15 Free Things to Do in Columbus, GA
The consolidated city-county of Columbus sits on the west-central boundary of Georgia along the Chattahoochee River, right across Phenix, Alabama.
It’s Georgia’s second largest city next to Atlanta and Muscogee County’s capital, with which it formally unified in 1970.
Founded in 1828, the Creek Indians were the first settlers in the area and named it after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
Columbus in Muscogee County has become a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with its world’s longest whitewater rafting course and a zip line crossing the river.
Columbus is home to over 50 parks, a vibrant downtown, museums, tourist sites, recreation centers, and more!
Find out what this lovely city has in store, especially the free things Columbus, Georgia, has to offer:
Discover Military History at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center is one of the country’s top military history attractions.
The museum walks visitors through over 200 years of American history through a soldier's lens and focuses on the values that characterize the Infantry and the nation it protects– “Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.”
Opened in 2009, the museum sits on a 200-acre property outside Fort Benning’s Maneuver Center of Excellence with 190,000 square feet of gallery space.
It showcases one of the world's largest collections of military objects and documents the legacy of the United States Army Infantry from the American Revolution to the present-day operations.
In 2011, the Themed Entertainment Association awarded the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center the coveted Thea Award for Outstanding Achievement.
It also won the Best Free Museum Readers' Choice Award from USA Today in 2016, 2020, and 2021, as well as the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame Award for continued excellence.
Appreciate Art at the Bo Bartlett Center
The 18,425-square-foot Bo Bartlett Center is a dynamic and interactive art gallery on Columbus State University’s RiverPark campus.
Bo Bartlett, an American realist painter, and Columbus State University presented the Bo Bartlett Center in 2018 to promote the arts in the community.
The gallery space, an old textile warehouse near the Chattahoochee River, was designed by Tom Kundig, an AIA award-winning architect.
The Bo Bartlett Center is a vibrant, creative learning environment that functions as a community center, museum, and laboratory for experimental arts.
It houses the Sandy Bartlett Scarborough Collection, which consists of Bartlett’s 14 enormous paintings.
The Bo Bartlett Center is home to over 300 paintings, drawings, and an extensive archive of correspondence, sketchbooks, recordings, journals, photos, and objects pertinent to the creation of Bartlett’s work.
Wade through the Rocks of Flat Rock Park
Ten miles northeast of downtown on Warm Springs Road, you’ll find the beautiful, flat rocks of Flat Rock Park.
Flat Rock Creek runs through the park, often enjoyed for wading and swimming.
There are several biking and hiking trails available, as well as a disc golf course.
The park features a reservoir where people can go bird-watching and fishing.
Wooded areas give shade and a burst of colors, especially in the fall.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, located at the top of the park, gathers E. coli samples every week to ensure the safety of water in the park.
Walk around the Columbus Historic District
The Columbus Historic District in downtown is a major residential area with several commercial, industrial, and religious buildings.
Extra land was added to make up more of the district's initial 20 full and nine partial city blocks in 1988.
The extended district includes 343 contributing properties, three sites, and an 1879 war monument.
Although 15 of the historic homes had been relocated, they were still considered to add to the district's historic character.
The district includes the antebellum octagon house named May’s Folly or Octagon House, a National Historic Landmark.
In 1969, the Columbus Historic District was included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visit the Columbus Museum
The Columbus Museum presents American art and history to the residents and visitors of Chattahoochee Valley.
Established in 1953 and one of the biggest museums in the Southeast region, the museum stands out for its emphasis on the art and history of the region and the country, as evident in its permanent exhibits, temporary displays, and educational programs.
When W.C. Bradley, a renowned industrialist in Columbus, passed away in 1947, his family donated his 13-acre land to the city of Columbus to be a hub for culture and education.
Housed in a 1912 Mediterranean Revival home, the museum opened to the public in 1953.
In collaboration with the Muscogee County School District, The Columbus Museum provides a diversified exhibition schedule, carefully crafted tours and training, and various free events and programs for multigenerational involvement.
