3 Scenic Atlanta Paddles

Alexa Lampasona
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Fall paddling is often overlooked but with changing leaves and thinning trees, the scenery along the river salutes kayakers who are looking to catch some rays in the mild temperatures. In Atlanta, you can find paddles 20 minutes from the city on the Chattahoochee River or you can travel to the winding mountain roads of north Georgia for a weekend getaway. RootsRated showcases three scenic paddling destinations that will be fun for any level kayaker.

Etowah River
River Park to Kelly Park
Distance: 8.7 miles

“This one of my favorite kayaking spots within driving distance of Atlanta and it’s suitable for beginners. From the point you put in you get the feeling that you are away from most man-made activities.”
-Scott Tobias, KayakGuyAtlanta

Drop your kayak on the sandy shores of the Etowah River at the River Park canoe launch. The earlier the better for this scenic paddle. Dawn paddlers will see the morning mist roll across the river and hear the calls of brown thrashers, blue herons and other wildlife. With only a few class I and II rapids, your wandering eyes will have plenty of opportunities to revel in the scenery but be careful of the fallen trees in the river.

This remote paddle takes you through Dawsonville Forest and drifts along under a canopy of sycamores, red maples and historic railroad bridges. On the second half of the trip, overhanging rocks reach for the river. Around mile marker 18 (mile five of the trip) is the 50-foot Barefoot Falls where you can stop for photo ops, a snack break and if you’re feeling really wild, a plunge into the river from the rope swing. You’ll end at Kelly Bridge Canoe Ramp. Be aware that there is a $3 parking fee.

Once you progress, Tobias suggests the Tunnel section of the Etowah River, an eight-mile stretch with a few class I and II level rapids. The ¼ mile tunnel is narrow enough for a kayak and features a section that is about 8-10 feet of pitch black.

“Not too far inside the tunnel you hit a series of rapids, the last one being a pretty big drop,” says Tobias. “It's a very cool section with some rapids that aren't dangerous but provide plenty of entertainment.”

Alexa Lampasona

Chattahoochee River
Island Ford Park to Morgan Falls Overlook Park
Distance: 9 miles**

Once you put in at Island Ford, you’ll navigate through shoals before paddling into smoother, deeper waters. The water levels in the Chattahoochee River do change daily, so check the water release schedule here. You’ll paddle by horse pastures and golf courses as the river twists and turns alongside historic downtown Roswell. About four miles in, Chattahoochee River Park poses as a great backdrop for a picnic. It’s worth making a deviation into the Vickery Creek alcove where you can do some open water swimming or take a moment to revel in serenity. The final haul to Morgan Falls Overlook Park is an easy one, with calm waters and wooded forests along the shore. If you go early, you’ll have a chance to see turtles, river otters and mallards. You’ll welcome the chance to unwind at the park’s picnic tables and well-kept facilities.

Another route on the Chattahoochee River is the section from Buford Dam to Settles Bridge, where the rapids keep you entertained. And if you’re on the water by 10am, you’re likely to see a morning fog.

Tallulah Gorge's whitewater release
Tallulah Gorge's whitewater release Alexa Lampasona

Tallulah Gorge
Lake Rabun to Tallulah Falls Lake
Putin Location Coordinates: Lat: 34.76509, Long: -83.41571
Takeout Location Coordinates: Lat: 34.74959, Long: -83.407
Distance: 4 miles

Just off Highway 441, Lake Rabun offers an access point to paddle the class II and III sections of the Tallulah River. Craggy cliffs line the river and the sun glows through the trees. On this winding journey through the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll navigate around rocks and rushing white water rapids. The rapids dump into the calm waters of Tallulah Lake. Once you build up the courage, try Tallulah Gorge’s Oceana falls. Whitewater is released only the first two weekends in April and the first three weekends in November. Call the Forest Service at 706-754-7970 for more information.

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