Enter Into a Private Natural Wonderland on Georgia’s Remote Ogeechee River

ogeechee river kayaking
Morning light on the Ogeechee River. Photo by the Georgia River Network

The Ogeechee is Georgia’s only major riverway that stretches from the Atlantic to the Piedmont unimpeded by dams, forming a rare native environment for indigenous wildlife and a spawning grounds for sturgeon and mullet. After a brief, rarely runnable Class II section formed as the river foils off the Piedmont, Ogeechee River kayaking runs wild through broad expanses of lowland swamp and past occasional bluff carved out of the clay banks before reaching the alluvium marshes of the Atlantic Ocean. Its remote nature holds development at bay. Ogeechee River kayaking opens up a private wonderland virtually inaccessible except by boat.

Get an Overview of the Ogeechee River Watershed

USGS and County Maps for Ogeechee River Kayaking

Louisville South, Old Town, Colemans Lake, Midville, Birdsville, Millen, Four Points, Rocky Ford, Hopeulikit, Dover, Rocky Ford 15′, Oliver 15′, Brooklet 15′, Egypt 15′, Eden, Meldrim Southwest, Meldrim Southeast, Richmond Hill, Burroughs, Isle of Hope, Raccoon Key (USGS); Jefferson, Burke, Emanuel, Jenkins, Screven, Bulloch, Effingham, Bryan, Chatham (County); Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Ogeechee River Kayaking from Louisville to Millen

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I; Length: 52.6 miles; Time: Up to 1.5 weeks; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: Unknown; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: B

DESCRIPTION

Intimate, serene, and beautiful, in good years the Ogeechee becomes runnable below the impassable Caulker Swamp at the US 1 bridge crossing south of Louisville. Here the river is from 35 to 50 feet in width and almost completely shaded by sycamore, willow, sweetgum, and cypress-laden with moss. The current is slow, in keeping with the tranquil, lazy atmosphere.

For the most part, Ogeechee river kayaking runs in the center of a heavily forested lowland swamp as it moves southeastward through Jefferson, Burke, and Emanuel Counties. The course of the river is meandering and convoluted, with numerous horseshoe bends, oxbow lakes, and small meandering islands. Beyond the lowland swamp, the terrain rises gradually to a plateau about 20 feet above the swamp floor. When not marred by logging activity, the setting is primitive in the extreme, with a swamp or woodland corridor ranging from a mile or more to either side of the river.

The same factors that make this section of Ogeechee River kayaking enticing constitute the major impediment to paddling it. In high-water years like 2003, trees and accompanying vegetation are dislodged and washed into the stream, clogging the narrow streambed with prolific deadfalls that force frequent hurdling, portaging, and at a minimum, intricate maneuvering. Passage more reliably clear of obstruction begins at in the next section.

SHUTTLE

The lowest take-out for this section is immediately south of Millen on US 25; access is at the northwest corner of the bridge. Upper access points are close to GA 17.

GAUGE

Data for the gauge located at Midville is available on the USGS Web site. The minimum level for using this gauge is unknown; maximum is flood stage. Local outfitters can provide assessments over the phone.

Ogeechee River Kayaking from Millen to GA 24

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I; Length: 49.5 miles; Time: Up to 6 days; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: 3.0 feet; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: B+

DESCRIPTION

The river’s channel below Millen becomes wider and relatively free of the deadfall that can plague the upper sections, although complete stream-wide blockages are still possible. The current moderates from sluggish to surprisingly swift as the river meanders around frequent bends. This, and the trees growing in the stream keep Ogeechee River kayaking lively and sharpen your navigational skills. The scenery is excellent, flora and fauna are abundantly varied, and except following heavy rains, the tannin-stained water is bright and clear.

The surrounding swamp expands and contracts as Ogeechee River kayaking flows past tall (65 feet) sand-and-clay bluffs that give the stream a special identity. These bluffs, and many others more modest in size, approach and recede from the river intermittently, leaving vast primeval gardens of backwater sloughs and thickly forested watery lowland in their wake. Continuing almost all the way to the tidewater section below the railroad crossing west of Meldrim (in the lowest section), the bluffs offer the best canoe camping sites on the Ogeechee.

When the cycles of rain and deadfall align to create favorable conditions (more rain, less deadfall), approaches to the river can be made via the Buckhead Creek’s crossing of GA 17, west of Millen. The creek is largely fed by Magnolia Springs which surfaces at Magnolia Springs State Park north of Millen.

SHUTTLE

The lowest take-out on this section is located east of Statesboro on GA 24. Higher access points are easily reached from GA 17, north of the river.

GAUGE

Levels at Rocky Ford are provided on the USGS Web site and over the phone by calling local outfitters. A good level is around 3-3.5 feet; the maximum is flood stage. The Waycross DNR Fisheries Office at (912) 285-6094 can provide more information, including a map of commonly used public access points.

Paddling from GA 24 to US 17 on the Ogeechee

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I; Length: 64.3 miles; Time: Up to 1 week; Gauge: Web, phone; Level: N/A; Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile; Scenery: B

DESCRIPTION

In this section, the river widens to 110 feet and the channel becomes more well-defined. Moving into Bryan and southern Effingham Counties, small islands suitable for canoe camping become more prevalent. Just downstream from GA 204 (R), the Ogeechee separates into multiple channels 40 to 55 feet in width, which are all runnable. These rejoin and split a second time before coming together to stay.

As Ogeechee River kayaking approaches and runs along the eastern boundary of Fort Stewart in Bryan County, the woodland swamp corridor widens to several miles and presents countless opportunities for side explorations into the adjacent sloughs and swamps, especially at high water. Paddlers anticipating off-river explorations should carry a compass and topographical maps and know how to use them to avoid getting lost.

Just upstream of the Ogeechee’s main tributary, the Canoochee River, Ogeechee River kayaking enters the tidewater zone. From this area downstream the banks and confining low-ridge plateaus bordering the swamp corridor begin to recede and flatten into a vast grassy marsh resembling a giant rice paddy. This topography persists below the last access point all the way to Ossabaw Sound, where the Ogeechee joins the Little Ogeechee and the Vernon River at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Powerboat traffic is not uncommon below the mouth of the Canoochee as the river’s width averages 190 to 230 feet.

While the tidal marsh is unique in its flora, its diverse fish and bird fauna, and in its labyrinthine creeks that carve graceful swaths through the marsh grasses, the marsh is extremely inaccessible. Paddle trips must begin upriver, proceed down into the marshes, and then return to the point of embarkation or to an access point up one of the other streams emptying into the sound. Careful attention must be given to the tides when planning such trips, and paddlers should be completely self-sufficient in their equipment and preparations since dry land is often nonexistent.

SHUTTLE

The final take-out is reached from 1-95 south of Savannah. Take Exit 90 and go east on GA 144. Turn left onto US 17, which takes you to the boat ramp . GA 119, US 80, and GA 204 provide access to upper debarkation points of this section.

GAUGE

See preceding section. Levels near Eden are also provided online, and local outfitters can provide river information. The Richmond Hill DNR Fisheries office at (912) 727-2112 can supply a map of the commonly used access points and annual forecasts of fish harvests by species.

See how the Ogeechee Riverkeeper preserves and protects the Ogeechee River

See more Georgia Rivers

This Ogeechee 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.

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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. BG selects guides and outfitters located in or in close proximity to the Natural Areas they provide activities in. These outfitters know the areas and care about protecting and preserving them in a way that outfitters based in other states never can. 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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