Watch River Rafters from Waveshaper Island
Head to Waveshaper Island to see paddlers navigating the rapids of the Chattahoochee River, the world’s longest whitewater rafting course.
The Columbus Riverwalk connects to Waveshaper Island, offering a viewing point for spectators and an entry point for paddlers along the river.
Waveshaper Island’s eddy, a pool of whirling water that occurs behind an obstruction like a boulder or rock in a river, is popular among rafters, kayakers, and swimmers.
As the Chattahoochee River is a hotspot for recreation, anywhere along the river makes a beautiful viewing point, but Waveshaper Island is one of the best spots.
It’s a wonderful place to go and relax while taking in the scenery, listening to the rushing river and the excitement of the people doing water sports, and viewing the stunning sunset.
Navigate the Chattahoochee RiverWalk
The Chattahoochee RiverWalk is a 22-mile-long outdoor linear park that follows the banks of the Chattahoochee River.
Explore the cityscape on foot or by bicycle, look at historical markers and monuments, and enjoy the natural beauty of the flowing river and the local wildlife along the way.
This park trail stretches southward from Lake Oliver to Fort Benning and is paved with concrete, asphalt, and brick.
Because of the Chattahoochee RiverWalk’s bike trail, Columbus has been recognized by the League of American Bicyclists among the 40 most “Bicycle Friendly Communities” in the country.
Navigate the river banks and take in the scenery as you watch others fish, boat, and have fun either along the river or on the pavement.
Pose for a Photo with Kadie the Cow
Kadie the Cow is an iconic landmark in Columbus and stands in honor of the famed Kinnett Dairies.
The establishment of Kinnett Dairies dates back to the 1920s when John Kinnett's father moved an ice cream business from Macon to Columbus after purchasing it from his uncle.
A huge 20-foot monument of a cow was built across Manchester Expressway right in front of Kinnett Dairies in the early 1960s, an idea by John Kinnett himself.
In the early 2000s, Kinnett Dairies was demolished, and Best Buy was built; however, Kadie the Cow remained.
In 2019, the announcement that Best Buy was closing caused an alarm, but thanks to the Columbus, Kadie the Cow qualified as a historical landmark and was given permanent residency on that same grass patch hill.
News of Kadie the Cow’s big “mooove” surfaced in 2022, and with the help of the community and sponsorships, Kadie will be situated in Uptown Columbus on Bay Avenue.
Play at the Splash Pad on Woodruff Riverfront Park
Woodruff Riverfront Park is a promenade along the Chattahoochee River near the Columbus State University campus and hosts numerous college events.
Conveniently located along the river, Woodruff Riverfront Park features beautiful greenery and lots of open space, making it an excellent location for big events with up to 1,000 people (with stipulations).
A highlight of Woodruff Riverfront Park is the splash pad run by Uptown Columbus.
The splash pad is a family favorite to cool off in the sweltering Georgia heat all summer.
Unless there's inclement weather, the splash pad is free and accessible seven days a week.
Learn about the Industrial History of the City at Heritage Park
Heritage Park, situated in the renowned Columbus Historic District, offers a fascinating look at the history of Columbus.
Featuring interpretive sculptures and informative locations, the park celebrates Columbus' industrial past from 1850 to 1910.
This one-of-a-kind park, with the sound of cascading water, elegant statues, and an old brick kiln, offers peace and quiet.
Heritage Park’s purpose is to honor the businessmen and laborers who used the river to their advantage and built the industries that served as the cornerstone of the city.
You can take a self-guided tour of the park to learn more about the city's history.
Spend Time in Nature at Cooper Creek Park
There’s always something wonderful to see and experience at Cooper Creek Park.
Cooper Creek Park features a natural area with a creek and offers access to fishing, walking trails around the creek, picnic spots, playgrounds, and horseshoe and softball courts.
Cooper Creek Tennis Center, one of the country’s best clay-court tennis facilities, is in the park.
