Paddle the Border between Georgia and Florida on the Blackwater St Marys River

st marys river georgia
Camp Pinkney Landing on the St. Marys River

The semi-tropical St Marys River defines the distinctive tab of land at the southeastern corner of Georgia. Beginning in the bogs of the Okefenokee Swamp that spawn the North Prong of the river, St Marys River Georgia kayaking meanders south through lowland swamp and forests that shelter diverse and abundant wildlife. The river officially begins at its southernmost point, due east of Jacksonville, Florida, with the entry of its other swamp-born tributary, the Middle Prong. White-sand beaches litter the river’s progress as it carves an ever-deeper channel, eventually creating low sandy bluffs before the effects of the tidal marshes and the sea wear them down. The St. Marys is a wild blackwater stream of beauty and distinction.

Get an Overview of the St Marys River Watershed

USGS and County Maps for St Marys River Georgia Kayaking

Moniac, Macclenny Northwest, Macclenny West, Macclenny East, Macclenny Northeast, St. George, Toledo, Folkston, Boulogne, Kings Ferry, Kingsland, Gross, St. Marys (USGS); Charlton, Camden, Baker FL, Nassau FL (County)

St Marys River Georgia Kayaking from Moniac to Folkston

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: Smooth water river; Length: 78.7 miles; Time: Up to 2 weeks; Gauge: Web, phone, visual; Level: 2.0; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: A

DESCRIPTION

The St Marys can be run as high as the GA 94 bridge crossing of the North Prong. The river emerges from the Okefenokee Swamp under a dense gum-cypress canopy, but trees in the channel become less prevalent by the time the river reaches this point. Averaging 40 to 55 feet, the North Prong gradually settles into a well-defined channel and becomes more exposed as it nears its confluence with the Middle Prong (flowing out of Pinhook Swamp in Florida). Watery wooded swampland extends from both sides of the stream, and swamp cyrilla and palmetto vegetate the banks. Its diminutive size makes St Marys River Georgia kayaking this portion of the stream susceptible to deadfall blockages that should be avoided, particularly at high water.

When the Middle Prong joins the North Prong the river doubles in width and its winding habit intensifies. Surrounding lowlands seem, on the average, a little drier, and pine bluffs begin to intermittently extend to the river’s edge. White sandbars begin to grace the insides of turns and provide sparkling contrast to the dark, burgundy-red water. The waters are stained from tannins released from decaying organic matter and tree roots; the dark water of St Marys River Georgia kayaking mirrors a perfect reflection of the above-ground scenery.

Below the GA 121 bridge at the bottom of Charlton County, the South Prong of the St. Marys enters the stream. This prong, rising completely out of Florida and flowing north, is much smaller than the Middle and North Prongs. In the vicinity of the mouth of the South Prong, several small settlements appear along the St Marys River Georgia and intrude temporarily on its remote wilderness setting.

Swinging north, St Marys River Georgia kayaking remains mostly unspoiled. It widens slightly and entrenches itself in increasingly steeper banks. Bluffs and pine forests intermix with swamp flora, and provide good high-water campsites. Between St. George and Folkston its banks rise to more than 7 feet, and are often backed by sandy bluffs standing 20 feet or more above the river, forested with a mixture of pine and tropical flora. The St Marys River Georgia kayaking channel here is deep and well defined, and powerboat traffic becomes common in the vicinity of Folkston.

SHUTTLE

US 1123 south from Folkston will bring you to the lowest take-out for this section. Turn left onto Lake Hampton Road, then left onto Scotts Landing Road. Up-river access points are easily reached from GA 121123 south out of Folkston.

GAUGE

The USGS provides data for the telemetry gauge located near Macclenny, Florida. The minimum level is 2 feet, the maximum level is high flood stage. Using the visual gauge at Moniac, the minimum level is 5.5 feet. Local outfitters and the Waycross Fisheries Office (at (912) 285-6094) can also provide information.

St Marys River Georgia Kayaking from Folkston to ST. Marys

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: Tidal river; Length: 47.0 miles; Time: 5.5 days; Gauge: Web, phone, visual; Level: 2.0 feet; Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile; Scenery: A-

DESCRIPTION

The river’s width below Folkston averages between 90 and 120 feet, but sometimes contracts as intervening bluffs create narrows. All along St Marys River Georgia kayaking, sloughs and feeder creeks provide opportunities for side-trips into the surrounding swamp corridor or between the approaching bluffs. This becomes more pronounced as the stream moves into Camden County, where marsh prairies indicate your entrance into the tidal zone. Amazingly, the St. Marys’ high banks persist and, if anything, become more steeply inclined.

Above the US 17 bridge, grassy marsh becomes prevalent on one side of the stream while gum and cypress remain dominant on the other. Below I-95, vast lime-colored grassy marshes combine with a complex network of tidal creeks and rivers and an occasional cypress hammock to turn the St. Marys into a tidewater garden. Banks decrease slightly in steepness but continue to form a natural levee between the stream and the surrounding marsh. Opportunities for side explorations remain excellent. Powerboat traffic and tricky tidal currents become more pronounced as the last access point before reaching Cumberland Sound and the Atlantic Ocean are reached at the city boat ramp at the town of St. Marys. Hazards include powerboat traffic and tidal effects in Camden County.

SHUTTLE

The lowest take-out for this section is at the end of GA 40 where it meets the river in the town of St Marys. Taking GA 40 west will lead you to higher access points on the northern side of the river; use FL 115 to access the river from the south.

GAUGE

See the first section.

See more Georgia Rivers

This St Marys River Georgia 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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