Multiple access points allow for Broad River paddling trips of different lengths. This is a guide to almost 45 miles of river from Georgia Highway 281 to Thurmond Lake.
The Broad River is, along with the Chattooga, one of the major northern tributaries in the Savannah River watershed. With 50 miles of navigable river from its inception to Thurmond Lake, the Broad offers nearly year-round opportunities for Broad River paddling and camping except in periods of extreme drought. The 6 miles of river in the upper section contain most of the river’s rapids. In the lower section, the Broad becomes a pastoral stream eminently suited for beginning boaters and those desiring a relaxed canoeing-camping experience. Locals consider the Broad to start at the confluence of its two largest tributaries: the Middle Fork and Hudson Rivers. For those interested in floating the entire length of the Broad River US 29 provides access to both of these rivers upstream of the confluence.
This is a paddling guide to the Broad River in two sections: GA 281 to GA 172, a distance of about 5.7miles; and GA 172 to Thurmond Lake, a distance of about 38.7 miles. The trip may be broken up into smaller sections using shuttle directions below.
Get an Overview of the Savannah Watershed where the Broad River is located
USGS and County Maps for Broad River Paddling
USGS maps: Carnesville, Danielsville North, Carlton, Elberton West, Jacksons Crossroads, Broad, Chennault. County: Franklin, Elbert, Madison, Oglethorpe, Wilkes, Lincoln.
Broad River Paddling Section I GA 281 to GA 172
Class, II (III); Length, 5.7 miles; Time, 3 hours; Gauge, USGS website and visual; Level, 2.5; Gradient, 8 (17); Scenery, B
It is in this popular section that Broad River Paddling is at its most exciting. The river widens considerably but maintains the wilderness quality found upstream. Frequent shoals offer 5.7 miles of Class I and II rapids at normal water levels. Take out at the GA 172 Bridge on the left side, or call in advance to arrange use of the outfitter-owned take-out 0.5 miles below the bridge on the right.
At high water levels, Broad River paddling is for expert boaters only. With its large watershed, the water gets big, particularly in the winter and early spring. Rapids increase in difficulty to Class III, with at least one Class IV. At levels over 5 or 6 feet, the waterfall on the river’s right, downstream of the major pipeline crossing, turns into a keeper hydraulic that works in tandem with a ledge downstream of it to create a serious threat (akin to the hole at Woodall Shoals on the Chattooga River), particularly for anyone caught out of a boat. With the wide characteristic of the river, a bomb-proof roll or strong self-rescue skills are necessary at higher water levels to avoid permanent loss of boat.
From Danielsville go north on US 29 to a right-hand turn onto GA 281; follow GA 281 to another right turn onto Transco Road. Follow this road less than a mile to a left turn onto David’s Home Church Road. After 3.7 miles, turn left onto GA 172. The take-out path is on the far side of the bridge. An alternate take-out is available, with permission, at the outfitter’s property 0.5 miles farther downstream. To get there, turn right onto the dirt road just before the bridge. To return to the put-in, backtrack to GA 281 and turn right. The put-in for Broad River paddling is ahead on the right at the outfitter’s, before the bridge.
Data is available on the USGS website for the Broad near Carlton. This is miles downstream of this section. Using this gauge, the absolute minimum is 2.5 feet, though a more enjoyable and less scrape-prone minimum is 3.5 feet. The ideal level for this section is 4 to 4.5 feet. Water starts getting pushy above 6 feet. Waves start to increase in size as water rises above this level; the river has been played by expert boaters at levels as high as the teens and twenties. There is a visual gauge at the GA 281 Bridge that gives readings approximately 3 feet lower than the website-available USGS gauge downstream.
Broad River Paddling Section 2 GA 172 to Thurmond Lake
Class I (II); Length, 38.7 miles; Time, up to 4 days; Gauge, USGS website, and visual; Level 1.5; gradient, less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery, B.
The gradient slows and Broad River paddling adopts a pastoral character below GA 172. Multiple access points along the remaining 38.4 miles of river allow for trips of varying lengths. the river is ideally suited for relaxing multiply-day trips since it passes through miles of undeveloped woodlands and farmland. The Broad feels remote because it has managed to avoid industrial development.
The only noteworthy rapid on this section is Anthony Shoals, just above Thurmond Lake (formerly Clarks Hill Lake). Anthony Shoals is a very long series of rapids of Class II difficulty. here the river is quite wide, so even though the gradient is steeper, the river is shallow and its force is diluted. At low water levels, the only feasible route is through the channel cut through the ledges to accommodate the barges that formerly traveled upstream. The shoals have three sections, the last of which is a channel with standing waves that end at the lake. At higher water levels, the rapids at the shoals wash out. It is possible to take our on river right above Anthony Shoals using county roads for access.
At the shoals, many grassy islets and the rocky streambed combine with the rushing water to make a picturesque setting. This is the only place on the Broad River that supports the rare shoal lilies that live on the fall line rivers of the Southeast. The area also includes remains from previous settlements, including Native American mounds and the ruins of old mills and factories of the 1700s.
Camping and secure parking is available at the last take-out for the river at Broad River Campground, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers. The campground is located on the right side of the lake, one mile below Anthony Shoals.
From Elberton, take GA 72 east; turn right onto GA 79 and proceed to the lake. Access is at the Broad River Campground. The highest put-in for this section of Broad River paddling is reached by returning to Elberton via GA 79 and GA 72. In Elberton, take GA 17 northwest to a left turn onto GBA 172 at the town of Bowman. Proceed to the bridge over the river. Put-in at the bridge, or secure permission to use the put-in owned by the outfitter 0.5 miles downstream on river right. Most of the themed-run access points are at the junction of state highways. There is a public boat ramp at GA 17, making it the easiest place mid-run to get down to the river. Other access points are available at GA 72 west of Elberton and at GA 77 south of Elberton. There is one additional access point above Anthony Shoals that can be reached from CR 193 in Wilkes County.
Using the USGS website reading for the Broad above Carlton, the minimum level for Broad River Paddling is 1.5 feet and the maximum is 12 feet.
This Brier Creek paddling 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.