It's a beautiful park with various gorgeous viewpoints, open or shaded locations for a picnic, lots of big pavilion areas to hang out and barbecue or throw a party, and wildlife, including birds and ducks.
Cooper Creek Park is also fun for dogs to walk and cool off in the creek or lake.
Go Biking at the Columbus Fall Line Trace
The Columbus Fall Line Trace, a Rails-to-Trails city project, was built on an abandoned railroad track.
This 11-mile trail runs from Uptown’s 14th Street Pedestrian Bridge to Midland’s Psalmond Road Recreation Center.
The route offers a diverse cross-section of the city, including bustling shopping areas, neighborhoods, business districts, Columbus State University, and other schools.
At the southern end, the trail connects to the Chattahoochee Riverwalk, adding to the trail’s charm.
At the northern end, a tranquil stretch under a thick shade of trees lets you forget you’re still in the city.
The Georgia Engineering Alliance has given the Columbus Fall Line Trace an Honor Award for Engineering Excellence in recognition of its service to society, uniqueness, and intricacy, among others.
Explore the Black Heritage Trail
The Black Heritage Trail is a city trail that connects African American heritage sites in the City of Columbus.
Recognized as a National Recreation Trail, this trail includes 30 African American historical landmarks, structures, contributions, and notable events dating as far back as the 1800s.
The Black Heritage Trail leads visitors to some unknown parts of the city and introduces the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the civil rights movement.
See both the beauty and the sadness that permeate African American areas in Columbus and the South.
Some highlights include American singer Ma Rainey’s home, the Liberty Theatre Cultural Center, The Stockades at the Old City Jail, and the Dr. Thomas H. Brewer Assassination Site.
Enjoy a Geocaching Adventure with the RiverWalk GeoTour
If you’re feeling adventurous, join a geocaching adventure with the RiverWalk GeoTour!
Geocaching is akin to a treasure hunt using a GPS tracker, and the goal is to find hidden containers or “geocaches.”
There are more than a million active geocaches worldwide, and with the addition of the RiverWalk GeoTour, there are more reasons to take your family or friends along the Chattahoochee RiverWalk.
Start by downloading a RiverWalk GeoTour Grid Sheet online and creating an account at www.Geocaching.com, then get the GPS coordinates and other details about the RiverWalk GeoTour destinations.
After finding a RiverWalk GeoTour cache, fill out the logbook inside the container with your name, and write the letter specific to that cache on your RiverWalk GeoTour Grid Sheet.
Complete each of the six distinct geocache series in the RiverWalk GeoTour to qualify for a limited edition playing card.
Present your RiverWalk GeoTour Grid Sheet at the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau during business hours with the proper spaces filled in.
Additionally, you must accomplish a predetermined amount of caches to receive special geo-coins: 10 completed caches for a bronze-level coin, 20 completed caches for a silver-level coin, and 30 completed caches for a gold-level coin.
Catch a Glimpse of Native Wildlife at Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center
The Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center was founded in 1995 as a partnership between Columbus State University, Columbus Water Works, and the City of Columbus.
The center offers formal and informal programs regarding the natural history and ecology of the region, as well as exhibits, demonstrations, and nature trails.
It features the Natural History Discovery Center, a classroom laboratory, cutting-edge instructional media, an 86-seat auditorium, exhibits of live fish and reptiles, a stream habitat for numerous plants and animals, bee hives, a pollinator garden, and more!
Visitors can walk down the trails to catch a glimpse of native wildlife, visit their ponds and wetlands, and explore their educational and exciting Discovery Trail.
The Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center does not charge for admission, although donations are always welcome.
Less than a two-hour drive from Atlanta, Columbus makes a terrific weekend getaway (or longer) for family and friends, suitable for all ages.
It's safe to say that Columbus, with its diverse arts, culture, history, and gorgeous outdoor setting, has something to offer everyone.
Give this list of free things to do in Columbus, Georgia, a try, and let it inspire you to explore more budget-friendly destinations in the country and in the world!