I admit it. I like to eavesdrop when I’m hiking.
It’s especially interesting to be hiking near a group that includes kids, especially young kids. There’s something about hiking that fires a child’s imagination, and it can be hugely entertaining to listen to the things they come up with as they hike along a trail.
Last week, you’ll recall, it was the Hobbit Tunnel at Simpsonwood.
This time it’s the Enchanted Bamboo Forest of Planet River.
Although I’ve hiked to this bamboo forest many times, I never knew it was enchanted until I overheard two little girls telling their mom all about it one afternoon a couple of years ago.
They were already at the Bamboo Forest when I arrived, and from the sound of things, they were having a grand time too.
“Mommy, it’s enchanted for sure,” one of them said. “I just know it is enchanted.”
“Yes, it is,” said the other. “I think I even saw a magical elf!”
“That’s right, Mommy!” affirmed the first. “Elves are everywhere in the Enchanted Forest of…of…in the Enchanted Bamboo Forest of Planet River!”
Hey, that’s pretty original! How she came up with it I can’t imagine. But it is certainly appropriate. The tall bamboo stalks, some of them many inches in diameter, rise silently skyward, filling the place with that certain soothing shade of green that only bamboo can create. Pathways meander through it all, and every step gives you a new perspective. Enchanted? Maybe. Enchanting? Without a doubt.
Enchanted bamboo forests are, of course, hard to come by. This particular one is located at the far upriver end of the Whitewater/Palisades East trail system. The bamboo is an introduced nonnative invasive species, but invader or not, it is definitely fascinating.
Most hikers access the trail to the Bamboo Forest from the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area parking lot off Whitewater Creek Road, reached via Mount Paran Road via Harris Trail. There may also be access from the end of Indian Trail (parking when the gate is open) or via the gated trail/road intersection on Riverview Road (no parking there). But your best bet is to park at Whitewater.
From the parking area, following the route to the Bamboo Forest is fairly easy these days thanks to a series of trailside map posts. Additionally, the Forest Service has identified key trail intersections with unique numbers, and that makes cross-country hiking very easy.
To make this hike from the parking area, cross Long Island Creek on a footbridge. At the far end of the bridge is trail intersection EP-1 (the “EP” is or East Palisades).
Turn left at EP-1. The trail approaches the river and then swings upstream. Follow it to EP-2 and turn right. You’ll soon come to intersection EP-3; stay right again and continue to intersection EP-7.
At EP-7, turn right again and continue through EP-8 to point EP-10.
At EP-10, you’ll probably want to make the short side hike to the left and down to an observation platform overlooking the river. That little connector trail descends for a bit more than 100 yards to a set of timber steps; the steps, in turn, carry you down a steep section and bring you at last to the overlook. The view across the river is spectacular, especially in the fall when the leaves are beginning to change.
From the platform, make your way to EP-14. Continue on the main trail through EP-23 toward EP-17. The trail switchbacks down a hill (sometimes steeply) and then crosses a creek on a small footbridge before coming to point EP-17. There, turn left and continue back toward the river, crossing a small creek on another small footbridge. The trail continues along that creek to the river and point EP-16, where you’ll see the ruins of a stone foundation of an old cabin on your left.
Turn right (upstream) toward EP-26. You’ll cross an old stone bridge and begin to notice increasingly dramatic rock outcrops off to your right. There’s another footbridge to cross. This portion of the trail is close to the river, and if the water level in the river is high, it’s possible that parts of the trail might be submerged.
And then you’ll spot the first stalks of bamboo. At first it’s just a few of them, but soon they’re everywhere – tens of thousands of ‘em in a veritable forest that stretches to the river and extends for perhaps 200 yards along the trail.
Take your time exploring the bamboo forest, keeping your eye out for elves. Eventually, you’ll have to pull yourself away to hike back to your car and head for home. But you might not want to leave, for that little girl was right. The place really does feel kind of enchanted.
As you hike back, you may find yourself thinking about the bamboo forest. I must admit that I’ve never personally seen any magical elves among the towering bamboo stalks growing there near the river. But maybe I just haven’t been looking hard enough. After all, if I was a magical elf, a bamboo forest might be just the kind of place I’d like to hang out.