Kayak the Etowah River in the Foothills of the Northeast Georgia Mountains

etowah river kayaking
Joe Cook paddling Georgia's Etowah River. Photo by Ga River Network

This river in the foothills of Northeast Georgia offers beautiful scenery as well as some challenging rapids for both the beginner who is looking for a good starting river and the expert who wants a tranquil day’s outing. Etowah River kayaking puts you in touch with the rich history of Georgia’s gold rush days. It witnessed the onslaught in 1828 as thousands of prospectors infiltrated the North Georgia hills starting the first major gold rush in this country.

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

The Etowah is an Example of a River’s Self-Healing Ability

The river is also an example of nature’s wonderful ability to heal herself if given time. As a result of the gold rush, the river was partially diverted, the bed mined, the banks cut over and stripped or mined and later cultivated. Today, however, the river corridor must be one of the prettiest in the state. Also, the river itself is both attractive and exciting. The trip we will describe here covers about six miles of the most scenic area and the best whitewater.

The Etowah is a near perfect beginners’ canoeing stream. The flow of water is usually adequate for canoes in the spring and early summer months. Occasional high water levels following rains make the stream easier, except for possible increased danger from the waterfall near the middle of the trip.

Etowah River Kayaking from Dahlonega to Auraria

The section of the river described here begins at GA Hwy 9 west of Dahlonega, and ends at Castleberry Bridge near historic Auraria. The put-in is on the northeast corner near the bridge and is a rather steep bank, poorly suited to this use.

On the water, steer right for the first island, which brings you into the pool at the buildings for North Georgia’ College farms. From here on the river meanders around low laurel-covered hills which flame in the early spring with azaleas, laurel, and rhododendron. Around a couple of turns the river bends hard right over Chuck’s Shoals. The best passage, which is a bumper itself, is down the left side moving toward the center. The next couple of miles is something our of a lazy man’s dream of Georgia spring, with numerous small riffles and scenic vistas opening at the turns.

Eventually, you come to a 2-foot ledge with passage difficult except on the left. Negotiate this ledge with care for one hundred yards downstream is an eight-foot waterfall which should be portaged on the right. (The fall can be run at low water down the left center, but it is a bumpy run!). The rocks here are a great place for a picnic lunch.

The trip continues through banks strewn with galax, yellowroot, and other showy plants. The rapids down to the terminus of the run are generally Class I and the general feeling of a casual trip is maintained. Take the right on each of the two islands toward the end of the trip.

Toward the end of the trip, a steep granite cliff rises on the left. The rapids below this point to the takeout is probably the best of the trip from the standpoint of a rapid, which requires maneuvering for a clean run. The Castleberry Bridge at the bottom of this rapid is the end of the trip.

The Etowah is a Good River for Both Expert and Beginning Paddlers

Etowah River paddling is interesting both for the expert and the beginner. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the scenery and improve technique as well as some appetizing stretches that will test the skill of the hardiest river rat.

Setting up a Shuttle for Etowah River Kayaking

  • DIRECTIONS: The Etowah River is located in the northeast part of the state near Dahlonega. To reach the river drive south from Dahlonega on GA Hwy 9.
  • SHUTTLE: The section of the river described here begins at Ga Hwy 9 and ends six miles later at Castleberry Bridge. To set up a shuttle for Etowah River kayaking, leave one car at the Castleberry Bridge takeout. Drive your other car up to the put-in at GA Hwy 9.

Click on this Link to a Google Map for put-in and takeout points.

This Etowah 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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