The Annual Release at Tallulah Gorge

Alexa Lampasona
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A memorable and anticipated occasion for avid whitewater paddlers in the area is the annual release of Tallulah Gorge’s whitewater. Tallulah Gorge was dammed in 1913, but it wasn’t until May of 1993 that the first kayakers tested its waters. Among them were famous names like John Bell, Walter Lynch of American Water, the late Ron Stewart and Jim Silavent.

Now, skilled paddlers from all over the country come to Tallulah during the first three weeks of November to test their boating mettle on this 2-mile whitewater trip. An average of 500 cubic feet per second (fps) cascade through the gorge, creating Class IV and V rapids that are perfect for advanced paddlers. This year, release dates are set for November 7-8, 14-15, and 21-22. Whether you're paddling or spectating, here are five notable spots along the journey that you should be aware of.

1. Last Step

The cleverly named put-in, Last Step, refers to the fact that it takes about 600 steps to reach the put-in itself, making that last step a big sigh of relief.

2. Oceana

Alexa Lampasona

There isn’t much time to amp up for the largest and only Class V rapid in the gorge. The 45-50 foot falls of Oceana scale over a 150-foot distance, making scouting from shore almost required. Averages of 500 cubic fps are reported on American Whitewater. However, once you reach the bottom, an exalted scream of joy and terror is well warranted.

If you’re looking for photo-worthy shots from shore, this is the spot to be. Follow the North Rim Trail to the scenic overlook and Oceana will be below.

3. Bridal Falls

Alexa Lampasona

Paddlers deem this the sliding rock due to the smooth slope that drops about 20 feet over a distance of 100 feet. It is often scouted from the left banks. A river-wide hole is the main concern here, but if paddlers have enough momentum they can punch it over the top hole near the left bank.

Tallulah Gorge State Park is offering guided hikes to the overlook each weekend. The hike will take place on November 7, 15 and 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for $15 per person. More info can be found at GA State Parks

4. Amphitheater

Paddlers encounter a large tree on this rapid. The lead up to the tree was deemed “Lynch’s Wrench” after Walt Lynch, a kayaker in the first descent, dislocated his shoulder when he hit the wave hole wrong.

5. The Road to Aintry (The Big Slide)

Jeff Gunn

It's fitting that this thrilling adventure comes to and end with the longest single rapid on the whole run. On the approach are a few ledges and eddies, and you can see the rest of the slide. A rock obstructs the bottom of the drop, but it can be avoided by paddling either right or left.

Paddlers end the arm-burning, heart-thumping ride at Tugaloo State Park after 1.5 miles of well-earned flatwater paddling.

If paddling isn't your thing, but you'd like to witness this spectacular annual event, the hiking trails around Tallulah Gorge State Park will be open, as will the steps off the North Rim Trail leading to the suspension bridge above Hurricane Falls. No gorge permits are issued during whitewater release.

The address for Tallulah Gorge State Park is 338 Jane Hurt Yarn Rd, Tallulah Falls, GA, 30573. You won't want to miss it!

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