Paddle the Withlacoochee, Called by Some One of Georgia’s Most Beautiful Rivers

withlacoochee river ga
Withlacoochee River. Photo by WWALS Watershed Coalition

A list of Georgia’s truly beautiful scenic rivers includes the Withlacoochee. Originating in Tift and Berrien Counties, its dark waters flow south along the Cook County line into Lowndes County, where it is joined by its largest tributary, (ironically) the Little River. Intimate, shaded in its northern reaches, mysterious in its beauty – Withlacoochee River GA kayaking is one of the few Coastal Plain streams in which limestone ledges form small shoals. A second distinctive feature of the river is the occasional white sandbar on the insides of bends, which are perfect for swimming or camping.

Get an Overview of the Suwannee River Watershed where the Withlacoochee River is located.

USGS and County Maps for Withlacoochee River GA Kayaking

New Lois, Hahira East, Valdosta, Lousley, Nankin, Clyattville (USGS); Berrien, Lowndes, Brooks (County)

Withlacoochee River GA Paddling from GA 37 to GA 31

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I (I+); Length: 68.8 miles; Time: Up to 1 week; Gauge: Web, phone; Level:  unknown; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: B+ to C

DESCRIPTION

Runnable from GA 37 to the confluence with the Little River during the winter and spring, and below the confluence of the Little from late November to early August, Withlacoochee River GA kayaking winds a convoluted course through a thickly wooded swamp corridor bordered by cultivated table land and commercial pine forests. The water is a cear, burgundy-red color, which contrasts strikingly with the white sand banks and often appears glossy black where the channel is deep. Formation of bypass islands and oxbow lakes is common.

Both the Withlacoochee and the Little jump their low, sandy, day banks to inundate their narrow floodplains for long periods of time, giving rise to bottom forests of swamp black gum and cypress. Cypress and gum grow in the stream as well as on the banks, where they are joined by Ogeechee lime, water elm, water oak, laurel oak, and sweet bay. Scrub vegetation is thick with palmetto, swamp cyrilla, and possum haw, among other varieties. Birds, reptiles, and other animals flourish along the Withlacoochee, and are readily observable in all their diversity by the silent paddler.

At the GA 37 crossing, Withlacoochee River GA kayaking averages a slim 30 feet in width; it expands to 40 feet as it dips into Lowndes County and broadens to 55 to 70 feet below the mouth of the Little, where the river’s course straightens. Shoals occur primarily in Lowndes and Brooks Counties, rarely surpassing Class 1+ in difficulty. One small rapid, complete with surfing wave, is found upstream of the Clyattsville-Nankin Road bridge. Another awaits where the river first crosses the border into Florida. The limestone shoal that forms the foundation of this rapid is jagged; avoid contact with it by running this on the left. Signs of habitation are sparse, although swimmers are frequently encountered at bridge crossings and anglers are likely to turn up anywhere. The current is moderate, and other than the small shoals mentioned, deadfalls create the only hazard to navigation.

Continuing south in a broad loop, Withlacoochee River GA kayaking passes quietly into Florida where it empties into the Suwannee. Although only the Georgia portion of the Withlacoochee is described, the Florida section is equally beautiful and fully worthy of exploration.

SHUTTLE

From 1-75, take Exit 11 south of Valdosta. Turn south on GA 31 and continue to the river at the Florida border. Turn right onto the dirt road before the bridge to reach the boat ramp. Access points above Valdosta are easily reached via GA 125 north. Below Valdosta, see the map for the best routes.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site lists data for the telemetry gauge at Quitman and farther upstream at Bemiss. Minimum levels using this gauge are unknown. Maximum is flood stage. Local outfitters can provide assessments of runability over the phone.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Withlacoochee River GA 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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