This attractive run, appropriate for giving beginners a taste of whitewater or a bit of low-pressure P&P for intermediate boaters, is small potatoes when the dam is not releasing but more like restaurant-quality baked spuds when it is. Not the best choice for rank newbies during releases, that about says it - things rapidly go to flood conditions and the difficulty increases to III+. They set off a big siren prior to opening the gates, so you will know the trouble is about to start, unless you are deaf. New boaters call ahead to check releases so you don't get caught. See Will Gosney's narrative below for more details.
The water quality is much better than 30 miles downstream; trout can be seen swimming along the bottom. It's COLD, since they intake the nice clear water 40 or 50 feet below the lake surface. The only hazards are strainers and the water temp. Although surrounding development has been heavy over the last decade, the river corridor there is still pristine, thanks to the Chattahoochee NRA and the efforts of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization.
Put-in is just below Buford Dam at the southern end of Lake Lanier near Buford, GA. Drive across the dam to its western end and immediately hang a left through a gate onto a steep dirt road that winds downhill to a nice park on the west bank just below the dam. There's lots of free parking, picnic area, boat ramp and restrooms. This area typically gets gated shut at dark or 5PM, with remaining cars towed away, so plan your trip accordingly.
Half a mile or so below the put-in the river is split by Bowman's Island. You can run right or left; either side takes you down a quarter mile of class I-II shoals until the flows merge again at the southern end of the island. There's lots of big, rounded, mossy rocks to keep things interesting. Good place to practice rockspins, ferrying and midstream eddying.
Another mile or so beyond this point the river disappears around a left-hand turn marked by a large gravel bar on river left. Around that bend is the best whitewater feature on this section, where a rock ledge extends across the river. Most of the water bangs into a big obvious truck-sized boulder (the "Hump") in the middle and funnels around the right side. Approach from the left side and set right to hit the chute. Fine spot for squirts& enders at the bottom. That end of the Hump is deeply undercut but the eddy pool below is huge and shallow, with a wide sandy beach on river left. Beware of ancient strainers on river right, the current will push you in that direction.
Part of the flow pours over left of the Hump and creates a small surfable hole. At high water a nice flat surfing wave opens up here (see photos).
This feature is also referred to as "The Tubes" by the squirtboaters (ref. http://www.sinkspots.org) - if you are a real good paddler in a smaller boat you can get down time here during release.
First take-out is below the Hump near the highway 20 bridge on the river-right side up a steep bank. That access is obtained by driving west on Highway 20 until you cross the bridge; look for the first dirt road on your right, drive in and find a park. No guarantees on the vandalism/theft factor at this location - cruiser traffic is heavy in the vicinity. You can park & play the Hump from there, however.
The second access point, if you don't mind wallowing through another couple miles of flat water, is to take out at the abandoned Settles Bridge. This is a marginally safer place to leave a car and ends the run with a nice leisurely float that cruisers will love and players will hate. Take Suwanee Dam road south for a couple miles past highway 20 and turn right on Johnson Road. Drive another mile and turn right at the stop sign onto Settles Bridge Road just before you would enter the big housing development. The road immediately turns to dirt; look for the small brown Chattahoochee NRA sign. It dead-ends a half mile down in a recently-improved gravel parking area. Walk down to the river for a look at the steel bridge ruins; that's your landmark for takeout.