Discover the Resources of the Coosa River, One of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds

coosa watershed
The Coosa Watershed. Photo by Coosa River Basin Initiative

BThe Coosa watershed is one of Georgia’s 14 major watersheds. The Coosa River is formed by the merging of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia. It flows westward 30 miles in Georgia before reaching the Alabama state line and then merges with the Tallapoosa River 18 miles northeast of Montgomery to form the Alabama River. The Alabama merges with the Tombigbee north of Mobile to form the Mobile River and reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay. Read a Paddling Guide to the Coosa River.

See all of Georgia’s 14 Major Watersheds

Altamaha, Chattahoochee, Coosa, Flint, Ochlockonee, Ocmulgee, Oconee, Ogeechee, Satilla, Savannah, St Marys, Suwannee, Tallapoosa, Tennessee

The Coosa Watershed System

The junction of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers at Rome, Georgia form the Coosa River. Their headwaters, which rise in the Blue Ridge Mountains, include the Conasauga, Coosawattee, Cartecay and Ellijay rivers as well as scenic mountain streams flowing along steep, narrow, forested valleys among high, rounded mountains. The Oostanaula River is 47 miles long and has a relatively flat slope. The Etowah River is 150 miles long; rising in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it falls steeply for about 60 miles, then more moderately for the remaining distance to its junction with the Oostanaula. Allatoona Dam, completed on the Etowah in 1955, impounds Allatoona Reservoir. From Rome, the Coosa flows southwesterly about 286 miles to join with the Tallapoosa River in forming the Alabama River. The Alabama River flows 314 miles to join the Tombigbee River and become the Mobile River north of Mobile. The Mobile River flows 45 miles to enter the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay. Total distance from the beginning of the Coosa in Rome to Mobile Bay is approximately 645 miles.

How the Coosa River Got Its Name

Coosa was the name of a number of Creek Indian towns throughout northern Georgia and Alabama and was also the name given the Upper Creeks by the Cherokees. The exact meaning is unknown, but it may have come from the Choctaw kusha, meaning cane or canebrake.

Coosa Watershed Protection

The Coosa River Basin Initiative is a 501c3 grassroots environmental organization based in Rome, Georgia with the mission of informing and empowering citizens so that they may become involved in the process of creating a clean, healthy and economically viable Coosa River Basin.

River Experiences

Listed below are locations where you can see or experience the Coosa River or its tributaries.

Amicalola Falls State Park

Amicalola, a Cherokee Indian word meaning “tumbling waters,” is an apt name for these 729-foot falls, the highest in Georgia. An 8-mile approach trail leads from the park to Springer Mountain, the southern end of the 2,150-mile Appalachian Trail; however, numerous other trails are available for shorter journeys. A beautiful lodge is popular with guests who prefer hotel-type comforts over cottages and camping, while a 5-mile hike leads to more remote accommodations at the Len Foote Hike Inn. The park office has nature displays, live exhibits, and a gift shop.

The Coosa Watershed Connection: From its source in the North Georgia mountains near the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, water from the 729-foot Amicalola Falls flows into the Etowah River via Amicalola Creek. The Etowah forms Lake Allatoona near Cartersville in the Georgia Piedmont region. Below Allatoona Dam, the Etowah runs west to Rome where it merges with the Oostanaula to form the Coosa River. Continuing west, the Coosa merges with the Tallapoosa at Montgomery to form the Alabama River. Above Mobile the Alabama is joined by the Tombigbee. Those two rivers become the Mobile, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay.

Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site

Visit the fortified aboriginal center that was the home to several thousand people more than 400 years ago. Walk among the mounds, the largest standing 63 feet tall and covering 3 acres. Tour the museum where artifacts and exhibits interpret daily life in this once self-sufficient Native American community. The Etowah Indian Mounds symbolize a society rich in ritual. Towering over the community, these flat-topped earthen knolls were used between 1000 and 1500 AD as platforms for temples, mortuaries, and homes of the village’s priest-chiefs. In some mounds, nobility was buried in elaborate costumes and accompanied by items they would need in their afterlives. Although the Etowah people left no written records, artifacts help explain their lives and culture. Many artifacts at the museum show that the natives of this political and religious center decorated themselves with shell beads, tattoos, paint, complicated hairdos, feathers and copper ear ornaments. Well-preserved stone effigies and objects made of wood, seashells, stone and copper are also displayed.

