Canoe Georgia’s Flint River for a Weekend Adventure or an Epic Paddling Trip

flint river canoeing
Paddling the Flint River. Photo by The Georgia Conservancy

In terms of wilderness beauty and spectacular vistas of varied terrain, Flint River canoeing is rivaled by no other large river in Georgia. In the Piedmont alone, the Flint alternately flows broad and narrow, beneath pine covered bluff and at the foot of high rock walls, over extensive rocky shoals, through winding bottomland swamp, past cities and towns, and between fertile cultivated plateaus. In the Coastal Plain, the Flint meanders through alternating pine forests and swamp and reclaimed crop and pastureland. It is one of Georgia’s longest rivers, with headwaters originating near Forest Park south of Atlanta and tailwaters in the extreme southwestern corner of the state, where it meets the Chattahoochee River in Lake Seminole. Flint River canoeing is suitable for both weekend adventures and epic paddling-camping trips.

Get an Overview of the Flint Watershed 

USGS and County Maps for Canoeing the Flint River

MAPS: Brooks, Hollonville, Haralson, Gay, Woodbury, Sunset Village, Roland, Lincoln Park, Prattsburg, Fickling Mill, Roberta, Reynolds, Garden Valley, Montezuma, Pennington, Methvins, Drayton, Leslie Southeast, Albany Notheast, Albany East, Albany West, Baconton North, Baconton South, Newton, Branchville, Hopeful, Cooktown, Steinham Store, Bainbridge, Fowlstown, Faceville (USGS); Fayette, Spalding, Pike, Meriwether, Upson, Talbot, Taylor, Crawford, Peach, Macon, Lee, Worth, Cougherty, Baker, Mitchell, Decatur (Counry)

Flint River Canoeing from Woolsey to GA 18/74

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I-II (III); Length: 39.5 miles; Time: Up to 6 days; Gauge: Web; Level: 150 cubic feet per second; Gradient: 8 feet per mile; Scenery: B

DESCRIPTION

The Flint is runnable all year but is subject to sudden flash flooding during the winter and spring, particularly in the Piedmont. Late summer and fall are prime Flint River canoeing times that offer clearer water and exposed sandbars for camping. Through a passage can be forced in the headwaters, an epidemic of deadfalls (largely the result of beavers) restricts paddling upstream of Woolsey in Fayette County.

Heading downstream from the Hampton Road bridge east of Woolsey, Class I riffles and small ledges combine with more deadfalls to keep paddlers awake. The stream winds continuously and is well insulated in a canopy of willow, ash, birch, and silver maple. Half a mile below the crossing of GA 92 is a riprap dam that must be portaged. As far downstream as the GA 16 bridge west of Griffin, deadfalls can completely blocking Flint River canoeing and forcing paddlers to portage; after Line Creek’s entrance 1 mile below GA 16, deadfall blockages become rare. There is a shoal on the river above the mouth of Line Creek.

Below GA 362 the river curves slightly less and broadens from 45 to 65 feet wide on average. Bottomlands to either side of the stream are swampy and inundated with water and vegetation. Small shoals persist at approximately half-mile intervals, with each shoal only 30-40 feet in length, and the river widens to about 90 feet midway through Pike County. Here, an agricultural plain encroaches on the stream’s wooded corridor but never robs the Flint of its remote atmosphere.

Passing beneath the David Knott Bridge west of Concord on Flat Shoals Road, old bridge pilings sometimes obstruct the stream by catching driftwood and debris to form strainers. Below the pilings is a larger shoal more complex than the others upstream. Extending several hundred yards, this Class II (borderline Class III) stretch is basically an exercise in Flint River canoeing route selection with several alternatives available. No further shoals of significance interrupt the tranquil flow of the Flint until downstream of the GA 18 bridge.

SHUTTLE

To reach the final take-out for this section, take US 41 south from Griffin, turn right at GA 18, and proceed to the river. The upper access points are most easily reached from GA 74 on the west side of the river.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site lists data for a gauge station near Griffin. The river is floatable with as little as 150 cfs, though is more pleasurable at higher flows. Due to the high number of trees and beaver dams in stream, the river should be avoided at levels approaching flood stage.

