Test Your Extreme White Water Skills on the Big Rapids of Northeast Georgia’s Overflow Creek

overflow creek kayaking
Overflow Creek at a water level of between 1.5 and 1.3 feet. Photo by Daniel Telsey

Overflow Creek is a high-water run for skilled and intrepid boaters. Located in Rabun County, Overflow Creek joins Holcomb Creek and Big Creek at the headwaters of the West Fork of the Chattooga River, and a requisite stint on the latter precedes the take-out. Not for the faint of heart, the entire run is highly technical.  The stream is small but very powerful when the water is high. If Section IV of the Chattooga bores you, try Overflow Creek kayaking. View an interactive Chattooga River Map that shows Overflow Creek as well as all the named rapids on the Chattooga River.

USGS and County Maps for Overflow Creek Kayaking

Satolah (USGS); Rabun (County)

Kayaking From FS 86B to FS 86 (Overflow Creek Road)

TRIP SUMMARY

Class: IV-V (V+); Length: 5 miles; Time: 4 hours; Gauge: visual; Level: 0.9 feet; Gradient: 158 feet per mile; Scenery: A+

GAUGE

There is a gauge in the river upstream of the Overflow Creek Road bridge across the West Fork of the Chattooga. Based on paddler postings on American Whitewater’s Web site, 0.9 feet is a recommended minimum; exercise caution at levels above 2 feet. Chattooga levels at US 76 can also be used; when the Chattooga is 2.5 feet and on the way up, it may be worth the drive. Knowing whether the creek is on the way up or down is crucial to gauging the feasibility of an Overflow Creek kayaking run.

DESCRIPTION

You might want to add a parachute to your safety gear for this one. In the 4-mile section between the Overflow Creek access at Three Forks Road (FS 86B) and the take-out where Overflow Creek Road (FS 86) crosses the West Fork of the Chattooga River, this run drops 380 feet. Rapids of Class V + difficulty dot the route. Scouting is advisable but is complicated by dense streamside foliage and nearly vertical banks. This Overflow Creek kayaking run is for experts only and demands taking all safety precautions.

Overflow starts out as a small stream but soon begins a rapid descent. There are numerous blind drops; once the paddler in front of you passes over the lip, you do not see them again until you enter the drop yourself Debris and undercuts are the primary hazards, but vertical pins have occurred on Overflow Creek. There are unnamed drops on this run that would be considered significant rapids on another river.

When you decide to make an Overflow Creek kayaking run for the first time, it is in your best interest to accompany someone who knows the run thoroughly and can give you good instructions en route. There are must-catch eddies, some right before or after a drop, that you are difficult to pinpoint from scouting alone.

Some of the initial drops are Bushwhacker, Peewee, and Roundabout. You may think these are the run’s major rapids at first, but they are not. The first of the big drops is Blind Falls. Scout on the far right, and when you run it try to stay as far right as you can. Don’t let the nose of your boat turn left before hitting bottom, otherwise, you will end up in the hole or against the slightly undercut left wall. Gravity, the next rapid, waits not far downstream, so you don’t want to swim out of Blind Falls. Eddy out on the right as soon as possible and scout Gravity on the right.

Gravity is Class 5.0 because of the pothole at the base of the drop on river right; it almost took the life of an experienced boater. You must decide whether to portage on the right or to move left at the top of the drop to land on river left and run down the left side. The rapid funnels at the bottom, so if you run it, make sure that when coming down the left side you are not prematurely kicked right. Try to boof the bottom.

Scout and run Singley’s Falls on the left. The total drop is close to 37 feet, and at lower water levels it is possible to get your boat completely out of the water onto dry rock on the left. If you boof out of Gravity, you will stay on the left side of the drop; otherwise, you will be funneled into the center. You are already better prepared than past first timers; years ago, guides commonly raId unsuspecting paddlers to run the next drop with no warning of its height.

The next drop, Twilight, requires a boof off a mid-stream rock to avoid being smashed against the left wall. After Overflow’s confluence with Big and Holcomb Creeks at Three Forks, the first rapid on West Fork of the Chattooga is Igore. Watch for undercuts and rock sieves in Igore, and be certain to catch the solitary eddy on river left just after the drop. The eddy must be caught to scout or portage the Great Marginal Monster, the next rapid. Paddling with someone who knows the river and exactly where this eddy is located could be a lifesaver. It is tempting to ignore the eddy and try and take a peak at what lies around the corner. However, missing the eddy normally means you will run the next rapid ready or not, as the current is often too strong to back up.

The entrance to Great Marginal Monster is a little tricky and is normally run on the right, as the hydraulic on the left is stronger than it looks. It can force unfortunate paddlers to swim out of a hole in one of the last places you want to be caught in the water. At normal levels, there is a boat-length flat after the entrance drop and before a boulder in the center diverts the current on both sides into a couple of huge, twin undercuts. A majority of the water in the river goes through these undercuts, and boats have washed through them with upturned ends. When running this drop, some paddlers boof the rock in the center, while some just continue on the river-left angle with which they finished the river-right entrance drop.

Passing these undercuts without being extruded through them doesn’t signal an end to the fun; another big hole can form where the water shooting out of the undercuts converges. Even if you walk this one, putting in right below the hole is still fun. Given the Twist at the bottom, you don’t want to bury your boat too deeply. Marginal Monster, Gravity, and Pinball are the “Big Three” on this run, in order of increasing difficulty.

Run Pencil Sharpener on far river right to avoid the potential undercut on river left. Pinball, Class 5.1, is a big, long rapid in which it may be difficult to remain upright. Because you don’t want to flip over, it’s best not to allow your boat to head straight into the bottom of this drop either.

The last real rapid on this Overflow Creek kayakingrun is Swiss Cheese. This is a blind rapid; even if you have someone leading you down, don’t depend on being able to follow their moves visually. Oftentimes, once the person ahead drops over the horizon line, you won’t catch sight of them again until it is time to eddy out. It’s best to receive verbal instructions on this beautiful rapid.

Longer boats increase the danger level on Overflow Creek kayaking. Rapids full of strainers and with no eddies are found above Class V drops. A creek boat, in contrast, allows for nimble maneuvering and more breathing space in the narrow, steep corridors. In addition to the parachute, bring a flashlight. Unexpected water surges push the creek beyond runnability, and have forced seasoned Class V paddlers to hike out.

Setting up a Shuttle for Overflow Creek Kayaking

From Clayton, head east on Warwoman Road. Turn left onto Overflow Creek Road (FS 86) immediately after crossing the West Fork of the Chattooga. Turn right at FS 86B. The put-in is at the end of this road. You will pass several potential take-outs are along the way, the Forest Service campground on the left being the best option.

Read More About the Chattooga and It’s Tributaries

  • See an Interactive Map of all Chattooga Rapids CLICK HERE
  • Is the Free-Flowing Chattooga the Southeast’s Best Whitewater CLICK HERE
  • A Guide to Canoeing and Kayaking Section 3 CLICK HERE
  • Paddle the West Fork CLICK HERE
  • Canoe or Kayak Warwoman Creek CLICK HERE
  • Explore the Entire Chattooga River Corridor CLICK HERE

This Overflow Creek 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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