Discover White Sandbars for Camping and Swimming on GA’s Alapaha River

alapaha river kayaking
The Alapaha River. Photo by Back Shortly

Jungle-like in its remoteness and luxurious with exotic vegetation, the dark reddish-brown waters of Alapaha River kayaking wind through a swampy wonderland teeming with wildlife. Signs of habitation are rare along the river’s course; only a few isolated cabins intrude on the remote tranquility. An underlying strata of limestone creates small shoals that approach Class II in intensity, enlivening the paddling. This is, however, mostly a smooth-water run, complete with trees that grow profusely in the river channel, often blurring the dividing line between river and swamp.

Get an Overview of the Suwannee River Watershed where the Alapaha River is located.

USGS and County Maps for Alapaha River Kayaking

Alapaha, Tenmile Bay, Willacoochee, Hastings Fish Pond, Lakeland, Naylor, Howell, Statenville, Jennings (USGS); Berrien, Atkinson, Lanier, Lowndes, Echols (County)

Alapaha River Kayaking from GA 135 to FL 150

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I (II); Length: 85.3 miles; Time: Up to 1.5 weeks; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: 2.8 feet; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: A+

DESCRIPTION

Following a course of extreme and seemingly endless loops and tight turns, it is possible to run the Alapaha as far north as the US 82 bridge, although trees, primarily sweet gum, cypress, and Australian pine, have taken up residence midstream. After a period of high water, dislodged debris collects on these trees, making downstream progress of Alapaha River kayking in this upper section technically challenging at best, a dangerous struggle at worst.

When the Alapaha’s largest tributary, the Willacoochee River, enters the stream west of the town of the same name, Alapaha River kayaking becomes a more relaxing experience. There are still trees found in the stream from the access at GA 135 to the town of Lakeland downstream, but the additional flow increases the stream’s width to 45-60 feet. The river’s low, sandy banks are relatively newly formed, and trees (pine, water oak, laurel oak, sweetbay, birch, and an occasional live oak) growing on the banks are in a perpetual slow-motion migration into the riverbed, creating a lush canopy that shades the dark-brown waters from the sun.

As it progresses into Lanier County, the Alapaha River kayaking course is slightly less curving as it flows in the center of a broad, forested, swamp corridor. Between Lakeland and Statenville, the current gets faster as the river straightens further. White sandbars on the insides of bends continue to provide excellent swimming or camping spots and persist until crossing beneath the Southern Railroad bridge at access point F. From time to time sand bluffs up to 10 feet high and populated with pine encroach on the bottom land, making for good campsites in absence of sand bars or during periods of higher water. A good camping spot that was formerly a designated stop along the Alapaha Canoe Trail sits a little over two hours below access point F on the river-right bluff.

The current is moderate for Alapaha River kayaking, but the river comes up quickly after a good rainfall to create a fast current at high water. With the density of trees crowding the banks, high water can create dangerous conditions for novices or anyone caught outside of a boat. Flat-water paddling prevails throughout the river, except at infrequent shoals. A ledge that approaches Class II difficulty, complete with a surfing wave, is located between US 84 and Howell Road. Avoid sharp limestone rocks at the shoals and where they are exposed at the banks. In low-water periods, the river disappears into the ground-water table downstream of CR 6 before reaching the Suwannee.

SHUTTLE

From Valdosta, take US 41 south into Florida to reach the lowest take-out for this section, east of Jennings. All upper access points are easily reached via GA 135.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site provides data for the Alapaha at the town of Alapaha (upstream of Willacoochee) and at Statenville. Using the Statenville data, 2.8 is a good minimum, with a maximum above 8-10 feet. Additionally, the Echols County Sheriff’s Department at (229) 559-5603 can provide runnability assessments, as can the local outfitters. The river is generally runnable from late November through August.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Alapaha River kayaking guide is adapted from Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia by Suzanne Welander and Bob Sehlinger and published here in cooperation with Menasha Ridge Press. Canoeing and Kayaking Georgia covers thousands of miles of Georgia waterways from whitewater to wilderness swamps and everything in between. It’s an indispensable guide to anyone interested in paddling Georgia’s rivers and streams. Order directly from Menasha Ridge Press. See a comprehensive list of other Menasha outdoor publications indexed by title, author, category, and region.

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