Kayak Cypress Swamps and by White Sand Beaches on Georgia’s Satilla River

satilla river kayaking
Paddling in a Satilla River cypress swamp

The Satilla River has the distinction of being the largest blackwater river situated entirely within Georgia. With a dignified and tranquil pace, it oozes along beneath a wooded canopy, bypassing Waycross and the Okefenokee Swamp before looping south to meet the Atlantic at St. Andrew Sound. Undergrowth is thick and luxurious, with swamp cyrilla and azalea setting the reflective river aflame with color in the early spring. Satilla River kayaking brings boaters close to glistening white sandbars that occupy the insides of turns and provide resting spots for the traveler, while birds, reptiles, and other animals hurry about their business in the swamp. Although many adjacent acres have been reclaimed for commercial pine planting, the river, cradled neatly by a wet bottomland forest corridor, remains pristine in appearance if not in fact. Since the area is favored by sportsmen, boat ramps are common and fishing camps are frequently encountered along the Satilla’s course.

Get an Overview of the Satilla River Watershed 

Use These USGS and County maps for Satilla River Kayaking

Douglas South, Pearson, Axson, Talmo, Dixie Union, Blackshear West, Waycross East, Hoboken West, Blackshear East, Patterson Southeast, Hortense, Nahunta, Boulogne, Woodbine (USGS); Coffee, Atkinson, Ware (County); Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Consult these maps for Satilla River Paddling.

Satilla River Kayaking from US 441 to US 84/GA 38

TRIP SUMMARY:

  • Class: Smooth water
  • Length: 55.6 miles
  • Time: Up to 1.5 weeks
  • Gauge: Web
  • Level: 5.0 feet
  • Gradient: Less than 2 feet per mile
  • Scenery: A-

DESCRIPTION: The Satilla is runnable below US 441 during the winter and spring. In Atkinson County where this section begins, the Satilla flows in a straighter course than in Ware County and below where the characteristic white sandbars begin to materialize. An umbrella of pine, swamp blackgum, water oak, laurel oak, sweet bay, and majestic cypress shade the stream as it winds past white sand banks up to 8 feet high, sandy bluffs, and commercial pine forest plateaus that tower over the stream from time to time. A rather barren strip of cultivated table land parallels the Satilla for about a mile below the GA 158 bridge in Ware County, before the stream again slips back into the wooded corridor. Deadfall blockages above Waycross pose the primary hazards to navigation in this section, impeding downstream progress and acting as a barrier for larger boats. A canoe or kayak is the ideal watercraft to portage around any obstructions. Though water levels fluctuate somewhat unpredictably, especially above Waycross, flash flooding is not considered a problem. Campsites, however, should be chosen on bluffs rather than sandbars in the winter and spring.

SHUTTLE: To reach the lowest take-out for this section of Satilla River kayaking, take US 1/23 to the bridge over the river. Access is on the southwest corner of the bridge over the main channel. Most of the upper access points are most easily reached from US 82 south of the river. See a Google map for put-in and take out points,

GAUGE: Data for the gauge located near Waycross is available on the USGS Web site. Less than 5 feet can make progress difficult. Sandbars are covered above 8 feet, and above 9-10 feet, the current becomes swift. The maximum is up to high flood stage. Call the Waycross Fisheries Office at (912) 285-6094 for more information.

Kayaking the Satilla River from US 84/GA38 to GA 252

TRIP SUMMARY

  • Class: Smooth water
  • Length: 101.8 miles
  • Time: Up to 2 weeks
  • Gauge: Web, phone
  • Level: 5.0 feet
  • Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile
  • Scenery: A-

DESCRIPTION: Satilla River kayak is possible below Waycross most of the year, although it is still possible to encounter downed trees that completely block the stream as low as the US 301 bridge. The river starts this section by broadening to between 55 and 80 feet as it wriggles out from under its tree canopy to some extent. Throughout the circumambient terrain of Waycross, open farm fields intrude on the privacy of the river, and assert themselves once again along the Pierce-Brantley county line below the GA 121 bridge, where the white sandbars become rare until the confluence with the Little Satilla 37 miles downstream.

Below the mouth of the Little Satilla, sandbars once again become prevalent, as do horseshoe loops, bypass islands, and oxbow lakes, particularly where the river flows near Nahunta. The Satilla continues to broaden, reaching a width of 110-l30 feet before passing into Camden County. Flowing along the Charlton-Camden county line, the wilderness hides any sign of civilization as immense woodland swamps settle in and the river widens further to 180-210 feet. Tall sandy bluffs offer high ground camping above the GA 252 bridge, and the ruins of Burnt Fort, a pre-Revolutionary era bastion, make an interesting side-trip.

The next verified public access below US 82 is 29 miles downstream, eliminating everything but the possibility for multiple-day canoe-camping trips.

SHUTTLE: The last take-out for this section is northeast of Folkston on GA 252. See the Google map for the location of up-river access points. See the Google Map for put-in and takeout points

GAUGE: See upper section.

Satilla River Kayaking from GA 252 To WOODBINE

TRIP SUMMARY:

  • Class: Tidal river
  • Length: 25.5 miles
  • Time: Up to 3 days
  • Gauge: Web, phone
  • Level: N/A
  • Gradient: Less than 1 foot per mile
  • Scenery: A-

DESCRIPTION: Depending on the water level coming downstream, tidal effects begin to influence the river as high as the 3-R Fish Camp, 10 miles above the GA 252 bridge. Grassy marsh prairies alternate with bottom forest along the river channel, particularly below the mouth of Armstrong Creek. Below the US 17 bridge at Woodbine to the St. Andrew Sound, access is almost nonexistent and tidal currents are tricky. Some sandy bluffs persist in this area, but wet marshes, intricate networks of tidal creeks, and saltwater estuaries are the order of the day. The tidal currents near St. Andrew Sound, along with some powerboat traffic in the lower reaches, pose the primary hazards to navigation in this section.

SHUTTLE: The lowest take-out in this section is at the boat ramp on the southeast corner of the US 17 bridge in Woodbine. 

GAUGE: The gauge at Atkinson as reported on the USGS Web site is more appropriate to this section, though levels will be heavily influenced by the tides. Be familiar with tidal patterns and how to manage them, particularly near the end of this section.

See how the Satilla Riverkeeper preserves and protects the Satilla River.

This Satilla 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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