Canoeing the Flint River from GA 18/74 to GA 137

TRIP SUMMARY

Class:II (III); Length: 50.9 miles; Time: Up to 6 days; Gauge: Web, phone, visual; Level: 7.0 feet; Gradient: 8 feet per mile; Scenery: A

DESCRIPTION

In this, section the terrain alters dramatically, with the river expanding to over 250 feet and descending a long series of ledges where steep wooded hills and small mountains converge to form an intimate and spectacular valley. Tall bluffs alternate with steep, sloping, forested hills and exposed rock walls and ledges. Pine Mountain looms majestically above the stream as the Flint passes along the Upson-Meriwether County line. This area narrowly escaped being inundated by a dam that was proposed to pen the river in at Sprewell Bluff.

Due to the breadth of the river, the vistas are unobstructed and overwhelming. So too is the forest, which is spectacularly diverse, with both mountain and Coastal Plain species. Here the ravines, slopes, and bluffs support beech, blackgum, sourwood, sweet bay, white oak, chestnut oak, hickory, buckeye, and tulip poplar. Evergreens include loblolly and shortleaf pines and red cedar. Along the streamside, tupelo gum and black willow are common and mountain rhododendron grows side by side with such swamp shrubs as cyrilla. High on the mountains, exposed rock outcroppings colored with moss punctuate the green slopes. Of special geological interest is Dripping Rock, a quartzite outcrop located below the mouth of Elkins Creek at the northeastern terminus of Pine Mountain. Fabulously, this eclectic botanical mix is heavily draped with Spanish moss at Yellow Jacket Shoals, where an occasional palmetto encroaches on the scene.

The most formidable whitewater on the Flint occurs in the 9 miles between Sprewell Bluff and Po Biddy Road. Below Sprewell Bluff to the GA 36 bridge, shoals remain easy Class II, although they tend to be more continuous than upstream. In low water the current pools above each ledge. In high water, however, the current is appreciably faster and precipitates the formation of some respectable holes.

Approximately half a mile beyond the GA 36 bridge lies Yellow Jacket Shoals. At low water, this long borderline Class III is technical, with a couple of big drops and some hidden boat-eating rocks. Since this rapid defies a “straight through” approach, paddlers attempting Yellow Jacket Shoals should possess skills in water reading, eddy turns and ferrying. At higher levels, the eddies disappear and the rapid becomes more intense. Fortunately, alternate Flint River canoeing routes become more numerous.

A series of islands divides the channel below Yellow Jacket Shoals, creating occasional narrows as the Flint passes them. Shoals persist through the island section but occur less frequently and never exceed Class II. Lazar Creek enters on river right at Hightower Shoals, announcing a sizeable tract of Big Lazer Creek WMA land on the right. The dirt road to the boat ramp here succumbed to erosion from high waters in 2003, but access from the road is still possible, though challenging due to the steep banks. The surrounding terrain remains mountainous, spectacular, and remote until the final approach to Po Biddy Road.

Downstream of Po Biddy Road the rugged, steep slopes begin to recede and taper down to an agricultural plateau by the time the river reaches the US 80 bridge. White kaolin bluffs start appearing in this section, as do cattle pastures. The gradient diminishes, and though the current remains swift, the shoals are smaller and occur less often. Passing an island midway between US 80 and GA 137, the last significant shoal is found where the river winds between high banks and rocky clay bluffs surrounded by cultivated tableland. The river narrows to 85-110 feet and flows swiftly, through flat and calm, with large sandbars appearing on the inside of turns at low water. This marks the Flint’s departure from the Piedmont and its arrival onto the Coastal Plain.

SHUTTLE

Most access points in this section are easily reached from Thomaston. For the final take-out at GA 137 (N), take US 19 South to GA 208 East, which will intersect with GA 137 East at Pickling Mill. Follow the road to the river and the boat ramp on the far side. Sprewell Bluff State Park is reached from GA 74 west of Thomaston; turn left at Old Alabama Road and follow signs to the park.

GAUGE

A gauge is painted on the pilings visible from the outfitter located at the GA 36 bridge; call the outfitter for levels (see Appendix B). The USGS provides data for the gauge at Culloden, which can be used to estimate the bridge level. Divide the Culloden flow in half and add 6 feet. Using the bridge gauge, 7.0 is the recommended minimum. Flint River canoeing becomes enjoyable above 8.0. The park management has been known to turn people away from putting in at Sprewell Bluff when the bridge gauge is over 11 feet; call at (706) 646-6026 to verifY access before leaving home if the gauge is headed over 10 feet. The outfitter will run shuttles to their property at Goat Mountain, upriver from Sprewell, for experienced paddlers under those conditions.

