White water adventuring in Columbus with WhiteWater Express hasn’t been around long, but it is already taking the planet by storm. USA Today calls it the best man-made white water on the planet and one of top 12 man-made adventures in the world. The original idea was born in the 70s, launched in the 90s and completed in 2013.
Now, with Eagle and Phenix Dam removed, visitors can enjoy 2.5 miles of whitewater rafting and kayaking- the longest urban whitewater trail in the world. An exciting benefit, also, is that the breaching creates habitat pools, which allow natural plants and wildlife back into the area.
What To Expect At WhiteWater Express
We arrived at WhiteWater Express about 30 minutes before our scheduled departure time. This gave us a chance to sign the waiver, get our gear and listen to safety instructions. The outfitter also has a keen selection of gear for sale as well as GoPro rentals. We already have a GoPro, but we were still able to wear one of their helmets already fitted with a mount base. Awesome!
Life jacket? Check. Paddle? Check. Helmet? Check. Fortitude? Check. OK. Now we load the bus.
Everyone climbed aboard the bus which took us to our put-in spot about 2-miles up the river. Once there we were put into groups, assigned a guide and given more safety instructions. Then the fun part: we picked up a raft and set out.
We were on the Classic ride, which is done in the mornings and early afternoons, before the dam is released. This means that the first rapids we met were Class I. If you’re looking for something more challenging, then hit the water after 3 p.m. when the dam is released and the water is higher.
We hit about four different rapids, then took a break. We all hopped out of the raft and floated (nose and toes in the air!) down a stretch of lazy river. I could not believe how fast it moved us along!!
We climbed back in the raft and headed for Class II and III rapids, including The Pemberton, which was my favorite. With the waters low, it is a rapid with three steps to the bottom. It was killer! At the last rapid, we were able to paddle back up stream a bit and “surf” the rapid. Later in the day we saw other rafters and kayakers attempting the same feat. It was exhilarating!!
Our tour ended in front of WhiteWater Express, where we said our goodbyes, pulled in our raft and headed back to the store. When you turn in your gear, don’t be shy about leaving a tip for your guide! Harris was our guide-extraordinaire, and we loved him! Ask for him when you go!
WhiteWater Express also offers bikes to explore the RiverWalk, ziplining across the Chattahoochee, paddleboards, kayaks and more. I highly recommend you make a reservation.
Near The Island (on the RiverWalk) you can rent rubes and stand-up paddleboards. You won’t want to take these into the rapids, but a cove around The Island offers pleasant waters to relax and explore. We took the kids there to play in the sand and water (life jackets are required for everyone, by law.) This is also the perfect area to watch other rafters with a picnic.
Without a doubt, white water rafting in Columbus is one adventure you don’t want to miss!
Six Things You Need to Know Before Rafting at WhiteWater Express
On most whitewater rafting rivers, you book your trip and hope for great conditions. At Whitewater Express in Columbus, Ga. There is no guessing. Morning trips are milder, afternoon excursions are anything but.
In the very heart of Uptown Columbus, Ga., amid shops and killer restaurants, resides Whitewater Express, an adventure outfitter that runs whitewater-rafting trips down the Chattahoochee River, which sits across the street.
Location is always important, but when it comes to rafting, it’s the river that you want to be center stage, and the same folks who designed the 1996 Olympic course on the nearby Oconee River designed the Chattahoochee Whitewater Park course. What makes this river especially interesting is the daily water release. Until about 4 pm, there are over five class III rapids with things starting to pick up after 3 pm when the dam begins to release. After 4 pm, the dam release is complete, and that same course becomes class IV plus. For the real thrill seeker, Whitewater Express has special black rafts that are smaller, and easier to surf, as well as tip.
USA Today named Chattahoochee Whitewater Park one of the Top 12 man-made Adventures in the World. Four Rodman boys named it one of their favorite field trips in Georgia. Ziggy, our guide was key to that rating. He made sure we were prepared for what lay ahead. We practiced paddling and getting down in the boat while in calm water, so when the surges hit, we knew what to expect and how to react. He also had us surfing the rapids, a thrill for my adventure junkies who kept asking me all day why I hadn’t booked the class IV+ trip.
Tips for a Great Day Whitewater Rafting in Columbus Ga on the Chattahoochee River
- The earlier in the day you go, the less crowded the trips and the river. There may be three or four boats out on the first trip of the day, but as the day wears on, the river gets busier. Saturday is the busiest and Wednesday is the slowest.
- The later in the day you go, the rougher the ride. Although all trips down the Chattahoochee have rapids, the afternoon trips have significantly more rushing water. The heavier flow begins at 3 pm when the dam lets out, but the real thrill rides are after 4 pm.
- A more experienced guide can make a trip. The more experienced guides are generally those that are addressing the group, giving the safety talk, breaking rafters into groups, or the one carrying the medical kit on the river. Or you could just ask.
- There are age restrictions, so check the website before booking a trip with children.
- It’s customary to tip your guide for a great trip. An acceptable tip for a guide is $5 per person.
- There are lockers (available for $3) and showers available where you get your gear.
- If you are staying in Columbus and don’t want to drive everywhere, you can take Lyft car service. To sweeten the deal, we’re giving you $50 in Lyft credits to get yourself a driver for the evening. (must be a first time Lyft customer)
More to do in Columbus, Ga.
If you’d like to take your rafting to the next level, you’ll be interested in what our friends at Pit Stops for Kids have to say about an O.A.R.S. overnight excursion.
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Thank you to Whitewater Express for hosting us on our urban adventure, as is common in the travel industry. However, I only recommend places I would go and places I would visit. All opinion are our own.
After 18 years in software development, Lesli bailed on the corporate scene. When she’s not traveling, she’s hiking in the mountains or checking out Atlanta’s culinary scene, whiskey in hand.
Lesli has two kiddos -Cooper and Elliot- plus two bonus kids currently at UGA, and she’s happily married to her soul mate.