From rafting and attending sporting events to hiking to exploring a canyon (yes, canyon!), there's plenty of fun things to do in Columbus.
More than 30 years ago, Columbus began the process of turning trash into treasure. Or in this case, the city took the need for sewer improvements along the Chattahoochee River and used it to also create the first in a series of trail systems and other outdoor recreation opportunities across the region.
To complete the sewer work, a utility access road had to be built alongside the Chattahoochee. Local government and civic leaders used that opportunity to establish the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, a 15-mile multiuse trail that has become a popular attraction.
“It was essentially built as a beautiful utility road,” says Becca Zajac, executive director of Columbus’ Dragonfly Trail Network and vice president of Georgia Bikes. “Instead of just fixing the problems, they created this beautiful piece of public space that got us to look at the river differently. That was the first major project that got us to where we are today.”
“Columbus has become one of the premier outdoor recreation destinations in the Southeast.”
Becca Zajac, executive director of Columbus’ Dragonfly Trail Network
Indeed, ever since the RiverWalk opened in 1992, trails and parks and outdoor recreation opportunities galore have been popping up throughout the city.
Columbus now boasts nearly 2,000 acres of parkland, more than 50 public parks, 44 playgrounds, 78 athletic fields and a once-ignored river that is now a playground for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing.
“Columbus has become one of the premier outdoor recreation destinations in the Southeast, both for tourism and for people who are looking to live in a place with that type of lifestyle,” Zajac says. “It took some time for us to realize that this is our niche, but we’re being more broadly recognized for our outdoor recreation.”
Here is a look at some of the fun things to do in Columbus:
A Stroll Through Black History
The Martin Luther King Jr. Outdoor Learning Trail is a paved trail that stretches 2.2 miles along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between 10th Avenue and Macon Road. The trail includes 11 historical markers that line the walking path to tell the story of struggles and contributions made by the Black community in Columbus.
The Dragonfly Trail
Since the river prompted much of this outdoor resurgence, it was decided to name the city’s most extensive multipurpose trail network after the dragonfly, which is an indicator species for clean water in a community.
By working with the PATH Foundation, a nonprofit that helps plan and build greenway trails throughout Georgia, officials created a master plan for 65 miles of trails, approximately half of which have already been built.
“We’ve really worked at creating trails that are durable, well-marked and accessible,” Zajac says. “The trails were planned more for the outdoor recreation aspect in Columbus, so people could bike, hike and walk. And it absolutely does that. But it’s turned out that our trails are used as much for transportation as for recreation, creating connections to destinations and neighborhoods. These trails serve all our community, not just people who want to use them for recreation.”
RushSouth Whitewater Park
The river revival led to the creation of what USA Today called one of the “12 greatest manmade adventures on the planet.”
Yes, the biggest whitewater rapids east of the Mississippi can be found at RushSouth Whitewater Park in downtown Columbus, along a 2.5-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee that offers the rarity of an urban whitewater adventure.
Columbus Botanical Garden
On the much calmer end of the outdoor spectrum, the 36-acre Columbus Botanical Garden is located on the site of an 1898 farmhouse. Visitors can enjoy a variety of gardens (including rose, herb, vegetable, camellia, perennial and ginkgo shade), along with a 1-mile trail through a forest that provides an opportunity for bird watching.
Standing Boy Creek State Park
Deer, turkey and waterfowl are plentiful within this 1,580-acre, mostly wooded property on the shores of Lake Oliver. The 26 miles of trails are popular with mountain bikers.
Jonathan Hatcher Skateboard Park
This 32,000-square-foot park provides skateboarders with a variety of elements, including three skate bowls, seven ledges and two angled rails.
Other Places to Explore
Flat Rock Park is small wooded park on a fishing lake packs a big surprise, as visitors are greeted by the scenic sight of several waterfalls.
Ready for a day trip? These three popular outdoor options are less than an hour from Columbus. Colorful Providence Canyon in Lumpkin has been called the “Little Grand Canyon,” while 9,000-acre FDR State Park in Pine Mountain is the largest state park in Georgia, containing more than 40 miles of trails. Also in Pine Mountain, Callaway Resort & Gardens delivers 2,500 acres of gorgeous vistas, biking and walking trails, world-class golf, pristine beach, a large butterfly center and more.
And Don’t Forget to Cheer for the Home Teams
Sports lovers will love Columbus. For example, bring your glove to a Columbus Chatt-A-Hoots ballgame. The team competes in the Sunbelt Baseball League, a collegiate wooden-bat summer league that is partially funded by Major League Baseball.
The league features eight teams from Georgia and one from Alabama, and the season runs from early June to mid-August. The Chatt-A-Hoots joined the Sunbelt League in 2021 and play home games at 4,500-seat Golden Park, a historic stadium that opened in 1951 and is situated along the Chattahoochee River near downtown Columbus.
Also part of the city’s sports scene is the Columbus River Dragons, a professional hockey team that plays its home games at the 7,459-seat Columbus Civic Center. The River Dragons compete in the 10-team Federal Prospects Hockey League.
The Columbus team was founded in 2019 and quickly became FPHL champions in 2021. The River Dragons play a 58-game season that runs from mid-October through April.
Did You Know?
The Chattahoochee River ordinarily draws about 50,000 kayak, canoe and tubing tourism enthusiasts to Columbus each year.
Meanwhile, Columbus will go global from June 27-July 1, 2023, when the city hosts the 2023 International Whitewater Kayak Championships.
The major sports event will take place at RushSouth Whitewater Park along the Chattahoochee River, with about 300 competitors from 30 countries expected to compete. Local officials say the championships could bring more than $10 million in visitor spending to the Columbus region. The city also hosted the 2022 Kayak World Cup in October 2022.
RushSouth Whitewater Park is considered an excellent choice to host such high-profile paddling events because it is rated a world-class course by the International Canoe Federation.
RushSouth is within walking distance of hotels, shops, restaurants and other attractions in Columbus.
Staff writer Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.
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