Columbus was once Georgia's last frontier outpost, and that pioneer spirit lingers in the city. Just as long-ago travelers eagerly explored the region's rich natural history, visitors today can discover new landscapes, without even leaving downtown.
Start a tour on the RiverWalk, a popular Columbus attraction comprising a 15-mile paved walkway that borders the Chattahoochee River. Spanish explorers once traversed this ground, and Native Americans used the stretch as a trading center. Although the cotton trade no longer relies on paddle wheelers and steamboats for distribution, Columbus visitors can still get a sense of the river's then-and-now importance for commerce and community. The Columbus Museum—the second largest museum in Georgia—provides an in-depth look at the Chattahoochee River Valley's history, with over 14,000 artifacts and objects related to the area's development.
Switch from the bank to the water and tackle the world's longest urban whitewater course. The release of several major dams is restoring the river's flow, which is a boon for fishing enthusiasts as well. Choose from calm waters to wild rapids, on a solo journey or with a guide, and see the city from a whole new viewpoint. You might even float down to Fort Benning, a U.S. Army post in Columbus that supports more than 120,000 active-duty military and their family members. To follow up with a glimpse of military history, hop off the river and over to the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the only American museum focused exclusively on Civil War military vessels, weapons and equipment.
Bring a helmet and explore Columbus by bike on the Fall Line Trace, an 11-mile pathway that winds through the city. Part of the Rails-to-Trails project, the bike and pedestrian trail goes past Columbus State University and up to Flatrock Park, a county park with picnic areas and playgrounds. Those feeling particularly sporty can try the disc golf course, or pack a racquet and stop at Cooper Creek Tennis Center, the nation's largest public clay court facility, a few miles down the trail.
Getting outfitted for the outdoors is no problem, thanks to area specialty shops. Runners can linger at Big Dog Running Company, a Columbus store on Broadway near the riverfront that offers shoes and apparel, as well as workshops on topics like injury-free running. For camping, kayaking, fishing and hiking gear, head down the street to The Outside World.
Fuel up at one of Columbus’ dining spots that range from candlelight to casual. The oldest eating establishment in town, circa 1918, is the Dinglewood Pharmacy, which boasts an original soda fountain and signature "scramble dog" that is smothered with chili, pickles and oyster crackers. For martinis and steaks, opt for Meritage, which gives a French touch to Southern and Cajun favorites. Other options include wood-fired pizzas, country-style barbecue and authentic Thai cuisine.
Although Columbus is no longer a trading outpost, its founding sense of exploration still runs deep. The National Park Service lists eight historic districts and more than 100 properties on the national register in Columbus for visitors to explore.