For paddlers voyaging to Cumberland Island National Seashore, Crooked River paddling provides the shortest and most enjoyable route starting from a public boat ramp on the mainland. Even if the destination is the chief attraction, journey by paddle enhances the overall Cumberland experience. The river is a typical coastal estuary, the safe passage of which requires deference to tides and wind.
Get an Overview of the Satilla River Watershed where Crooked River is located
USGS and County Maps for Crooked River Paddling
National Park Service; Harrietts Bluff, Cumberland Island South, Cumberland Island North (USGS); Camden (County)
Paddling from Crooked River State Park to Brickhill Bluff
Class: Tidal River; Length: 13.1 miles; Time: 4 hours (with ideal conditions); Gauge: Web; Level: Tidal; Scenery: B-
Paddling trips to Cumberland Island may take the form of a day trip or an overnight stay. The 13-mile round trip to Plum Orchard packs plenty into a single day. Campers either continue up Brickhill River to camp at Brickhill Bluff or take out at Plum Orchard and backpack into Cumberland’s interior. Your choice of backcountry campsites must be arranged in advance with the Park Service. Permits are issued at the Cumberland Island Ferry Landing Visitor Center in St. Marys. Obtaining a permit requires a reservation or luck; there is a strict cap on the number of campers allowed on the island and reservations are often exhausted months in advance. In the absence of a reservation, all is not lost; no-shows sometimes free up permits for walk-ons. Phone (888) 817-3421 or (912) 882-4335 for reservations. Additionally, there is a per day parking fee at the Crooked River State Park boat ramp.
The Crooked River paddling trip can be a leisurely jaunt or an odyssey, depending on conditions. With the wind and tide going your way, the 6-mile trip to Plum Orchard takes a couple hours. Going against a stiff wind can exhaust the entire 6-hour tide window, particularly for open canoes. Along the way, the surrounding terrain of coastal-marsh mud flats is covered with grass slightly higher than a paddler’s eyes. The width and openness of the scene, combined with the absence of stopping points along the way, can make inland paddlers feel vulnerable. Above the grass, forests are visible in the distance. Boat traffic consists of pleasure craft: anglers fishing from motorboats and the occasional sailboat. You may encounter commercial traffic where Crooked River crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. Needless to say, stay out of the way and make your crossing snappy.
Regardless of the weather, bring apparel or insect repellent that protects exposed flesh, not least of all your hands, from biting insects. The bug nuisance peaks at the boat ramps. The bites continue to torment long after your paddle strokes outdistance the swarms, so cover yourself preemptively before you start packing your boat for Crooked River paddling.
Time your launch carefully with all of the following phenomena in mind: sunrise and sunset; high and low tides; the lag between tide reversal and when the current gets moving in the desired direction; wind direction and strength; the time of day at which you can pick up your permit; and the time required to drive from St. Marys to Crooked River boat ramp. Given that some of these variables are not known in advance, arrive knowing the next feasible launch time in case conditions don’t allow you to launch when you want to.
Crooked River State Park is located at the end of GA Spur 40. Take 1-95 to Exit 3 for GA 40 East. Turn left at GA Spur 40 and proceed to the boat ramp.
For tidal flows on Crooked River, use the National Weather Service’s Web site for Jacksonville tides at www.srh. noaa.gov/jax/tides.shtml.
This Crooked River 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.