An 18-county region straddling the Chattahoochee River along the Georgia-Alabama border puts history and nature at your motorhome’s doorstep.
By Janet Groene, F47166
Need a new theme for your next trip to or through Georgia? The siren song of the mighty Chattahoochee River has bidden travelers since ancient times. It’s no less beguiling today, a shining stream that divides most of Georgia from Alabama and widens into Lake Seminole, one of the best fishing lakes in the South.
Let’s look at a map. Our route begins at Columbus, Georgia. From Columbus, follow U.S. 27 south to Bainbridge with a side trip to Lake Seminole in the southwest corner of the state. From Bainbridge, U.S. 84 takes you northwest across the river to Dothan, Alabama, where you can pick up U.S. 431 to drive north through Eufaula to Phenix City, a twin city directly across the river from your starting point at Columbus.
With these waypoints in mind, you can enjoy a trip lasting a week, a month, or longer. Snowbirds who winter in southern Georgia and Alabama never run out of things to do: fishing, antique hunting, birding, golfing on championship courses, boating, stargazing, and visiting historic sites. You can pop back and forth across the river “” bridges are located every 40 miles or so “” or drive up one side and down the other.
Keep in mind that the river not only divides two states but separates two time zones. Georgia is in the Eastern Time Zone and Alabama is in the Central. Note, too, that the highways specified above do not provide a waterfront ramble. Scenic State Route 165 from Eufaula to Phenix City hugs the river, but because the Chattahoochee occasionally spills over its banks, major roads have been built well back from the water, above the floodplain.
Columbus, Georgia, is an industrial city, but at its core is the river and, around it, the Old South.
Spots that appeal to visitors include the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, which offers astronomy programs and a simulated Challenger mission. If you enjoy touring historic homes, note that every day at 2:00 p.m. a guided tour of the Heritage Corner takes visitors to several of the city’s most significant residences. In addition, you can walk or bicycle on the 15-mile Riverwalk, which rims the Chattahoochee. The waterfalls in this area were mentioned by early Spanish explorers and targeted by early developers who harnessed the energy to power factories.
One of the city’s newer attractions is the Port Columbus Civil War Naval Center, the first museum built to focus on naval exploits of the Civil War. It houses the CSS Chattahoochee and the CSS Jackson, as well as murals, interactive exhibits, time lines, and a wealth of memorabilia that especially captivates those interested in naval warfare and/or the War Between the States.
The Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau can provide you with more details about these attractions; call (800) 999-1613 or go to www.visitcolumbusga.com.
Approximately 40 miles south of Columbus is “Georgia’s Grand Canyon,” Providence Canyon State Park. It’s not really a canyon, but rather a collection of huge gullies (the deepest of which is 150 feet) formed accidentally in the 1800s by poor farming techniques. Today you can hike on 3 miles of trails and look for rare wildflowers. Bring your camera to shoot the daylong kaleidoscope of light playing on the colored layers of the canyon walls as the sun passes. The park has an interpretive center and a picnic area, too. For more information, call (229) 838-6202 or visit www.gastateparks.org/info/providence.
Travel farther south on U.S. 27 approximately 60 miles and go west on State Route 37 to the little town of Fort Gaines. Except during special events, this is a sleepy hamlet with a long history and a short list of tourist attractions, so it’s perfect for travelers who shun the beaten path.
The few streets lead past old homes, including a mansion that has been turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn with a charming gift shop. Don’t miss the rustic Sutton’s Corner Frontier Country Museum. The site once was occupied by the Globe Tavern and Inn Stagecoach Stop. The museum sets forth a delightful hodgepodge of original artifacts; it’s like a visit to Grandma’s parlor and Grandfather’s favorite general store, all in one spot. Call (229) 768-2312 for a museum schedule and more information.
A replica of a blockhouse can be seen on the site of the fort for which the town is named. The Confederate fighters built a battery they called Fort Gaines two miles south of town overlooking the Chattahoochee.
