Cathead Creek is a tributary of the Altamaha River above Darien. It drains part of Buffalo Swamp, a rare tidal forest containing bald cypress, sweet black gum, and water tupelo. Cathead Creek paddling flows for 8 miles through an undeveloped section of McIntosh County that was once cultivated with rice for over a hundred years. Today paddlers can explore the irrigation canals of the abandoned rice fields, which are overgrown with freshwater vegetation and abundant with wildlife. The fields and swamps are inundated twice a day by the tides, which average about 7 feet.
Get an Overview of the Altamaha River Watershed where Cathead Creek is located.
USGS and County Maps for Cathead Creek Paddling
Ridgeville (USGS); McIntosh (County)
Cathead Creek Paddling from Cox Street to Darien
Class:Tidal river ; Length: 8.9 miles; Time: 3-4 hours; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: tidal; Gradient: N/A; Scenery: B+
The upper reaches of this tidal creek can be accessed from a culvert landing on Cox Road north of Darien, just past the GA 251 junction. Although it appears to be a freshwater stream, the creek’s flow changes with the ingress and departure of the tide. The easiest trip involves putting in at high tide and paddling downstream to the boat ramp in Darien.
Cathead Creek paddling starts out narrow and intimate as it passes beneath overhanging trees. The only departure from the solitude is the anachronistic crossing of I-95 encountered two hours into the trip. In the lower sections, the creek becomes very broad with vast salt marshes and exposed sandbars at low tide. One notable surviving feature of the area’s history is the grid of canals that formed the borders of rice paddies, a reminder of the rice plantations built by enslaved labor. Today, these irrigation canals and impoundments provide sanctuary for migrating birds and waterfowl.
Just before Cathead Creek paddling empties into the Altamaha River, it runs along the high banks of Darien’s west side bordered with private homes and docks. The take-out is at the boat ramp in Darien at the foot of Scriven Street. There is limited access and very few places to get out along the banks of the creek before reaching the private docks near Darien. Runnable year-round, the only hazards are deadfall, tricky tides, and getting lost in the swamps or irrigation canals.
The take-out is at the boat ramp in Darien. From there to the put-in, take US 17 north, turn left onto GA 251, and continue straight onto Cox Street when GA 251 turns to the north. The put-in is ahead on the right where the road crosses the culvert. Shuttle service is available from the local outfitter.
Get information on tidal flows before leaving via phone from local outfitters, or through the National Weather Service’s Web site. Moving with the tide makes the trip easy; against it can be arduous.
This Cathead 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.