton, and Long Island shoals. The river banks are lush with manicured landscapes, rock bluffs, and loads of wildlife the whole way down.

For stand-up paddling (SUP), late spring and summer is the perfect time. The best place to learn is at Morgan Falls Overlook Park, at the Morgan Falls Dam. The water is flat and flows smoothly into the Chattahoochee. There are also plenty of shaded inlets that provide a reprieve from the heat as well as a spot to float in solitude. If you have never SUPed before or don't have your own gear, don't worry, the staff at  High Country Outfitters' Paddle Shack rents paddleboards right in the Morgan Falls parking lot. They even carry your board down to the water for you so you don't have to worry about struggling to get it down there on your own. If you are a more experienced SUPper then the SUP races and SUP yoga classes put on by High Country Outfitters may appeal to you. 

Heading a little further out of the city, in northwestern Georgia, the 170-mile Etowah River flows southwest to Rome, GA. Paddling on the Etowah varies, with challenging shoals to the north and wider, lazy paddles in the south that lead through Cumming and Cartersville. If you decide to try this route, plan to make an early start as dawn is the best time to see the morning mist roll across the river. It's also the best time to hear the calls of brown thrashers and blue herons. 

Another fun route along the Etowah is the 8.7-mile route from River Park to Kelly Park. It leads paddlers along the banks of the Dawsonville Forest and through a canopy of sycamore and red maple. In addition to the historic railroad bridges spanning the river, this route passes by the 50-foot Barefoot Falls. More experienced paddlers can tackle the Tunnel section of the Etowah River, an 8-mile stretch with a few Class I and II rapids. The quarter-mile-long tunnel (only about 10 feet of which is pitch black) is narrow enough to fit kayaks in single file.

Enjoy a trip  deep into the Chattahoochee National Forest as you paddle down the Toccoa River.
Enjoy a trip deep into the Chattahoochee National Forest as you paddle down the Toccoa River. Alexa Lampasona

Perhaps the most exciting of these rivers, however, is the Toccoa River, which  winds through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia and into Blue Ridge Lake. At 56 miles, the river feeds into the Ocoee River from the Blue Ridge Dam and continues flowing north. The Toccoa is much more remote than many of Georgia’s other rivers and cuts through several wildlife management areas. It's also  surrounded by trees and mountains that hug the river basin like a hammock.  This river takes you deep into the Chattahoochee National Forest, where during the summer, deciduous trees pad the banks with a lemon-lime hue. Often the only company you'll have are the fly fisherman out to catch the abundant trout in the area. Any section of the river is quite runnable, with put-ins and take-outs found on the Toccoa River Canoe Trail .

A highly recommended paddle is the 10-mile Newport Road to Aska Road route. It will have you navigating through several series of Class I and II rapids. With Toccoa’s serpentine curves, the sound of rushing water adds to the anticipation of what lies beyond each bend.

Get Into the Groove

Enjoy a show after a day on the water at one of Atlanta's premier music venues, like Terminal West.
Enjoy a show after a day on the water at one of Atlanta's premier music venues, like Terminal West. DeanWeenGroup

The music scene in Atlanta draws diverse artists, ranging from well-known bands in varying genres to eclectic local bands. Just like the artists, each venue has its own unique flavor.

Terminal West is part of the King Plow Arts Center in the warehouse district of West Midtown, and the 100-year-old building still reflects its original use as a steel and iron foundry. The venue usually hosts notable regional and national independent artists. Tickets are general admission, and the venue is predominantly standing-room only with a minimal number of barstools. The on-site restaurant, Stationside, serves inventive appetizers, sandwiches and salads, including several gluten-free options, and the bar turns out classic cocktails.

One of the city's most storied venues, The Tabernacle began in 1910 as an infirmary and served as a Baptist church until the 1980s. It now serves as a 2,600-person capacity music venue that hosts notable mainstream acts. Guns n’ Roses, Adele, and Eminem have are just a few of the headliners that have graced the stage over the years.

A more laid-back and low-key scene can be found across town in Decatur, at Eddie’s Attic. The intimate space has the feel of a sacred listening room, and the audience sits at tables or on barstools and stays hushed during performances. (Eddie’s also has a covered outdoor patio for those who want to talk and get a little more rowdy.) The Indigo Girls, Shawn Mullins, and John Mayer first gained notoriety performing at Eddie’s Attic. Arrive early to snag a good seat and enjoy a bite from the menu of limited pub-style food.

At Venkman’s, the focus isn’t specifically on music, because it’s a full-service restaurant that also hosts live music on its platform stage every night. The menu touches on Southern gastropub fare and comfort food paired with curated cocktails and a wine/beer list. Many of the eclectic musicians are local or regional rock, bluegrass, soul, salsa, and country swing acts.

 

Originally written for Atlanta CVB.

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