With Fort Benning looming just outside of town, Columbus, Georgia, is best known for its military might, but the Muscogee County seat is determined to rank among America’s major adventure destinations. The central offensive of this campaign is River City Rush, a 2.5-mile section of the Chattahoochee River that will fling rafters through downtown over Class II to IV rapids after the city demolishes two old dams in May.

The longest urban whitewater course in the world will be open to kayakers and canoeists year round, but the Hooch is at its best in summer, when water temperatures are comfortable and Oriental Poppies are in bloom.

“The beauty of [River City Rush] is that it’s also a river restoration project,” says Sutton Bacon, CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, which will be the exclusive outfitter at the whitewater course. “The city was visionary in that it ripped out a series of dams that had been in place for the better part of the 20th century and restored the Chattahoochee to its original condition.” 

After a day of paddling, visitors will be able to hike or bike along Riverwalk, a 20-mile linear park that hugs the banks of the river or bike along the 11-mile pathway that follows former rail lines connecting Columbus’ several city parks on one of the Trek and Specialized bikes available at Ride on Bikes.

Militant as the city may become about its whitewater future, Columbus isn’t about to forget its marshal past. The National Civil War Naval Museum, which features aging military vessels and equipment is a must visit for anyone interested in the savagery of life before semi-rigid inflatables.

More information: Columbus is a two-hour drive south of Atlanta on I-85. When your stomach starts to rumble, refuel at Country’s Barbecue, which has three Columbus locations, including one in a former downtown Greyhound bus station.