Great Picks for Fall Paddling in Georgia

By: Suzanne Welander

Even though autumn can be dry and lacking in rainfall, it’s a great time to get out on the water in Georgia. Here are my top picks for river sections that are enjoyable in the cooler weather. All of these river sections are dam-fed, which means that they reliably have sufficient water for paddling, regardless of rainfall. Keep an eye on the USGS water gauges! Georgia’s wild-fed rivers are simply gorgeous in the fall, provided there’s enough rainfall preceding your trip.

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A low-water sandbar on the Chattahoochee River near Island Ford

Chattahoochee River, below Buford Dam

Buford Dam releases from the bottom of Lake Lanier, so there’s always a stream of frigid water flowing all the way to Franklin. Favorites trips in this section include the peaceful moving water section through the north Atlanta suburbs to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Island Ford access; the remarkable wild Class II section that starts at Powers Island where the river passes underneath I-285; the graceful tree-lined loop of Chattahoochee Bend State Park southwest of Atlanta, where you can arrange for paddle-up camping on platforms near the river. Several companies offer shuttle services for river sections in and around Atlanta, so there’s no need for a second car. Reach Chattahoochee Bend State Park at 770-254-7271.

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Live oaks guard the hike-in Yankee Paradise campsite entrance on Cumberland Island

Crooked River to Cumberland Island

You’ll need to secure a permit for overnight camping on Cumberland Island before planning this trip. The trip down the Crooked River to the Intercoastal Waterway is not dependent on rainfall since the river is tidal and ebbs and flows with the ocean. Fall, especially October and November, is an ideal time to visit Cumberland Island as the biting insect population wanes (thankfully). Crisp fall days are perfect for soaking up the last warmth of the year on Cumberland’s deserted beaches—and the ocean is still warm enough for a dip. Call 888-817-3421 or 912-882-4335 for Cumberland Island reservations.

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Ledge rapid on the Ocmulgee River, in November

Ocmulgee River below Lloyd Shoals Dam

Georgia Power is fairly reliable about releasing water from this dam throughout the fall. One of the most beautiful and engaging sections of the Ocmulgee—the Seven Islands section—begins immediately below the dam. The river passes over infrequent class I and II shoals for six miles. The Oconee National Forest borders the river on the left throughout this run; the forest, along with occasional large islands offer many options for camping. Not up for the rapids? The Ocmulgee Water Trail carves a winding trail through deep bottomland forests for 200 miles from Macon to the confluence with the Oconee River. See for more info.

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Mid-October run on the Ocoee River

Ocoee River

The TVA releases water from the Ocoee #2 dam on weekends throughout the end of October. For class III-IV enthusiasts, it’s a peaceful time to enjoy this gem of a river. The water seems a bit warmer, the rapids are no less thrilling, and the raft traffic abates, ceding private boaters the run of the river. Dam releases are also scheduled for the entire week of September 28, 2015. Full release schedule with times can be found here.

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Fall colors reflected on the Flint River in November

Flint River

The Flint River below Albany remains well-watered thanks to infusions from the Floridan Aquifer. The Flint’s limestone bedrock contributes to the unique features in this area: overhangs, small caves, freshwater springs and blue holes, interspersed with an occasional mild shoal. Make it a social and educational trip by joining Georgia River Network for their four-day Fall Float on the Flint. This Paddle Georgia event runs 70 miles of the lower river over four days from October 9-12. More info and registration can be found here. Event proceeds benefit Georgia River Network and Flint Riverkeeper.

Hope to see you on the river in Georgia this fall!

Suzanne Welander, author of Canoeing & Kayaking Georgia, began canoeing in 1999. Since then, she has completed hundreds of trips exploring Georgia’s diverse streams or eddy-hopping down the Ocoee in her whitewater canoe. She has a special passion for wilderness, stoked by multi-day self-supported canoe trips in remote parts of Alaska, Canada, Montana, and Arizona, in addition to canoe-camping getaways in wild corners of Georgia. When she isn’t paddling or writing about rivers, Suzanne works for a North Georgia organic farm and plays saxophone in the Seed and Feed Marching Abominable. Suzanne lives in Atlanta with her husband who’s also an avid canoeist, their young son, and a small flock of chickens.

Tanya Twerdowsky
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