Flint River Canoeing from GA 137 to Lake Blackshear

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I; Length: 68.3 miles; Time: Up to 5 days; Gauge: Web; Level: 300 Cubic feet per second; Gradient: 1 foot per mile; Scenery: B

DESCRIPTION

After crossing the Fall Line, the Flint River changes quickly. Four miles below the GA 137 bridge on the Taylor-Crawford County line, the valley farm belt beside the Flint River reverts to forest, which expands almost immediately into a thick corridor on both sides of the stream. As the valley widens, the Flint begins meandering and very shortly forms horseshoe bends and occasional oxbow lakes. Seasonally wet bottomland surrounding the Flint makes up the Magnolia Swamp, which slows the flow of the current. Through most of this section (to GA 49), pretty sandbars beckon travelers closer to the forest.

As the stream passes east of Reynolds and into Macon County, the banks begin to rise as it leaves the swamp. All through Macon County, a wooded corridor dominates the terrain, with farm or pasture land occasionally wedging in near the tree-lined riverbanks. The Flint reveals its ancient past with fossilized oyster shells and shark’s’ teeth embedded in its banks, evidence that this land was once under the ocean floor. By the time it reaches the end of this section, the Flint fully represents Coastal Plain flora and fauna, including alligators, cypress trees, and lily pads.

About 10 miles below the GA 49 bridge at Montezuma, the river corridor becomes swampy once again approaching the backwaters of Lake Blackshear. Feeder creeks and backwater sloughs make possible various side explorations. Wildlife, including birds, is exceptionally diverse in this area.

SHUTTLE

The final access point for the section above Lake Blackshear is via a fish camp located on Turkey Creek immediately above GA 27 west of Vienna. Access points above this are evenly spaced and reached via roads that mirror the river on the east and west sides.

GAUGE

See the preceding section. This section of the Flint is generally runnable year-round and is well-suited for extended canoe-camping trips. The Albany Game and Fish Office at (229) 430-4256 can provide additional info.

Flint River Canoeing from Lake Blackshear Dam to Lake Seminole

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I (II); Length: 87.5 miles (excluding Lake Chehaw); Time: up to 2 weeks; Gauge: Web; Level: N/A; Gradient: 1 foot per mile; Scenery: B+

DESCRIPTION

Below Blackshear Dam the Flint continues its journey through the Coastal Plain, flowing in long straightaways and broad, seemingly endless bends through a wooded corridor surrounded by fertile farmland. Averaging 210-255 feet in width, the current is slower than in the Piedmont sections, and the water is a clear to split-pea green when sediment concentrations are low. Banks average 5-20 feet in height and begin sporting a curious undercut feature, extending slightly over the edges of the river and occasionally displaying micro-caves. Pine, sweetgum, sycamore, willow, and ash congregate above the water, mingling at times with large cypress trees. Due to the width of the stream and the height of the banks, the river is almost totally exposed to the sun. Significant amounts of empty mussel shells litter the banks, testifying to the river’s health and the abundant presence of wildlife.

As the Flint approaches the environs of Albany it is backed up by the Flint River Development Dam on the northeast edge of the city. The lake created is small and rather interesting since a number of swamp marshes and sloughs occur to either side of the main channel. Downstream of the dam, the Flint runs through downtown Albany, where, below the second railroad bridge, Class II Albany Shoals awaits. The river picks up some litter at this point, washed downstream out of the city.

Leaving Albany, Flint River canoeing winds through an agricultural plateau punctuated by many small- and medium-sized towns and a power plant at Goat Island. The scenery remains substantially unchanged at streamside (with the exception of clear-cutting visible in Baker County), and there are no additional shoals. Medium-sized rounded rocks line the banks, which continue displaying caves and shadowy overhangs. Powerboat traffic begins increasing above Bainbridge in the pool of Lake Seminole, which signals the end of moving water on the Flint. Beyond Bainbridge in Lake Seminole, the Flint unites with the Chattahoochee to form the Apalachicola River, which continues downstream below the Jim Woodruff Dam to flow into Florida en route to the Gulf of Mexico.

The level of difficulty of Flint River canoeing below Lake Blackshear is Class I except for Albany Shoals. Dangers are limited to the dam in Albany and powerboat traffic. Access is good.

SHUTTLE

The boat ramp on GA 311 north of Bainbridge offers the easiest access Flint River canoeing before encountering too much of the backwaters of the lake. The highest access point in this section is the Marine Corps Ditch Boat Ramp on the river-left side below the dam at Albany.

GAUGE

The USGS on-line gauge at Newton provides data for the Flint south of the dams in Albany. The river generally has sufficient flow year-round but should be avoided during floods.

This Flint River canoeing 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 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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