Kayak Georgia’s Alcovy River, a Diverse, Creek-Like River with a Class III Ride

alcovy river kayaking
Surfing at First Ledge on the Alcovy River. Photo by A. Dover, American Whitewater

An easily accessible Piedmont stream rich in beauty and diverse in flora and wildlife, the Alcovy is born in Gwinnett County near Lawrenceville and flows south to drain Walton and Newton Counties before spilling into Lake Jackson where it meets the Yellow and South Rivers to form the Ocmulgee. Over the course of the river, Alcovy River kayaking offers a little of something for everyone. The upper section near the headwaters is a short, difficult, steep creek run. Farther downstream, the river becomes a full-fledged swamp in the middle section. For most of the lower section, the river’s character is mild, with only one shoal mid-run-but it ends with a bang at a long series of rapids that build in intensity to a Class III (IV) finish. This last rapid, or the mostly flatwater section proceeding it, is easily omitted by using the access points above the bridge near the top of the drop.

Get an Overview of the Altamaha River Watershed where the Alcovy River is located.

USGS and County Maps for Alcovy River Kayaking

Lawrenceville, Covington, Stewart (USGS); Gwinnett, Newton (County)

Alcovy River Kayaking from US 29 to Alcovy Rd

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: III (IV); Length: 2.5 miles; Time: 2 hours; Gauge: Web; Level: 200 cubic feet per second; Gradient: 45 feet per mile; Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

Beautiful at times, especially for its location, the Upper Alcovy is a very narrow and creek-like run just outside Atlanta. This Alcovy River kayaking run is Class III difficulty with one Class IV drop; two-thirds of the upper section is whitewater and the remainder flat. Keep an eye out for strainers throughout the run as it is easy for trees to bridge the narrow stream.

At the put-in on US 29, the easiest access is available on river right, upstream of the bridge. The small stacked stone dam located immediately below the bridge is runnable at lower water levels, but with a little more effort, it is possible to put-in immediately below this structure.

There is a larger dam near the take-out for this section that is portaged on the left. Minimize the time spent on this portage and get back into the river near the base of the dam to avoid calling attention to yourself.

The gradient between the two dams is a little over 100 feet per mile, but it does not seem like it when you are on the run. There is one Class IV rapid about one-third of the way into the run that contains a good-sized undercut rock that collects debris. The river’s flow leading up to this rapid is continuous with no eddies; get out a good ways upstream to scout it. In this rapid, a midstream boulder splits the current just below the main drop, with half of the resulting current heading to the left into the undercut rocks. The stream twists to the left as it crosses the ledge, then straightens out after hitting the undercut rocks. A big boof off the right side of the ledge is recommended to stay to the right. This move is more difficult at higher levels due to the strength of the current heading to the left over the ledge; at lower water levels it is hard to get enough momentum for a good boof.

Alcovy River kayaking on the Upper Alcovy takes a good amount of water and is feasible only in the winter most of the time. River levels need to be on the rise to make a run possible, but with the high volume of runoff that the river receives upstream of this section be aware that conditions can change rapidly. If the visual scouting reveals the creek running at medium to high levels during a downpour, it is close to the flashing point and the flow volume can rise exponentially. This is not a condition for boating.

SHUTTLE

From Lawrenceville, take US 29 east and turn right onto Cedar Road, following it to a lefthand turn onto Alcovy Road. The bridge and take-out is ahead. To get to the put-in, return to US 29 and turn right; proceed to the put-in on the southwest side of the bridge.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site provides data for the Alcovy near Grayson. A good minimum for this run is 200 cfs and rising; maximum is 1,000 cfs.

Alcovy River Kayaking from US 278 / GA 12 to CR 213

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I; Length: 6.1 miles; Time: 4.5 hours; Gauge: None; Level: N/A; Gradient: 7 feet per mile; Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

The Alcovy is generally runnable downstream of the US 278 bridge east of Covington from November to early July in years of average rainfall. Unusual for its location in the Piedmont, in this section of Alcovy River kayaking meanders through a wooded lowland swamp terrain complete with bypass islands and oxbow lakes supporting large stands of tupelo gym. Hazards in this section are limited primarily to deadfalls, which hinder forward progress. Fishing is reported to be good in this little-traveled and isolated section of river.

SHUTTLE

From Covington, take GA 36 south turning left at CR 213. Proceed 0.5 miles to the bridge and take-out. For put-in, return to Covington via GA 36 north. Turn right onto Floyd Street at the square; follow Floyd to US 278/GA 12. Turn right onto US 278/GA 12; the river is 1.6 miles ahead. The best access is on the river’s left, downstream side.

GAUGE

There is no gauge for this section of river.

Paddling from CR 213 to Factory Shoals Recreation Area

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I-II (IV); Length: 8.3 miles; Time: 5 hours; Gauge: Visual, phone; Level: 1.0 feet; Gradient: 10 feet per mile (55); Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

Passing under the Central Georgia railroad bridge above CR 213, Alcovy River kayaking emerges from the watery lowlands and continues in a well-defined channel with red clay banks up to 6 feet high that slope at an angle of 45 to 90 degrees. At the start of this section, the river’s width varies between 25 and 40 feet, then widens to between 45 and 65 feet for most of its runnable length. The current on the Alcovy is generally moderate and the water color is usually a murky brown, indicative of the high concentration of dissolved clays.

The surrounding terrain remains wooded but is drier than it was upstream. Common tree varieties in the floodplain forests include sweetgum, swamp chestnut, oak, red ash, red maple, dogwood, possumhaw, willow oak, and overcup oak. Along the banks, river birch, sugarberry, sycamore, and green ash predominate.

Downstream from the bridge at Henderson Mill Road, Alcovy River kayaking begins to drop at a greater rate. One short series of ledges punctuates the run a mile below the mouth of Long Branch Creek. Afterward, the Alcovy remains calm until just upstream of the bridge at Newton Factory Road. It is possible to take-out at the bridge above the bulk of the shoals, or even farther upstream at the campsites within the northern branch of the Factory Shoals Recreation Area.

Here the Alcovy’s width expands to 280 feet in spots as it crashes the 55 vertical feet down White and Factory Shoals. This O.8-mile series of rapids builds to Class III (IV) intensity as the river passes below the bridge and into an extensive rock garden that culminates with a 6-foot plunge into the pool of Lake Jackson. Difficulty and intensity vary according to water level, and it should be scouted. The last rapid of the series can be run to the right or left. The Factory Shoals Recreation Area offers a take-out point below the shoals and scouting trails on river right. Though not included in the mileage for this section, the trip can be extended another 4 miles south into Lake Jackson.

SHUTTLE

From Covington, take GA 36 south approximately 10 miles. Turn left onto Newton Factory Bridge Road and continue 1 mile ahead to the river or Factory Shoals Recreation Area (entrance on the right). To get to the put-in, return to GA 36 and turn right. Continue to a right-hand turn onto CR 213. The bridge is up ahead.

GAUGE

There is a visual gauge at Newton Factory Bridge Road on the river-right, downstream side. If running Factory Shoals, 1.0 is the minimum; the water gets pushy above 2.0. Levels can be provided with some lead time by calling the Factory Shoals Park ranger at (770) 787-6670. The lower section upstream of Factory Shoals can be run at levels below 1.0.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Alcovy 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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