The Coosa Watershed Connection: This historic Native American village sits on the Etowah River and provides visitors with a dramatic illustration of the intimate interconnectivity between Native American life and rivers. The Etowah has its origins high in the North Georgia mountains near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A few miles east of the park it forms Lake Allatoona. West of the mounds, the Etowah joins the Oostanaula in Rome and forms the Coosa. Its waters eventually make their way to the Gulf of Mexico via the Coosa, Alabama and Mobile Rivers.

Fort Mountain State Park

Fort Mountain derives its name from an ancient 855-foot-long rock wall that stands on the highest point of the mountain. This mysterious wall is thought to have been built by Indians as a fortification against more hostile Indians or for ancient ceremonies. Situated in the Chattahoochee National Forest, close to the Cohutta wilderness area, this park offers a variety of outdoor activities. Hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders will find some of the most beautiful trails in northern Georgia, most of which wind through hardwood forests and blueberry thickets, occasionally crossing streams and providing spectacular vistas. During the summer, children will enjoy the sand beach located on the clear mountain lake.

The Coosa Watershed Connection: The small mountainous creeks and streams in Fort Mountain State Park soon channel their way into the Conasauga River. The Conasauga joins the Coosawattee near Calhoun to form the Oostanaula. The Oostanaula and the Etowah meet in Rome to form the Coosa. The Coosa finds its way to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile via the Alabama and Mobile Rivers.

James H. (Sloppy) Floyd State Park

Surrounded by rural countryside and the Chattahoochee National Forest, this quiet park in Northwest Georgia offers good fishing on two stocked lakes. Visitors can hike along 3 miles of lake loop trails. The trailhead to the scenic 60-mile Pinhoti Trail is only a 1.6-mile hike from the park. The park was named for Representative James H. “Sloppy” Floyd who served in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1953 until 1974.

The Coosa Watershed Connection: The park is on Taylors Ridge, which runs north-to-south in the Chattahoochee National Forest. An intricate network of tributaries drains the rain falling on James H. Floyd Park into the Coosa River, where it eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay via the Coosa, Alabama and Mobile Rivers.

Red Top Mountain State Park

This park on 12,000-acre Lake Allatoona provides opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing. Visitors can bring their own boats or rent from nearby marinas. Several hiking trails wind through the wooded park, offering a chance to look for wildlife and explore a reconstructed 1860s homestead. The park’s lodge, restaurant and meeting facilities make it attractive for family reunions and business groups. A paved trail behind the restaurant is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. Named for the soil’s rich red color caused by high iron-ore content, Red Top Mountain was once an important mining area for iron.

The Coosa Watershed Connection: The Etowah River, the main stream filling Lake Allatoona, begins at an elevation of some 3,560 feet on Hawk Mountain in North Georgia’s Lumpkin County just a few miles from the southern end of the Appalachian Trail. Below Allatoona Dam, the Etowah continues to Rome where it merges with the Oostanaula to form the Coosa River. The Coosa joins the Tallapoosa in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Alabama River. Just north of Mobile, the Alabama River is joined by the Tombigbee and becomes the Mobile River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay.

Confluence of the Etowah and the Oostanaula

Although the merging of two rivers to form one river is common in Georgia, it’s unusual to have the opportunity to witness such an occurrence without being in a boat on the water. In winter, when trees are bare, the highest point in Rome’s Myrtle Hill Cemetery is a good vantage point to see the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers merge to form the Coosa. (Take Broad St to South Broad St and the Cemetery entrance.) A closer view of the same merging of rivers is available from the 2nd Avenue pedestrian bridge (take Broad St to 2nd Avenue).

Lock and Dam Park

In addition to being a good place to enjoy both the outdoors and water, the Lock and Dam Park illustrates the region’s (and all of Georgia’s) early river history. During the mid-1800s, before the lock and dam were built, the Coosa was busy with steamboats and barges carrying freight, passengers, and mail between Rome and Greenport, Alabama. The boats had difficulty navigating some parts of the river, one of the worst points being Horseleg Shoals. Occasionally, temporary “dams” were devised by local citizens along the sides of the Coosa to create deeper water for navigation. Because of such problems, it was decided to make the Coosa River completely navigable. Six locks and dams were completed, the first in 1880. Construction of the lock and dam at what was known as Mayo’s Bar began in 1910 and opened for navigation in 1913. The lock was officially closed in 1941. Today a 730-acre regional park serves as a popular campground and fishing area while remaining one of Floyd County’s early historical landmarks.

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