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Chattahoochee River

Rush hour is about to take on a whole new meaning in Columbus, GA, as city officials demolish 2 old dams and release a 2.5-mile section of the mighty Chattahoochee River. Deemed River City Rush, the world’s longest urban whitewater course will open May 25 and will roar through the heart of downtown Columbus, creating a hub for outdoor adventure. The “Hooch” is open to kayakers and canoeists year round, but the biggest thrills are to be had during the summer.

As folks in Atlanta (located about 2 hours to the north) crank up their air conditioners, the 430-mile Chattahoochee, which is controlled by hydroelectric dams, will intensify from a Class II-III base flow to intense Class V rapids, says Sutton Bacon, CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, which will be the exclusive outfitter at the whitewater course. Bacon says NOC plans to build a full adventure center at the river, offering everything from rafting, kayak instruction, standup paddleboarding and mountain bike rentals.

After a day of paddling, hike or bike (Trek and Specialized bike rentals are available at Ride on Bikes) along Riverwalk, a 20-mile linear park that hugs the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Or, explore an 11-mile pathway that follows former rail lines that weave through Columbus past several city parks.

Other great downtown destinations include the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, where you can catch a Broadway show or concert. Or, explore the National Civil War Naval Museum, which features 19th-century military vessels, uniforms, equipment and weapons. Located across the street from the Naval Museum is International Market Place, where you’ll find everything from classic cars and antiques to kitchenware. It’s most famously home to the Lunchbox Museum, a must-see destination for lovers of kitsch and pop culture that houses one of the country’s largest collections of lunchboxes, many dating back to the early 1950s.

When your stomach starts to rumble, refuel with some authentic Southern fare at Country’s Barbecue. This family-owned restaurant opened in 1975 and is legendary for its ribs, made-from-scratch Brunswick stew, lemon pie, and, of course, barbecue, which is cooked fresh over hickory and oak. There are 3 Columbus locations, including one in a former downtown bus station. Also not to be missed are the famous chilidogs at Dinglewood Pharmacy, located in the historic district along the southern edge of downtown. Established in 1918, it’s the city’s oldest eating establishment. Or, grab a seat at the copper-topped bar and enjoy delicious pizza and locally brewed beer at Cannon Brewpub, a popular hangout among locals that is filled with funky wood and metal sculptures.

For convenient accommodations during your stay, the 177-room Columbus Marriott, built around a restored 1861 cotton mill, is in the heart of downtown Columbus within walking distance to River City Rush as well as museums and performing art centers. For something more intimate, the Rothschild-Pound House is a cozy bed and breakfast 2 blocks from the river. Its suites and cottages feature Jacuzzi tubs, antiques, fireplaces and beautiful hardwood floors.

- Sam Boykin

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