There’s no doubt about it. Summer’s hot. You know the kind of hot I mean: burn-your-feet hot … sweltering hot … panting-dogs-in-the-shade hot. It’s the downside of living in the South.
Yeah. Summer in the South is rough.
But there is hope in the form of a big, round donut made of PVC. I’m talking about a tube, of course — the kind designed to let you float down a cool, refreshing river like Atlanta’s Chattahoochee.
When it comes to beating summer heat, it’s hard to top a trip down the Hooch. It’s a refreshing adventure that’s close to home, and it’s enjoyed each summer by water lovers who would otherwise be hot, sweaty and probably no fun to be around. But on the river, in a tube, even the most heat-hammered among us can turn into happy folks. That’s the curative power of a leisurely float on Atlanta’s very own river.
But is it clean?
“That’s one question a lot of folks ask,” said George Virgo, Chattahoochee River manager for the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s Chattahoochee tubing operation. The fact is, he said, “The river is the cleanest it’s been in a very long time.”
Groups like the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and other conservation-minded organizations have worked hard to make that happen, and the result is a river just waiting to be enjoyed.
Nantahala Outdoor Center (noc.com), one of several companies that outfit tubing on Atlanta’s Chattahoochee, is the concessionaire of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. NOC, as it’s known, outfits a variety of river trips (not just tubing, but also canoe, kayak and paddleboard trips) from outposts at CRNRA’s Powers Island Unit (just off I-285 on Atlanta’s north side) and Johnson Ferry Unit (just off Johnson Ferry Road).
Virgo said that a particularly popular tube float starts at Powers Island and goes downriver to the takeout at Paces Mill.
“It’s a float of about 4 miles,” he said, adding that trip takes from two to three hours, depending on the water level. “It’s a great tubing stretch.”
In addition to NOC, other outfitters outfit tubing trips on the river. One is Shoot the Hooch in Roswell. Barbara Russell is manager of Shoot the Hooch (shootthehooch.com), which in addition to tubing outfits canoe, kayak, raft and paddleboard excursions.
Shoot the Hooch’s tubing excursions start at Don White Park on Riverside Drive and continue downriver to Azalea Park. That float, which covers about 1.5 miles of river, is “a nice, easy float” that carries you along a section of river known for flat water and smooth, restful floating.
What’s the most scenic part of that particular trip?
“Oh, gosh, that’s hard to say,” Russell said.
The fact is that there’s scenery and scenic beauty all along Atlanta’s Chattahoochee, and one of the best ways to see it is from the perspective of a gently drifting tube.
When tubing on the Hooch, you’ll be carried along on a tube made specifically for river floating. These tubes are high-tech affairs constructed from PVC and designed to provide a stable platform for people enjoying the river.
A tube provides an ideal platform for relaxing and socializing. It’s a great wildlife viewing platform too. Keep your eyes open for turtles, beavers, muskrats, otters and deer, as well as a range of water birds and waterfowl. If you peer into the river, you may well spot fish too — not only trout, but also gar and striped bass, among others.
How safe are the tubes? And what about the big question — do they ever pop? Inquiring minds want to know.
“They’re very durable,” NOC’s Virgo said. It’s very rare for one to pop. He said he only sees it happen about once every two years, and tubes designed for the river typically feature a second safety bladder to keep you floating, just in case.
The big key to safety, of course, is your life jacket, or PFD (personal flotation device). For safety, everyone riding a tube is required to have a PFD. These are provided by the outfitters as part of the package. National Park Service regulations require that kids 12 and under must wear that PFD at all times. Others must at least have it within easy reach.
But the safest thing is to always wear your life jacket on the river.
“We urge people to wear that life jacket all the time,” said Shoot the Hooch’s Russell. “If you ever need it, you need it right then.”
Another thing folks ask about is how to get back to their cars when the float is done.
“People do occasionally ask if the river goes in a circle,” Virgo said. But it doesn’t, so outfitters provide shuttle service to take you back to your starting point (and your car) at the end of the trip.
Sometimes people inquire about the legendary Hooch alligator. Some years ago, it seems, an alligator took up residence in the river. Back then, you’d hear excited reports of gator sightings. But the gator was eventually relocated to more gator-friendly environs farther south, and as near as anyone can tell, alligators are no longer an issue on the Hooch in Atlanta.
What should you bring with you on your tubing trip? The best advice is to only bring things you don’t mind getting wet. That includes shoes. (“Pick ones that will stay on your feet,” Virgo advised.) Additionally, bring sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
What about a fishing rod? Some bring that, too, but most just go to enjoy the ride.
Who tubes the Hooch? The typical tuber could be anybody. You’ll meet elementary-aged kids, their parents and their grandparents. You may meet their great-grandparents too. It seems you’re never too old to enjoy the river. Seniors well into their 80s have floated the Hooch and had a blast. Note, however, that your outfitter may discourage tubing by very young children. Check first if that’s a concern
Check the weather too. Remember that weather is totally out of your outfitter’s control. You might want to reschedule if there’s a good chance of rain, and you certainly don’t want to be on the water if thunderstorms are in the offing.
You should also be sure that the river is at a safe level. Water releases from Buford Dam make the river high and dangerous, and it is critically important that you understand how water levels affect the condition of the river. Your outfitter should be attuned to what’s happening on the river. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any concerns — and always, if in doubt, don’t go.
So you’ve made up your mind. You’re ready to deal with the heat by floating down the clear, cool Chattahoochee. When is the best time to go? Because the river is cold (typically between about 55 and 65 degrees, even in the heat of summer) the best days are the hot days. There’s general agreement that the most comfortable tubing will be on days when the outside temperature is 80 degrees or higher.
Be aware that on weekends (especially holiday weekends) tubing is a very popular activity, and the river may be crowded with other tubers. Making a reservation with your chosen outfitter is a good idea at peak times. If you want relative solitude, plan your adventure for a weekday. That’s when crowds tend to be lightest.
Whether you’re looking for wildlife or simply escaping from the summer heat, there’s something special about floating the Hooch in a tube. It’s restful. It’s comfortable.
My guess is it can be romantic too.
Yes, romantic. A quiet summer afternoon, a gentle float, the murmur of the river as you drift along. Fingers intertwined as two bright yellow tubes float along as one. Yep, a tube ride on the river makes a pretty good date. There’s just something about the flowing water — and then?
“We’ve had several people propose on kayak trips,” said Shoot the Hooch’s Russell, “but I don’t know about in a tube.”
So there you have it. Who will be first to propose while floating the river in a tube? If it’s you, let me know. I’m sure it’ll be a great story to tell.
Learn about the hiking trails of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Steve Hudson’s book Hiking the Hooch. It’s available from local outfitters, from the park headquarters at Island Ford, and on Amazon. Signed copies are available direct from the author at www.chattahoocheemedia.com.