What to Do Outdoors in Sandy Springs
While the city of Sandy Springs is unbeknownst to many, it was something of a homecoming to me when visiting a couple weeks ago. I spent many a summer weekend here as a teenager and young twenty-something visiting family that lived nearby. That was before Sandy Springs became an incorporated city, which in doing so, became the third largest city ever to incorporate in the U.S. Now years later I was able to return to see Sandy Springs with fresh eyes (and my camera lens).
Located on the northern end of Atlanta’s perimeter, Sandy Springs may seem like just another suburb. However, it is actually the sixth largest city in Georgia. Just minutes from Atlanta and only a half-hour (albeit without traffic) from Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, outdoor activities abound here. That’s largely thanks to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (hello, National Parks Pass!), a series of national recreation parklands along a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River.
So in my latest post, I come to you with a few of the best outdoor things to do in Sandy Springs, including the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, and beyond.
Hike the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area
The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) spans several counties and consists of 15 recreational sites along a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. The Sandy Springs community enjoys 22 miles of Chattahoochee River shoreline and three CRNRA units along its banks. The first site I visited was East Palisades, and I learned that I had driven by numerous times while visiting family as a teen but never actually hiked it.
What I discovered at East Palisades was a network of trails covering several miles, featuring everything from bridge crossings and bamboo forests to trails running parallel to the river and a scenic cliff overlook. If you hike one place in Sandy Springs, make it East Palisades. Make sure to bring some cash for parking (or your National Parks Pass) and insect repellant, and go nuts at my favorite site on the Chattahoochee River.
Float the Hooch
Just a couple minutes from East Palisades is another trail system along the Chattahoochee called Powers Island. With a couple miles of trails, Powers Island is great for a short hike or a trail run. However, the headliner of Powers Island is that this is one of the best nearby places to paddle or float down the Chattahoochee River. Nantahala Outdoor Center even has an outpost in the parking lot of Powers Island, offering guided river trips and tubing, kayak, and SUP rentals for exploring several miles of the flatwater and whitewater along this part of the Chattahoochee.
Explore Island Ford Park
The third and final CRNRA site I visited was Island Ford. I would actually recommend visiting Island Ford first since it's home to the national recreation area's only visitor center. Here, you can talk to park rangers and pick up additional information and park trail maps before hitting the trails of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Sandy Springs. The park itself features several miles of trails that weave through heavily wooded forest, past large boulders, and along the Chattahoochee River.
Paddle Morgan Falls Overlook
While I’ve mainly talked about the hikes of Sandy Springs, if you want to get on the water, this is the one place I’d recommend doing so. Morgan Falls Overlook Park, a 30-acre riverfront park, was actually the first new park opened in Sandy Springs after its incorporation. While it does have a short hiking trail, the highlight is the overlook that’s lined with porch swings perched above the water below.
I visited Morgan Falls Overlook first thing in the morning, which afforded the opportunity to get there as the fog was just starting to lift off the river. I rented a SUP from High Country Outfitters’ Paddle Shack and felt like I had the entire river to myself on the foggy Saturday morning. I paddled in and out of coves, was greeted by a number of different species of birds, and passed only the occasional paddler.
Learn to fly fish
My last outdoor adventure in Sandy Springs took me outside with River Through Atlanta, one of the largest fly fishing guide services on the Chattahoochee. While high water levels from recent rain kept us off the Chattahoochee, my guide Chase took me to a local multi-use park with a small lake to practice. This ended up being perfect for my fly fishing 101 sesh.
While I’ve done guided fly fishing trips before, my morning with Chase stood out because of the attention and time spent to properly learn to rig a fly rod — as in I actually had to rig my own pole from start to finish before doing anything else. We then spent the next couple hours strolling up and down the lake, with Chase giving me pointers on casting all along the way. I left our half-day lesson feeling like I had all the information and tips to go fly fishing on my own. If only every sports lesson left me with this type of confidence!