Kayak the Lower Section of GA’s Apalachee River for Class III and IV Rapids

apalachee river kayaking
Apalachee River. Photo by Tannermark

The Apalachee reaches from Gwinnett County to Lake Oconee and is a major tributary of the Oconee River. Its character combines features of lowland swamps and streams of the Piedmont; at times it is a river, at times a virtually impassable swamp. The sections of Apalachee River kayaking described below are the most easily paddled. The upper section is the milder of the two and contains three portages around dams. The lower section begins with a dramatic Class IV drop and ends with a solid Class III. Both rapids can be accessed via nearby roads for those not interested in paddling the mostly mild water in between.

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

USGS and County Maps for Apalachee River Kayaking

Statham, High Shoals, Watkinsville, Apalachee (USGS); Walton, Oconee, Morgan, (County)

Apalachee River Kayaking from Treadwell Bridge Rd to GA 186

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I (II); Length: 11.1 miles; Time: 6-7 hours; Gauge: Web; Level: Unknown; Gradient: 7 feet per mile; Scenery: B-

DESCRIPTION

Though access is good for the 12.5 miles above this section, the stream is quite small and moves slowly through swampy areas replete with deadfalls and strainers. At times forward passage can be challenging. The highest feasible access for Apalachee River kayaking is at the abandoned bridge at Tanners Bridge Road on the south side of the river for those interested in tackling all or portions of this section.

Below Treadwell Bridge Road, a dirt road on the river’s right lacking its namesake bridge, the river becomes more lively and less barred by deadfall. Most of the Apalachee River kayaking course from this point to the bridge at GA 186 is characterized by a gentle gradient with rapids that do not exceed Class II difficulty. There are three dams on this section that must be portaged. The first is a small dam just above US 78 at Caruthers Mill. The next dam is at Snows Mill Road just above the bridge; portage on the left shore. The last and highest dam is at the end of this section in the community of High Shoals at GA 186. If continuing downstream into the lower section, the dam can be portaged on either side, but the right is easier. The take-out for this section of Apalachee River kayaking is located before the bridge and upstream of the dam at river right. This is private property, so be sure to follow the directions posted for contacting the landowner and asking permission.

SHUTTLE

From Watkinsville, take US 129/441 south toward Bishop. Turn right on GA 186. Continue to the take-out on the right on the far side of the bridge. To weave your way to the put-in, continue east on GA 186 and turn right onto Joneswoods Road. Turn right onto Snows Mill Road, then left onto Mount Carmel Church Road. Follow this road to the river for the mid-run access point (B), or for the highest access point turn left onto Locklin Road before reaching the bridge. Next, turn right onto Creek Road, which will take you to US 78. A left onto US 78 followed by a quick right onto Snip Dillard Road brings you to Bradley Gin Road. Turn right here; Treadwell Bridge Road is less than a mile ahead on the right.

GAUGE

The USGS Web site provides data for the gauge near Bostwick. Ideal minimum and maximum levels are unknown.

Apalachee River Kayaking from GA 186 to Old Madison Hwy

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: I-III (IV); Length: 12.0 miles; Time: 6 hours; Gauge: Web; Level: 350 cubic feet per second; Gradient: 12 feet per mile; Scenery: B+

DESCRIPTION

This section of Apalachee River kayaking is characterized by stretches of moving water interspersed with a few large shoals. The first of these is at the community of High Falls immediately south of the GA 186 bridge. The community gets its name from a series of cascades that includes one sliding drop of over 20 feet. Access to various entry points along this rapid is on river left. This is private property; contact the landowner on site and ask permission before putting in.

This entire rapid should be carefully scouted. Many accidents, some fatal, have occurred here. At certain higher water levels a dangerous hydraulic reversal develops at the base of the falls. Avoid it. These rapids may reach Class IV difficulty in high water.

There are two other significant rapids on the lower section beyond the occasional riffle or easy ledge. The first is at the old Price Mill Shoals Bridge where the river drops 10 feet over a series of ledges. Scout this drop from the left bank. South of US 441, an old railroad bridge marks the start of the second, more dramatic rapid. Stretching for over 200 yards, Pot Leaf Shoals starts out as fairly straightforward Class II ledges and ends as a solid Class III drop through a series of channels created by large and occasionally undercut boulders. High water may push this portion of the drop to Class IV; it should be scouted. Trails along both sides provide good vantage points. The take-out for this section is just below these shoals, offering an opportunity to take a look before starting the run. Off-road vehicle traffic appears to be heavy in this area, suggesting that this might not be the best place to leave a car overnight.

Though the river may look enticing beyond the Old Madison Highway take-out (E), beware. Below this point creeks leave instead of enter the main stream as the river divides into progressively smaller channels. Eventually, these channels become too shallow to float, requiring paddlers to pole, prod, and drag their boats through the resulting swamp in a race to reach downstream access before nightfall.

SHUTTLE

From Watkinsville, take US 441 south. After passing the Oconee Heritage Park, watch for the unpaved Tappan Spur Road on the left as US 441 makes a gradual westward turn. Take Tappan Spur Road 1.3 miles to an intersection with an unmarked gravel road; oncoming traffic has a stop sign. This is Old Madison Highway; turn right here and follow the main road to the river. To return to the put-in, take US 441 north to GA 186. Turn left on GA 186 and follow to the river. Access is on river left, down the private dirt road close to the bridge. Ask permission before using the land as this is private property.

GAUGE

See the preceding section. The minimum recommended level for the shoals is 350 cfs

See more Georgia Rivers

This Apalachee 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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