Paddle and Play on Georgia’s South River as It Flows Toward Lake Jackson

south river kayaking
South River at Panola Shoals. Photo © by Alan Cressler

The saga of the South River, Atlanta’s “other” river, is fuIl of twists and turns. Born in the city streets near the state capitol and Zoo Atlanta, many of the river’s sources literally crawl underground through a combined sewage-stormwater system before the river emerges to flow southeast through DeKalb, Rockdale, and Newton Counties on its way into Lake Jackson. Despite its urban roots, the river’s shores are at times thickly wooded, even in its upper reaches. Plans are in place for improving the water quality by separating Atlanta’s sewage from run-off, at the same time that forested land adjoining the river is being acquired for preservation as public green space. Though for cleaner than it was in the early 1990s, South River kayaking is best enjoyed in the cooler months and not after heavy rains.

Get an Overview of the Altamaha River Watershed where South River is located.

USGS & County Maps for South River Kayaking

Redan, Conyers, Kelly town, Ola, Worthville (USGS); DeKalb, Rockdale, Henry, Newton (County)

South River Kayaking from Snapfinger Rd to Lake Jackson

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I-II (III); Length: 40.7 miles; Time: Up to 4 days; Gauge: Web, visual; Level: 400 cubic feet per second; Gradient: 4 feet per mile; Scenery: B- to C

DESCRIPTION

Tree-lined and intimate, the northernmost stretches of the South River kayaking run through a narrow wooded valley, skirt some exposed bluffs, and wind along the base of several tall, gumdrop-shaped granite outcroppings that include Panola and Arabia Mountains. Evidence of habitation and development are common along the South River but somewhat surprisingly do not occur in sufficient concentration to spoil the wilderness beauty of the stream. The Arabia Mountain Heritage Area encompasses 2,000 acres of land at the top of this run, with plans to purchase additional acres to further preserve the river corridor.

The river starts this section of South River kayaking by cascading over Panola Shoals, an impressive granite rock outcropping slide topped by the GA 155 bridge. If you choose to run the slide on the left, first scout from the left bank to spot the unfortunately placed rebar near the end of the chute. Quickly settling down, the river stumbles playfully over sandbars and intermittent Class I+ shoals all the way to the Klondike Road bridge. Midway in this section is a low water bridge that can be dangerous at certain water levels. This first segment of South River kayaking can be plagued by deadfall which must be portaged around or dodged.

One-half mile below Klondike Road the river doubles in width as it spills over Albert Shoals, a series of ledges requiring a Class III move that starts on the right and runs left to avoid the pour-over extending from the right side. Moderate flows are needed in order to cleanly run the jumble of rocks in the channel on the left. Albert Shoals is close enough to the bridge to allow park and play access.

Smaller rapids and short shoals, not exceeding Class II in difficulty, occur intermittently up to the vicinity of the GA 138 bridge. South River kayaking calms down after passing GA 138 as it weaves through a broadened valley lined with typical Piedmont bottomland forests. The 10 miles of river from GA 138 to GA 20 remains convoluted and serpentine and is frequently obstructed by deadfalls. Below the GA 20 bridge are the Class II Peach Stone Shoals; farther downstream the river passes through some marshy spots before reaching GA 81. The best access here is on river left below the bridge.

Immediately below GA 8 is Snapping Shoals Dam, a low head dam that should be portaged on the right. At moderate flows, Snapping Shoals provides several hundred yards of continuous Class I-II entertainment; the shoal’s difficulty increases at higher flows. Half a mile below GA 81 is an access point on river left where GA 212 nears the river. After this point, the current slows to a moderate to slow pace and becomes generally incapable of more than a good ripple. As the river approaches the lake, the floodplain becomes increasingly wet and swampy.

SHUTTLE

The Lake Jackson take-out is located on GA 36, north of the town of Jackson. All other access points intersect with GA 212, which is reached by continuing north on GA 36, turning left onto GA 162, and then left again onto GA 212.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site provides levels for the South River at Klondike Road. The minimum runnable level is 400 cfs; maximum is up to flood stage. A gauge is also located in the river at Butler Bridge Road.

See more Georgia Rivers

This South 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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