Kayak 9.3 Miles of Class I & II Rapids on This “Lost Gem” of GA Whitewater

coosawattee river kayaking
Paddling the Coosawattee River Blue Trail. Photo by Joe Cook, Georgia River Network

The Coosawattee River is the lost gem of North Georgia’s whitewater streams. Said to have rivaled the Chattooga River, the most dramatic portions of the Coosawattee now lie stilled beneath the surface of Carters Lake. A sense of what Coosawattee River kayaking was and what it has become is masterfully conveyed by James Dickey’s poem “On the Coosawattee. ” It has been suggested that Dickey’s experiences on the river before it was dammed were a major influence on his novel Deliverance. The Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers meet in Ellijay to form the Coosawattee; 9.3 miles of pleasing Class I and II rapids remain of the upper section. Below the dam, Coosawattee River kayaking snakes along a sedate course across Gordon County before it merges with the Conasauga River to become the Oostanaula River.

Get an Overview of the Coosa River Watershed where the Coosawattee River is located.

USGS and County Maps for Coosawattee River Kayaking

Ellijay, Webb, Oakman, Redbud, Calhoun North (USGS); Gilmer, Murray, Gordon (County)

Coosawattee River Kayaking from GA 5 Alt to Carters Lake

Class: I-II; Length: 13.1 miles; Time: 6 hours; Gauge: Web; Level: 0.7 feet; Gradient: 18 feet per mile; Scenery: B-


Below Ellijay, the scenery remains breathtaking at times, though residential development has supplanted the forested banks of the upper stretches. Early in the run, boaters will find several fish weirs that supposedly date back to the Cherokees. These create small ledges but no real hazard to navigation. Fishing is good for those who care to try their luck. The river has produced trout of record size for the state.

The 9.3 miles of Coosawattee River kayaking to the backwaters of Carters Lake are not dull, but rapids never get above a solid Class II level under normal conditions. Rapids start out small, building in difficulty throughout the run to the lake. There are many long, pooled sections, but enough Class I and II action intervenes to keep you from becoming too complacent. Rapids become more frequent after Mountaintown Creek enters from the right, significantly increasing the stream’s volume. Soon after the rapids begin to hold your interest they come to an abrupt end in the backwaters of the lake. The lake is pretty and powerboat traffic is usually light, but you should allow ample time to reach the first public access point at Ridgeway Boat Ramp, almost 4 miles ahead. The ramp is hidden within a cove that stretches back to the right.


From GA 5/515 in East Ellijay, take GA 282 west approximately 7.5 miles to the left turn for the Ridgeway Boat Ramp at Carters Lake. To get to the put-in, return to Ellijay and turn right onto SR 5 Alt. Continue 0.8 miles to a left turn into the last entrance to the park.


The USGS Web site provides data for the gauge at East Ellijay. The minimum is considered to be 0.7 feet; around 2 feet is a comfortable run. The maximum is 4 feet for open boats and up to flood stage for decked.

From Carters Reregulation Lake Dam to the Conasauga River

Class: I; Length: 25.1 miles; Time: Up to 2.5 days; Gauge: Web; Level: Unknown; Gradient: 2 feet per mile; Scenery: C


Below the Carters Lake reregulation reservoir, the Coosawattee becomes a higher volume valley river that meanders through more populated areas. Farmland, industrial plants, and some woodland make up the streamside environment. The Coosawattee merges with the Conasauga near Resaca and is thereafter called the Oostanaula River.


To get to the lowest take-out, take Exit 317 off of I-75 and proceed east on GA 225. The boat ramp is a left turn before crossing the river. For the highest put-in, continue north on GA 225. Turn right onto GA 136. After crossing US 441, turn left onto Old US 441 0ld Reservoir Road. Watch for the right-hand turn into the recreation area below the dam, 1.2 miles past the bridge over the river. Stay to the right.


Flows are dependent on dam releases from the reregulation reservoir and can be found on the USGS Web site for the Coosawattee at Carters or Pine Chapel, Georgia, or by calling the Army Corps of Engineers at (706) 334-2248. The Corps adheres to a required minimum flow of 240 cfs. While the levels don’t change rapidly, a call to check the release schedule in advance of your trip is recommended.

Paddle more Georgia Rivers

This Coosawattee 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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