Like most major rivers, the Chattahoochee was a conduit for ancient people who lived here long before the Europeans arrived. The mounds they built as monuments are the oldest attractions in the region. Kolomoki Mounds Historic Park near Blakely preserves seven mounds, one of them the state’s oldest temple mound. The park is approximately 20 miles south of Fort Gaines along U.S. 27.
Mysteries remain about the people who once lived there, but they’re believed to have settled as early as 1000 B.C., and built these mounds between A.D. 250 and 950. The museum at the park is set partially inside an excavated mound, and the surrounding state park offers miniature golf, two lakes for fishing and canoeing, a swimming pool, five miles of hiking trails, and campsites with hookups. For more information, call the park office at (229) 724-2150 or visit www.gastateparks.org/info/kolomoki.
The town of Bainbridge, approximately 40 miles south of Kolomoki Mounds, beckons with a historic district and two parks on the banks of the Flint River. The town’s Heritage Tour includes more than 50 homes, churches, and buildings constructed from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Phone the town’s chamber of commerce at (800) 243-4774 or visit http://bainbridgegachamber.com for more information.
Bainbridge is on the eastern edge of sprawling Lake Seminole, home of Seminole State Park. The park is a recreation bonanza for anglers, duck and deer hunters, bird-watchers, arrowhead seekers, and anyone who loves wilderness. The lake alone covers 37,500 acres. It’s shallow, but is dotted with depressions known as lime sinks, where the “big ones” are found. In addition to enjoying water-related recreation, you can camp, hike the 2.2-mile Gopher Tortoise trail, play miniature golf, or rent a canoe. For details, call the park at (229) 861-3137 or visit www.gastateparks.org/seminole.
You can, if you wish, make your tour shorter by traveling across the Chattahoochee straight from Blakely (near Kolomoki Mounds) to the city life in Dothan, Alabama. Or, from Lake Seminole, travel northwest on U.S. 84 to reach Dothan. Dothan has essential shopping, nightlife, and a selection of restaurants, as well as tourist attractions. Try the Wiregrass Museum of Art; the Army Aviation Museum; and Landmark Park, where pioneer dwellings, farm animals, an agricultural museum, a nature trail, and a planetarium all vie for attention. For more information about Dothan, call (888) 449-0212 or visit www.dothanalcvb.com.
From Dothan, U.S. 431 leads northward to Eufaula (pronounced yoo-FAW-luh). The city itself has a wealth of historic neighborhoods. Beautiful homes open for touring include Fendall Hall, a great Italianate mansion built in 1860; Hart House, a Greek Revival home built in 1850; and the Shorter Mansion, built in 1884. Take a self-guided driving tour of Eufaula streets where the history of American architecture is seen in homes from all eras. Eufaula’s local tourism council may be contacted at (800) 524-7529 or at www.eufaula-barbourchamber.com.
If birding is your passion, the Chattahoochee Flyway is an important destination, and the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge is its capital. All year, but especially in spring and fall, it’s a wonderland of ducks, geese, wood storks, sandhill cranes, wading birds, shorebirds, and songbirds. A habitat consisting of 3,000 acres of wetlands, 1,000 acres of grassland, 2,000 acres of woodlands, and 4,000 acres of open water sustain a number of rookeries and many osprey and bald eagle nests. Call (334) 687-4065 or visit http://eufaula.fws.gov for more information.
The state maps of Alabama and Georgia reveal much more to see along the Chattahoochee. Chances are that a variety of interests will have you tacking across this area, choosing your favorite spots. However, if you’re serious about truly “doing” the Chattahoochee Trace in its entirety, you may contact the Historic Chattahoochee Commission for brochures and visit its Web site to find descriptions of every marker and historic point along the official route. More than 21 historic markers have been placed on old homes, jails, schools, and churches in counties all along the river.
In addition to contacting the Historic Chattahoochee Commission (below), you may pick up information about the Chattahoochee Trace in person at the Georgia Visitor Information Center in Columbus at 1751 Williams Road.
Historic Chattahoochee Commission
P.O. Box 33
Eufaula, AL 36072-0033
E-mail: [email protected]