Kayak the Cartecay, One of the Most Popular Whitewater Experiences in GA

cartecay river kayaking
Blackberry Falls on the Cartecay River. Photo by American Whitewater

The Cartecay is one of the most popular whitewater rivers in the mountains of northern Georgia. The first 3 miles of scenic paddling are a placid prelude to 7 miles of outstanding whitewater. Many people live on the banks of the Cartecay; lawns that stretch down to the edge of the river are common below Lower Cartecay Road. Paddlers and area residents maintain a generally amicable relationship that becomes strained from time to time. Be on your best behavior Cartecay River kayaking as you play alongside their backyards.

Get an Overview of the Coosa River Watershed where the Cartecay River is located.

USGS and County Maps for Cartecay River Kayaking

Tickanetly, Ellijay (USGS); Gilmer (County)

Cartecay River Kayaking from Holt Bridge Rd. to DNR Take-Out

Class: I-III; Length: 9.8 miles; Time: 4-5 hours; Gauge: Phone, visual; Level: 1.6 feet; Gradient: 9 to 40+ feet per mile; Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

Below Holt Bridge Road, the first few miles of the Cartecay are slow and easy paddling through a scenic mountain valley. Thickets of mountain laurel, large pines, and various hardwoods will often suddenly part to expose rolling pasture and views of the surrounding mountains. The flow in the valley is Class I, with the only hazard occasional downed trees that may block the entire narrow stream bed. Another access point is located near the end of the valley on Lower Cartecay Road. Here both sides of the river are owned by outfitters who supply parking and shuttles. Most paddlers take advantage of the convenience as this put-in is closer to the Cartecay River kayaking excitement below.

As the valley ends, the gradient gets steeper, and easy Class II rapids begin to appear. The Cartecay, like the Chattooga, is a drop-and-pool stream, with rapids coming in sudden bursts interrupted by long, nearly placid stretches. The first rapid of significant technical difficulty is S-Turn. Scout from river left if desired; the bank here is private property, so keep your visit brief. This rapid can be run down the middle, but more typically it is run down the chute on river left. Eddy out to the right after the first drop, or make a tight turn to the left and run the forceful current into the pool below, eddying out right or left in order to avoid being driven into the large boulder at the end of the pool.

The next two rapids, separated by 100 yards, are nearby when the river narrows. The first is Surfing Wave, with a deep pool below it. The next, more vigorous drop has a clear channel through it and a whirlpool on the right which is best avoided at high levels.

A long pool breaks up the action and serves as a warning for the first big drop on the river, Stegall Mill Falls (also known as Blackberry Falls). This should be scouted on the left. Again, this is private property, so stay on the rocks as you scout. Although not technically difficult, this rapid looks quite impressive, and a very small pool is all that separates it from several tight rapids just below. The falls may be run straight down the center over the pluming wave in the main chute, or through the channel on the left. Be ready to brace and recover for the technical turns that follow. The mid-run access point at Mulkey Road is located on river right just below the covered bridge. Parking for Cartecay River kayaking is limited here and there have been conflicts with property owners in the area. The local outfitters run shuttles to this point to alleviate the pressure.

Below the covered bridge, the river continues to carom along through its drop and pool pattern for another 5 miles. Get ready for more action the next time the rocks move down to the river level. A pointed rock shaped like half a football announces the next rapid, Mr. Twister. Scout on the left. The rapid is typically run on the right, avoiding the souse wave on the left. There is a long recovery pool at the bottom.

The second major drop of the river is close when you reach two islands. Run the long rapid with several drops to the left of the islands, and pull out onto the rock shelf on the left immediately after the second island to scout Clear Creek Falls, also known as the Narrows at Clear Creek. At normal water levels, run this near the left bank. At water levels above 3 feet, a potentially hazardous hydraulic reversal develops at the base of the drop. Portage is easiest on the right.

For the remainder of the distance to the final take-out, the river’s pace remains brisk, entertaining the boater with some interesting Class II ripples before reaching the DNR public access on the right.

SHUTTLE

From East Ellijay, turn right onto GA 52. Follow GA 52 for 2.7 miles to a right-hand turn onto an unmarked road at the bottom of a large hill. There is a sign there for the Rich Mountain Wildlife Management Area. Follow the unpaved road straight ahead to the take-out. To reach the Holt Bridge put-in, return to GA 52 and turn right. Turn left onto Big Creek Road, then right onto Holt Bridge Road. The put-in is directly ahead. Intermediate access points are available at GA 52, Lower Cartecay Road, and Mulkey/Stegall Mill Road, which intersect with GA 52 from the south.

GAUGE

A staff gauge is located on GA 52 east of GA 5/515. Local outfitters can provide river levels by phone. There is no Internet gauge for the Cartecay, but levels for the Coosawattee near Ellijay on the USGS Web site are considered comparable up to 2.5 feet. The river has been run as low as 0.8 (from Lower Cartecay Road to Mulkey Road); a more enjoyable minimum is 1.6 feet. Around 2 feet is comfortable; above 3 feet, boaters should be experienced. The maximum runnable level is 4 feet for open boats and up to flood stage for decked boats.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Cartecay 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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Brown’s Guides is a website about the top outdoor experiences in America and about the professional outfitters and guides who know them best. Hiking, biking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and over 100 other outdoor activities are indexed on the site. BG has been doing this type of thing since 1972 in books, magazines, maps and on the Internet.

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