White sand beaches, dense vegetation, and wildlife conspire to create an exceptionally pretty stream, the Ochlockonee River. Rising in Worth County south of Albany, Ochlockonee River paddling runs southwest before slipping over the state line into Florida on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Its chocolate-brown waters follow a generally winding and serpentine course through an oak- and gum-dominated bottomland forest corridor; oxbow lakes are not uncommon.
USGS and County Maps for Ochlockonee River Paddling
Moultrie, Coolidge, Chastain, Merrillville, Ochlockonee, Pine Park, Cairo South, Berachton, Calvary (USGS); Colquitt, Thomas, Grady, Gadsden FL (County)
Ochlockonee River Paddling GA 188 to the Florida Border
Class: I; Length: 53.7 miles; Time: Up to 1.5 weeks; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: Unknown; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: B+
Intimate, pristine, and exotically canopied with cypress, black gum, birch, and willow,
Ochlockonee River paddling flows with a moderate to sluggish current between sandy clay banks of 2 to 5 feet. White sandbars and beaches grace the insides of many bends and provide excellent sites for camping or swimming. Otherwise, the banks are dense and luxurious with vegetation including swamp palm, cyrilla, and Sebastian bush. From time to time tall pines line the streamside, as do sweet bay and water oak. Wildlife, particularly birds, make their presence known through continuous activity.
Downstream of GA 188, the stream can be run most of the year and is substantially less plagued by the maze of deadfalls found upstream. The river’s channel is deep, providing excellent opportunities for fishing. Passing below the US 19 bridge, the watercourse briefly expands into an extensive swamp for about 0.7 miles. Shortly, after passing below GA 3, Ochlockonee River paddling emerges abruptly from the jungle into terrain that has been completely cleared for a powerline crossing, bringing home the stark reality of human intervention on otherwise pristine surroundings with great visual impact.
Continuing downstream and crossing into Florida, the river widens to approximately 60 to 75 feet, but otherwise remains essentially unchanged, except that it picks up a little sediment as it passes through the Tallahassee hills in southern Grady County. The level of difficulty is Class I throughout; dangers to navigation for Ochlockonee River paddling consist primarily of deadfalls that completely block the stream periodically in all Georgia sections and brush strainers that form in the channel along the side of small islands.
To the final take-out from Cairo, take GA 111 south to the town of Darsey, located on the state line with Florida. Turn left here onto FL 157, and follow it to another left onto FL 12. Follow FL 12 to the river. See the map for the locations of upper access points.
The USGS Web site provides data for the gauge located at Thomasville. Runnability levels using this gauge are unknown; maximum is flood stage. Local outfitters and the Albany Game and Fish Office (phone (229) 430-4256) can provide more information.
This Ochlockonee 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.