We don’t often think of outdoor activities when we travel south of Atlanta, but you’d be surprised to find a whole new world of rivers in middle and south Georgia. Fall is the time to visit the bottom half of the state, where mild temperatures make paddling accessible through the winter, both humidity and bug-free. Here are five excellent paddling trips worth the drive south this fall.
The Flint River
Just 50 miles from Atlanta, the 344-mile Flint River is one of only 42 free-flowing rivers that spans a distance longer than 125 miles, and remains in the United States. The Upper Flint includes Sprewell Bluff, a proposed dam site that now is home to multiple picnic and swimming areas. As for the Lower Flint River, you’ll be amazed to that when combined with the upper part of the Apalachicola Basin, it has the most species of reptiles and amphibians north of Mexico, making it the most bio-diverse region in the United States. And with clear water throughout the Flint River, you can see through the water below your boat.
Trip One: 6 miles on the Upper Flint River from Sprewell Bluff Outdoor Recreation Area to Flint River Outdoor Center. The Georgia Conservancy leads this popular trip on the Upper Flint River. You’ll paddle among boulder-strewn waters, rocky outcrops and bluffs, as well as hardwood forests ranging from Chestnut Oak to Longleaf Pine and Sand Hickory. The most notable part of the paddle is the towering Sprewell Bluff and the Fall Line Ravines. Two Class II rapids are easy to navigate and make the day trip accessible for beginner paddlers.
Stay the night: At the free paddler-only campsite at Sprewell Bluff Outdoor Recreation Area. Parking is $5 per vehicle.
Trip two: 22 miles on the Lower Flint River from Mitchell County Landing to Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat The Georgia River Network features a guide to the Lower Flint River, and this is a manageable trip to accomplish in a day. Along the banks, enormous cypress and sycamore trees grow thick and tall, their gnarled roots contrasting with the limestone bluffs that hang over the river like shelves. Around mile 4, you’ll pass Buzzard Roost Island, where you won’t find buzzards, but rather several species of hawks perched in the trees. Many springs feed into this section of the Flint River, but one of the most interesting is Double Springs, around mile 13.4. Underneath the crevice of a limestone bluff on the west side of the river, is a cave that goes from the Flint into Mitchell County.
Stay the night: At Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat in one of the cabins or campsites, just off the Flint River.
Located 125 miles from Atlanta, the 200-mile Ocmulgee River is a confluence of the South, Yellow and Alcovy Rivers, flowing from south through central Georgia, where it meets the Oconee River. The winding river offers several points of interest, like the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management Area . Trip three: 13 miles from Dykes Memorial Landing Park to Mile Branch Landing Park The Georgia Conservancy's day paddle trip starts north of Hawkinsville. Much like the Flint River, the trunks of Cypress trees are thick and knobby, while their limbs reach out above you in a tunnel-like arch. The leaves change a light tint of yellow and orange in fall, while the Spanish moss still hangs in tangled bunches from the branches. The current on this portion of the river is modest, and you’ll find plenty of sandbars to stop for a rest along the way, making this a great beginner paddle.
Stay the night: At Mile Branch Landing Park’s campgrounds. Bathroom facilities and free parking are available.
Three Rivers Paddle
The Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Altamaha Rivers make up the Three Rivers, one of largest watersheds on the Eastern side of the United States and about 180 miles from Atlanta. These are considered Georgia’s Heartland Rivers, and are often overlooked because of their proximity in Southern Georgia.
The best resource for paddling on the Three Rivers is Three Rivers Outdoors, manned by Scott Taylor. He offers shuttles to put-in and take-out points along the Three Rivers. Here he shares his favorite paddles in these sections.
You’ll start your paddle at the Lumber City boat ramp, just upstream of one of the old railroad trestles. The entire paddle is Class I flatwater on a broad section that’s 350 feet wide. Just north of Highway 221, you’ll paddle under a cantilever bridge, which offers a contrast of rusty metal to the surrounding swampland. Spanish moss dangles from the cypress trees on the river banks, offering beautiful earth-tone colors. When the water levels are higher, the river corridor builds up backwater swamps that are accessible by boat. If levels are low, you can actually paddle to beach and hike these portions.
Taylor’s recommendation: To truly experience the Three Rivers, you’ll want to paddle to the confluence, which is 10 miles into this paddle section. At the confluence, you see the three rivers mixing together: the Oconee River is a sandy brown, the Ocmulgee is a dark tannic brown, and the Altamaha River is a deep green.
Stay the night: At Towns Bluff Park, which features 24 campsites with water and fire rings, or opt for primitive camping.
At the intersection of the Oconee River and the Ocmulgee River, the Altamaha River is formed about 180 miles from Atlanta. The Altamaha River is known as the Little Amazon, because of its vast basin and biological diversity home to more than 135 endangered species and plants, such as bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites and red-cockaded woodpeckers. To find a good paddle on this river, use Georgia Rivers Network’s Altamaha River map .
Trip five: 17 miles: Towns Bluff Park to Deans Landing After the confluence of the Three Rivers, the Altamaha River spans more than 350 feet. The right side of the river is all Wildlife Management Areas, offering picturesque views of the natural scenery. The main WMA you’ll pass on this portion is Bullard Creek WMA, a section with red arching banks and towering forests of pine and hardwoods. If you choose to shorten your paddle, take out at Gray’s Landing for a 9-mile trip. This is a good stopping point to try out Benton Lee’s Steakhouse on the banks of the river. The menu serves up hearty portions of giant steaks, frog legs, and alligator tail.
Taylor’s recommendation: A favorite spot is the “half moon section” between river mile 26 and 25, an easy going section with big sweeping turns.
Stay the Night: Get shuttled back to Towns Bluff Park to camp.