This is one of the most lovely loops in the metro Atlanta area, but it is seldom crowded, especially on weekdays.
You'll find beautiful views of the Chattahoochee River where it is wide and full of rocky shoals; several spots take you right up to the river bank, and there is one overlook from above that gives a sweeping view of both the river and part of the city (Sandy Springs) beyond.
There is also a small bamboo forest right next to the river on the far northwest spur of the trail, an unexpected hidden gem perfect for contemplative strolling or hammocking while listening to the bamboo whispering in the breeze. Another section takes you along a stream that cascades over and through large rocks through the woods.
Expect some rocks, roots, and creek bed crossing, but the terrain is very user-friendly for the most part. You'll definitely have some elevation climbs up and down ridges, but none of them are terribly long or steep, just enough to feel like you got a good cardio workout. Almost the entire trail is under tree cover, so you'll at least have shade in the hot months.
Features: River/Creek — Views
Bring $3.00 exact change for the parking pay station or get an annual parking pass for $35.00 from Island Ford Visitor Center which covers all the parking for Chattahoochee NRA trails for a year from purchase date.
There are several sections of this route which scramble over rocks and roots. Some areas have smaller loose rocks as well, so watch your step and take it to a walk when in doubt.
From the parking lot, take the footbridge over to EP01-EP02
and take a left. After about half a mile (with the river on the left), arrive at EP02-EP04
and take another left to EP 4, and left again on EP04-EP05
towards EP 5 (departing from the river and climbing a gentle elevation ridge). Take a right at EP 5. Heading towards EP 6, you'll climb some steeper elevation, but only for a matter of minutes.
When you approach EP 6, there will be a loop in the trail and the signpost will be on this loop. Passing the map post for EP 6, continue left (counterclockwise) around the loop. The trail winds around an elevation ridge and climbs gently to arrive at EP 8. At the western corner of this loop, the trail opens up under the trees, and one can see through them across the river. Arriving at EP 8, take a left across the top of the elevation ridge to EP 10.
Take another left at EP 10, and you'll soon find a set of wooden steps set into the trail down to a wooden observation deck which overlooks a lovely view to the river below. One can also see some of the skyline of the Sandy Springs area in the distance, but the wide section of river and its impressive stretch of shoals below are predominant from this overlook and provide a great place to pause, rest, and take plenty of photos.
Once you turn back towards the trail, you'll take a left (or a right if you had continued immediately from the bottom of the stairs) and head east towards EP 14.
Going back under tree cover, the trail winds around the side of the elevation ridge. Stay to the right along here, and the trail stays fairly level until you reach EP 14. Take a left here, descending and switchbacking down until you reach the forest floor below at the bottom (river-level) elevation. You'll arrive at EP 23 and take a left to cross a small wooden bridge over a creek. After taking a sharp left, you'll pass EP 17 and keep straight.
At EP 16, you'll be back at the river. Take a right from here to follow the trail along the river. There are some very nice views here, but the trail itself becomes very rocky, so watch your step! There are also a few narrow passages through the brush (but worth it) and some impressive rock formations on the right.
After about half a mile, you'll suddenly find yourself face-to-face with a forest of bamboo! There is plenty of room to explore and go right through it to the water’s edge. The bamboo here has grown to impressive size and height! Wander this magical little gem for a while or even plan to set up a hammock and be lulled by the gurgle of the river and hollow chime of the bamboo as it taps together in the breeze.
Heading back the way you came, you may notice the ruins of what was probably a mill at EP 16 (a familiar site on the Chattahoochee NRA trails). Keep left with the trail here and follow all the way back to EP 23 (keep in mind that, right after EP 17, the trail bends sharply to the right and you must also stay right just in front of the creek, then cross back over the wooden footbridge.)
At EP 23, take a left to follow right next to the creek. You'll scramble, gaining some elevation, over some large rocks and roots which the creek flows over and through for a while.
After about a quarter mile, the trail departs the main creek and hooks left and down some moderately steep elevation. You'll cross back and forth over a couple more dry or nearly dry/muddy creek beds, but it's usually an easy hop-over or assisted by logs, etc. You'll also encounter another large rock/cliff formation in the woods about two thirds of a mile after EP 23.
The last half mile or so is an easy stroll through young woods. You'll pass an area to the right which is often flooded with standing water creating a 'wetland"-type area. When you arrive at EP 25, take a right to continue south for the home stretch! The last quarter mile will pass by another larger creek on the left and finally meet back up with EP 1. Go back across the bridge to the parking lot to finish.
The ruins of a wall/building near EP 16 is likely that of an old mill (based on the history of other more well-documented ruins along the river), but information is scarce on this one and it is not certain what the original building was.