Kayak the Middle Oconee River in 2 Sections Near Athens, Georgia

middle oconee river kayaking
Middle Oconee River. Photo © by Alan Cressler

The Middle Oconee flows across the broad pasturelands of Jackson County before entering Clarke County and flowing through southwest Athens. Below the city, it meets up with the North Oconee to form the main Oconee River. In the upper section of Middle Oconee River kayaking, the river is small and has very little gradient. Downstream, farmland gives way to signs of suburban development as the river adopts the typical Piedmont habit of long flat-water stretches interrupted by an occasional shoal.

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

USGS and County Maps for Middle Oconee River Kayaking

Pendergrass, Winder North, Jefferson, Athens West (USGS); Jackson, Barrow, Clarke, Oconee (County)

From Old Pendergrass Rd to GA 330


Class: I; Length: 17.6 miles; Time: Up to 2 days; Gauge: Web; Level: Unknown; Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile; Scenery: C-


Though potentially navigable above this section given sufficient rainfall, runoff from a poultry-processing plant and frequent deadfalls may preclude an enjoyable Middle Oconee River kayaking experience. Below Old Pendergrass Road, the river remains small and susceptible to blockage by deadfalls. For the first 5.5 miles, it moves slowly through a swampy area where long stretches of the stream have been artificially channeled. This segment of the river has proven to be good for duck hunting. Below Johnson Bridge, the river’s gradient remains gradual as it passes through pastures and woodlands. The flow volume is increased by the entrance of the Mulberry River below Double Bridges Road. There are no significant rapids on this section.


From Athens to the last take-out for this section, take US 129/GA 15 Alt. north to a left turn onto GA 330. Proceed to the river; access is on the west side of the bridge. The upstream access points can all be reached by returning to US 129 north.


The USGS site provides data for the Middle Oconee near Arcade, although runnable levels are unknown using this gauge.

From GA 330 to Barnett Shoals Rd on the Oconee


Class: I-II; Length: 21.3 miles; Time: Up to 2.5 days; Gauge: Web, visual; Level: 1.6 feet; Gradient: 8 feet per mile; Scenery: C


In this section of Middle Oconee River kayaking offers a pretty trip through the woodland suburban fringes of the city. Rapids are few; small dams create the main obstacles. The first dam is located below the GA 330 bridge; portage on the right to run the Class II rapids below. A broken dam is located above Ben Burton Park; the tower on river left marks the site. The remains of this dam can be run, but watch for the boat-shredding rebar supports that remain imbedded in the river. The park itself is a pleasant place to stop, if not being used as an access point.

Below the park, the river becomes very wide and rocky and the woodlands become more predominant. No formidable rapids are encountered; the only major blight is the dumping from a sewage treatment plant near Macon Highway. One final dam is located less than a mile above the confluence with the North Oconee River. The Middle Oconee River kayaking ends here and the main Oconee River begins. Another 2.8 miles of paddling brings you to the first access point on the Oconee at Barnett Shoals Road.


From Watkinsville, take Barnett Shoals Road east to the Oconee River; this is the final access point for the lower section. The best upper access points for this section are listed on the map.


A gauge is located in the river 0.5 miles upstream from GA 29. Runnable levels start at 1.6 feet. The maximum is up to flood stage. Data is also provided online for the USGS gauge located on the river in Athens. Minimums using this gauge are unknown.

See more Georgia Rivers

This Middle Oconee 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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