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Tubing down the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta has long been a favorite summer pastime. From 1969 to 1980, the Ramblin’ Raft Race was a wild party on the water with makeshift floats and over 300,000 attendees.
In 1978, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area was created by President Carter to preserve the ecosystem. The National Park-managed section of the river stretches nearly 50 miles of the over 400-mile body of water that spans Alabama and Georgia.
The race was canceled in 1980 after complaints from local residents. Since then, tubing has continued but with increased oversight in regards to safety and littering. It continues to be a popular activity, especially on holiday weekends.
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Where to Shoot the Hooch
The Chattahoochee River runs through the state. Tubing is offered to the north in Helen as well as through the metro area south of Buford Dam. But the most popular stretches are around Smyrna and Sandy Springs, northwest of Atlanta.
Different sections have varying water flow levels and rapids as well as things to see along the way. It can also take any number of hours, depending on the daily conditions and if you stop along the way at one of the many sand bars.
There are both official NPS access points where parking is by permit as well as public parks that have places where you can put in tubes for free. Keep in mind that some areas, like Cochran Shoals, don’t have boat ramps or easy ways to get in.
Powers Island to Paces Mill is a nice laid-back stretch, as is Johnson’s Ferry to Powers Island. Take a look at the official map to decide which route is best for you.
Note: As of July 2020, the restroom facilities are closed at the NPS sites and the only way to purchase a parking pass is online or using their app. Signs are up about the enforcement of fees.
Logistics and How to Shoot the Hooch
Atlanta Tubing Outfitters
Atlanta has a handful of outfitters that operate seasonal Chattahoochee River tube rentals if you just want to show up and go. Shoot the Hooch and Nantahala Outdoor Center are the main ones in the popular stretch of the river.
How to DIY Shoot the Hooch
You can also organize your own tubing excursion on the Chattahoochee River. It just requires a bit more advance planning. The first is how to get to and from the start and endpoints. You can either drive two cars, placing one at each end to shuttle back and forth.
Or you can drive to the endpoint and Uber back to the beginning, leaving someone at the start with the tubes to avoid traveling with them. In either case, make sure you keep track of both sets of keys (and keep them dry!).
You should also bring your own floats. While those flamingo floats are cute, they are hard to sit on for long periods, especially when you hit the occasional rock or rapid.
Instead, choose a tube or float that is made of thick plastic. The cheapest tube isn’t necessarily the best as you’re at risk of puncture. I’ve had good luck with this one from Wal-Mart. And remember to blow up tubes before you go to save time with an air compressor or foot pump.
What to Bring
For a great day on the river, you’ll need a few essentials:
- Waterproof phone case
- Cooler (NOT a single-use styrofoam one)
- Sunscreen: don’t forget to put it on your legs
- Sun shirt
- Water shoes
- Waterproof bag
- Rope or bungee cord
- Map (optional)
You also might want to bring snacks, water, and adult beverages. We recommend one of the many Georgia craft beer options, which you can purchase at nearby gas stations. Just remember that glass is not allowed.
A Word on Safety and Littering
Everyone under age 13 must wear a lifejacket when tubing. For those over 13, the rental companies will require you to have a lifejacket with you, even if you aren’t wearing it. Most people use it to connect their tubes into a flotilla. There is also a lifejacket rental station near Thornton Shoals.
There are a handful of rock outcroppings where people jump off onto the water below, but there have been many accidents (and deaths) here. Think twice before trying it.
Sunscreen and sun protection is encouraged as you can quickly forget how much sun you’ve been exposed to. Be sure to keep your distance from wildlife, specifically birds.
And please, please, please clean up after yourself. It’s terrible to see chip bags and cans floating in this river. Save your cans in a trash bag to dispose of once you’ve returned to land.
Before you go, check the weather forecast to ensure that conditions are good. Also, check the water levels and bacteria levels to stay safe.
You’ll also need to pay attention to where you need to get out. You can keep an eye on the map on your phone or remember the mile marker signs. Some of the outfitters place a person in the river to alert tubers when to get out.
Establish a designated driver in advance as you don’t want to wait until you reach the parking lot to decide. Have access to keys for the car at the end when you’re ready to leave. It can also be nice to keep dry clothes and towels in the secondary car.
- How to Shoot the Hooch, Local Adventurer
- An Insider’s Guide to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Visit Sandy Springs
- How to Shoot the Hooch, Travel Cobb