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Hiking Island Ford’s Overlooked Gem

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If you’re like me, you’re a creature of habit. For instance, when I want to squeeze in a little afternoon hiking, I’ll often fall back on some familiar trail that I’ve hiked many times before.

But sometimes it’s nice to try something new – something like the Sandy Springs Island Ford Trail at the Island Ford Unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

The Sandy Springs Island Ford Trail is one that many hikers overlook – perhaps because it starts behind the park’s visitor center. But the Sandy Springs Trail is definitely worth your while. It’s scenic and interesting to hike, and it’s easily accessible from the very first parking area on your left as you enter the Island Ford Unit. It’s a perfect holiday hike to enjoy with your family too – just the thing for a little after-lunch outdoor recreation!

This trail is an in-and-out route with a loop at the far end. The hike begins at the first parking area (1­­) on your left off Island Ford Parkway. Look for a large sign identifying the “Sandy Springs Island Ford Trail.” The trailhead is next to that sign.

From the trailhead, follow the well-defined route for about 150 yards to the point where it crosses Island Ferry Road (2). A number of large rocks block the trail at that point.

Across Island Ferry Road, pick up the trail on the other side. Note that it’s offset slightly to the right. Beyond the road, you’ll work your way through a pair of switchbacks (3) and then climb gently toward a high spot at yet another switchback (4) and a distinct left turn in the trail. A house may be visible through the trees to your right.

The trail, now heading generally west, soon turns sharply right and then (a bit further along) takes an equally sharply left. Look for the tiny wet weather creek to the right of the trail. This is a great wildflower area in the spring.

The trail soon bends right again, crossing a low spot. Beyond the bend is a wood footbridge (5) over a wet area. As you approach this footbridge, note that the first couple of feet of the bridge are an incline. Approaching from this direction, you’ll see the incline. But on your return, coming from the other direction, it’s not immediately apparent. Be careful on that incline – especially if it’s wet.

The trail continues relatively straight for several hundred yards, crossing another footbridge and boardwalk (6). Note the rocky hillside (7) rising off to your left – and start looking right for your first glimpse of the Chattahoochee. As the hike swings left to more or less follow the river, you’ll see the river through the trees to your right and more rocky hillside rising off to your left. Some of the rock outcrops are impressive, among them a small shelter-like overhang (8) a little ways beyond the point where the trail veers left to follow the river.

You’ll soon come to the intersection (9) with the loop portion of this trail. The loop can be traversed in either direction; this guide goes counterclockwise, so turn right to parallel the river. This section of trail may be somewhat overgrown, especially during the warm months.

Soon, you’ll come to a sharp switchback to the left (10), which marks the far end of the loop. The sound of traffic on nearby Georgia 400, which has been your companion for a while now, will be more noticeable.

Go left at the switchback (but carefully – it’s steep and can be slippery), and you’ll immediately begin to climb. Steep at first, the ascent soon moderates as the trail settles in on the flank of the ridge.

Just beyond a short rocky section (11), the trail swings right. You’ll soon come to an intersection (12) with a trail which gently climbs to the right. That’s a short spur which leads to Roberts Drive (13) near Georgia 400. There is only a trailhead at Roberts Drive; there is no parking at that location.

From Roberts Drive, backtrack to rejoin the main loop at intersection 12 and turn right to continue the loop. You’ll cross more wet weather branches, and then the trail begins a gentle descent back to intersection 9 where you can turn right to return to your car or go straight to hike the loop again.


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