Conasauga - Section 1, Chestnut Lead Trail to Hickory Creek Trail

Conasauga, Georgia, US


Section 1, Chestnut Lead Trail to Hickory Creek Trail (Upper Upper Upper, or Headwaters)

Usual Difficulty III-IV+ (for normal flows)
Length 4.75 Miles
Avg. Gradient 120 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02385800 300 - 2000 cfs III-IV+ 01h15m 164 cfs (too low)

River Description

Conasauga section one Description.

    The headwaters of the Conasauga are formed high in the western side of the Cohutta wilderness, in north Georgia.  Popular Springs Branch, Cowpen Creek, and Birch Creek, come together and here starts the highest boatable section on the Conasauga.  Shortly after these three come together the river gets additional flow from Potatopatch creek and Chestnut creek bother coming in on river left.    The tributaries mentioned here are too small and wood choked to realistically be paddled.  But as they all come together they give the Conasauga enough push to move most of the wood in it out of the way.  
    When considering running this river keep in mind that the easiest and traditional take out is no less than 15 miles down stream.  So as when running Jack's river, also in the Cohuttas, shuttle should be set the day before.  But the length of both of these runs makes them ideal for a legitimate overnight run.  This run passes by Bray Field which is a popular place to camp and there are plenty of other sites as well. A rarity, in the southeast!

        The put in:   Ideally you'll have to hike about a mile and a half from one of two spots.  One could park at Betty Gap and hike down the Conasauga river trail to where the three creeks confluence and start from there.  The more ideal put in, in my opinion is to park at Chestnut lead trailhead and hike down to the river.  From here you can hike up to the confluence or just start down stream from this point where Chestnut lead intersects with the Conasauga river trail.  I do not suggest the Betty Gap location due to how the trail in many cases is hiking down the stream bed.  Given that the stream bed will have more water in it than normal you would already be assuming more risk to you, your crew and equipment before ever arriving to the river.  Important note.  The gate that gives access to both of these trail heads is locked from January 1st through March 1st.  This does not mean you cannot do this run it just means you have to walk a little further.  Another reason to set shuttle the night before.
    This is definetly a wilderness run and is remote.  If something happens in here and you need medical attention or extraction it will be difficult, but not impossible.  If you find trouble early on within the first couple of miles.  Hike back to the cars.  If you are committed beyond this point your next best option will be Hickory Lead where you will be met with a mile and a half hike out.  This is the upper, upper put in.  If you pass this point your next option will be Chicken Coop Gap and beyond this the normal takeout.  An asset to note is that the Conasauga River trail runs along the entire run and provides easy walking for portaging and scouting.   
    The river itself starts out fairly small but what it lacks in size it makes up for with consistent action and a true alone feeling.  The first mile there are two bigger rapids but these are in the midst of an already continuous section.  The hike in will have warmed you so you'll be chomping at the bit to get moving.  This headwaters section of the run is similar to sections down stream, really nice bedrock rapids, along with some small boulder gardens to navigate.  There is nothing scary on this run and everything is scoutable either from your boat or just a quick hope out and look.  The wood situation on this run in early 2012 was two mandatory portages due to wood and a couple of other spots that you could squeeze through or under.  
    The only time this has been run to anyone's knowledge, the water level was a good medium to low flow.  It could have been lower and we still could have made it down and it could have been higher and that would have been fine too.  Realistically a good first time level.  The only indicator is to have your fingers on the pulse of the Cohuttas.  Know how much rain is falling, know how long it takes the water to arrive in the river, know how saturated the watershed is, etc.  As far as visuals are concerned once you arrive at the put in via Chestnut lead trail, you'll want the upstream side of the rootball of the tree directly across from you to be under water or close to it.  Also there is a small pyramid looking rock in the middle of the river you will want this rock to be under water with ideally threeish inches of water flowing over top of it.  This is a good first time level.  More than this and you'll be in for an exciting day, less than this and the first mile will be a little bony. 

Russell Hobby 8-20-2013



StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-09-06 17:53:27


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Put-In Trail HeadN/APhoto
0.01st RapidIVPhoto
0.22nd RapidIV+Photo
1.5Typical sceneIIIPhoto
2.83rd RapidIV+Photo
3.3Last RapidIII+Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Put-In Trail Head (Class N/A)

The Put-in Trail head

The Put-in Trail head
Photo by Jason Harris taken 01/10/13

1st Rapid (Class IV)

1st Rapid

1st Rapid
Photo by Jason Harris taken 01/10/13

This rapid is upstream of the put-in approx 200 yards.  Ferry across to river right at the put in and walk upstream for this 3 tier rapid. 

2nd Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 0.2)

2nd Rapid

2nd Rapid
Photo of Chris Massey by Jason Harris taken 01/10/13

This one is about 100 yards below the put-in.  There is a trail on river right for scouting.  It is a tight line through the boulders.

Typical scene (Class III, Mile 1.5)

Typical scene on this run

Typical scene on this run
Photo by Jason Haris taken 01/10/13

This is the typical scene and what to expect between the larger significant rapids. 

3rd Rapid (Class IV+, Mile 2.8)

3rd Rapid

3rd Rapid
Photo of Chris Massey by Jason Harris taken 01/10/13

This rapid has two lines far left & a center line.  The far left had a huge tree in it.  The center line drops about 8 feet and the runout has a decap/undercut rock that you will bounce off of.

Last Rapid (Class III+, Mile 3.3)

Last Rapid, S-turn Rapid into Boulder garden

Last Rapid, S-turn Rapid into Boulder garden
Photo by Jason Harris taken 01/10/13

This was an S-Turn type of rapid that is the located at the big Log Jam. You have to paddle right up to the Log Jam in the center, then go Left to enter the S-turn. The huge rock in picture is the last part of the "S". Right after this, is a series of ledges & a boulder garden mixed in. Portage on River Left right as soon as you see the Big Log Jam. River right is walled out. At higher water this rapid would be a strainer city & hard to avoid.

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