One of Athens rivers, the North Oconee begins as a small river that meanders through the agricultural land of Jackson County. Upon entering Clarke County and the city, North Oconee River kayaking becomes more navigable as it forms the center of the North Oconee Greenway, 3 miles of parkland that shelter the well-vegetated banks of the river as it stretches south to the University of Georgia campus. The Sandy Creek Nature Center, located at the confluence of the river with Sandy Creek, anchors the north end of the greenway and promotes public awareness of the importance of preserving the riparian habitat along the river corridor. Below Athens, the river meets up with the Middle Oconee to form the main Oconee River.
Get an Overview of the Altamaha River Watershed where The North Oconee River is located.
USGS and County Maps for North Oconee River Kayaking
Nicholson, Athens West, Athens East (USGS); Oconee, Clarke (County)
Newton Bridge Rd to Barnett Shoals Rd on the Oconee
Class: I (III); Length: 18.4 miles; Time: 2 days; Gauge: Web; Level: Unknown; Gradient: 6 feet per mile; Scenery: C-D
Though North Oconee River kayaking is possible starting as high as Maysville, it not usually pleasant. The stream is small and frequently blocked by deadfall, making frequent portaging necessary. The surrounding area consists of farms, some of which are sizable industrial operations. Hurricane Shoals County Park offers seasonal day-use recreation at the GA 82 crossing. The rapids below the dam in the park may reach as high as Class II intensity in high water.
North Oconee River kayaking becomes reasonable at Newton Bridge Road. Sandy Creek soon enters from the left, ensuring a more reliable flow. The nature center is located here. Though not accessible from the river, the center offers educational displays and programs as well as hiking trails that extend up Sandy Creek.
Through the city, the river is mostly placid, with a handful of exceptions. The first obstacle encountered is an aqueduct crossing the stream downstream of College Avenue; a pile of rubble downstream of the water intake structure is used to back up water for the intake. The pipe and rip-rap below is passable at lower levels, but becomes dangerous at higher flows. Portage this if the clearance is insufficient to pass beneath it. Two miles downstream below the crossing of Lexington Highway are rapids created by the remains of an old dam at Easley’s Mill. This rapid ranges in difficulty from Class II to Class III, depending on the water level. Scout before running it. Upstream of the College Station Bridge , you will encounter a sewage treatment facility and its distinctive smell.
Below the College Station Bridge, the river slows and becomes the backwater for another small dam, the Oconee Dam, located approximately 2.8 miles below the bridge. Portage on either side. Just below the dam is a series of Class II rapids that extend almost to the Whitehall Bridge. An aqueduct crosses the river immediately below the bridge; pass underneath this only if there is sufficient clearance. Otherwise, portage. Downstream of Whitehall, North Oconee River kayaking encounters 3 miles of mostly wooded shorelines and rippling shoals (and one more dam) before reaching the confluence with the Middle Oconee. Approximately 3 miles of paddling brings you to the next access point at the Barnett Shoals Road bridge over the Oconee River.
Prom Watkinsville, take Barnett Shoals Road east to the Oconee River and the final access point for this section. The highest put-in at Newton Bridge Road is accessed off of US 441, north of Athens.
The USGS gauge is located at College Avenue; data for this station is provided online. Recommended minimum levels using this gauge are unknown. If the Middle Oconee is at 1.2 feet, the North Oconee is probably runnable. Avoid the river at flood stage.
This North Oconee 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.