Despite the polluted water, the metro 'Hooch still provides our most complete, nearby escape from the human-made world. The National Recreation Area consists of 16 tracts along the river from Buford Dam to the U.S. 41 bridge. Each section has its own network of trails and stretch of river to explore. The Palisades -- which border extreme northwest Atlanta -- provide the most spectacular scenery for dayhikers and boaters. It's where the river is forced into a hard right turn when the water hits the Brevard Fault. That's created a 200-foot escarpment, complete with small cliffs and scenic overlooks. On foot, go to the end of Indian Trail Road (the one off Northside Drive in Atlanta); you'll find a trailhead that leads to a beautiful overlook and side trails down to the river itself. But you'll really feel you've left the pace of the city behind if you get on the river. Put in your raft, canoe or kayak at the Powers Island Unit (off Interstate North Parkway) and take out just before U.S. Highway 41. This stretch of river contains small rapids, which can be hazardous for canoes when the water is high; so if you're not experienced, go in a raft. And the water quality usually isn't suitable for swimming. For rentals, contact the Chattahoochee Outdoor Center, 770-395-6851, which has a concession at the put-in and runs a shuttle at the take-out.