This attractive run, appropriate for giving beginners a taste of whitewater or a bit of low-pressure intermediate for non-release flows.
When the dam is releasing the difficulty increases to Class III+.
A siren sounds prior to opening the gates as warning to flow start. New boaters call ahead to check releases so you don't get caught. See Will Gosney's narrative below for more details.
The water quality is much better than 30 miles downstream; trout can be seen swimming along the bottom. It's COLD, since they intake the nice clear water 40 or 50 feet below the lake surface. The only hazards are strainers and the water temp. Although surrounding development has been heavy over the last decade, the river corridor there is still pristine, thanks to the Chattahoochee NRA and the efforts of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization.
Put-in is just below Buford Dam at the southern end of Lake Lanier near Buford, GA. Drive across the dam to its western end and immediately hang a left through a gate onto a steep dirt road that winds downhill to a nice park on the west bank just below the dam. There's lots of free parking, picnic area, boat ramp and restrooms. This area typically gets gated shut at dark or 5PM, with remaining cars towed away, so plan your trip accordingly.
Half a mile or so below the put-in the river is split by Bowman's Island. You can run right or left; either side takes you down a quarter mile of Class I-II shoals until the flows merge again at the southern end of the island. There's lots of big, rounded, mossy rocks to keep things interesting. Good place to practice rockspins, ferrying and midstream eddying.
Another mile or so beyond this point the river disappears around a left-hand turn marked by a large gravel bar on river left. Around that bend is the best whitewater feature on this section, where a rock ledge extends across the river. Most of the water bangs into a big obvious truck-sized boulder (the "Hump") in the middle and funnels around the right side. Approach from the left side and set right to hit the chute. Fine spot for squirts & enders at the bottom. That end of the Hump is deeply undercut but the eddy pool below is huge and shallow, with a wide sandy beach on river left. Beware of ancient strainers on river right, the current will push you in that direction.
Part of the flow pours over left of the Hump and creates a small surfable hole. At high water a nice flat surfing wave opens up here (see photos).
This feature is also referred to as "The Tubes" by the squirtboaters (ref. http://www.sinkspots.org) - if you are a real good paddler in a smaller boat you can get down time here during release.
First take-out is below the Hump near the highway 20 bridge on the river-right side up a steep bank. That access is obtained by driving west on Highway 20 until you cross the bridge; look for the first dirt road on your right, drive in and find a park. No guarantees on the vandalism/theft factor at this location - cruiser traffic is heavy in the vicinity. You can park & play the Hump from there, however.
The second access point, if you don't mind wallowing through another couple miles of flat water, is to take out at the abandoned Settles Bridge. This is a marginally safer place to leave a car and ends the run with a nice leisurely float that cruisers will love and players will hate. Take Suwanee Dam road south for a couple miles past highway 20 and turn right on Johnson Road. Drive another mile and turn right at the stop sign onto Settles Bridge Road just before you would enter the big housing development. The road immediately turns to dirt; look for the small brown Chattahoochee NRA sign. It dead-ends a half mile down in a recently-improved gravel parking area. Walk down to the river for a look at the steel bridge ruins; that's your landmark for takeout.
Here's some wisdom from Will Gosney concerning the conditions during a dam release:
"Special care should be taken by newer paddlers (if you are not comfortable on class III swift & turbulent water) during dam releases. The water level, especially near the dam will rise about four feet and triple in speed within the space of less than 30 minutes. Special care should be taken if you are in a shoal area as the difficulty will increase dramatically as the water level rises. At the full height of the release, the rapids tend to wash out, so if you are caught in a mid-release situation, get to a safe area on shore or in a good eddy and wait for the water to rise fully. Do not get out on a mid stream rock as they will disappear underwater and a hydraulic will develop where the rock was. Keep in mind that if you put on shortly (within an hour or so) of the release, you can actually out paddle the bubble and arrive at the hump rapid when it is at mid release. At that stage, the difficulty may bump up to Class III/IV as it develops a river-wide hydraulic and the eddy behind the big rock becomes turbulent and whirlpool like. At mid release, the left side of the island increases to Class III+.
At full release the swift currents provide a very limited amount of rescue recovery potential and paddlers should be prepared to gather swimmers into their boats mid-stream using advanced rescue techniques. Most eddies disappear and the shoreline develops more strainers. The water is very cold, this will lead to an increased risk of hypothermia and possible drowning if a speedy rescue is not made."
One more warning - when the release is on, it can be very difficult to leave the river until past the highway 20 bridge, due to the steep banks and strainers. All the usual riverside eddies and sandbars go under, and it's a cold and miserable place to swim for more than a few minutes. People have drowned here due to lack of preparation. Please be safe out there and boat with friends.
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Did this run yesterday at dam release at just around 1300 cfs. We went from buford dam to abbotts bridge around a 15 mile run. It took about 4-5 hours. First 8 miles or about 2 hours was great. We didn't have to paddle until we met the occasional rapid and would float quite swiftly down the river. We only went through one good rapid I believe between our 2nd and 3rd mile which was a class III which was a blast. The last two hours of the trip however we had to continuously paddle to move at a descent rate. Had a great time and would recommend only at dam releases. Also there are no rental places that are allowed to rent you a kayak or canoe 2 hours before dam release.
The parking lot at Settles Bridge has been vastly improved. There is now a nice ramp that makes getting your boat to your car much easier. We have been paddling this section of the river for five years now. The only negative we see is the increased amount of tube riders due to the opening of an outfitters on Hwy 20.
Jus a couple more comments since this came up on
the GCA list.
Google map for shuttle directions:
If you are a new boater and you hear the dam release
warnings what to do? If you are in an area that has
any whitewater, proceed downstream and find a good
area to exit the river for a while. Get up on the bank
above the high water lines. Do not get on a
midstream rock. The water comes up as much as 4-6
feet. If you are very near the dam, exit the river as
quickly as possible and wait for the water to come all
the way up, usually within the hour. They usually give
the warnings up to 1/2 or so hour before the release.
It usually takes 1- 1 1/2 hours for the release to reach
GA 20. After the water comes up, consider the other
notes I wrote above.
The release water usually washes most everything out
and if you know where the GA 20 rapid is, you can get
out in the large pool above and scout or walk the
This is a great run for those really hot days in the
summer when you want to cool down. The water is
always very cold and cools the valley down a few
degrees. If it is not mid summer hot day, dress
Put in directions:<br />
Begin traveling West on Buford Dam road from Buford toward Cumming.<br />
While crossing the dam you will pass the closed intake parking lot on your right. There will be a hard right turn immediately after the parking lot. The dirt road to the put in is on your left in this curve. Follow the road to the boat ramp. <br />
Call for the release schedule before putting in. The water is very cold all year.
We did a nice paddle from Settle's Bridge to the dam and back at minimal release. Portaged up river left channel at the rapid above GA 20. About 2.5 hrs up and 1 hr down. Easier but longer than going up Metro Hooch. Going up the river left side of Bowman's Island is easier. Very pretty - lots of fishermen near the dam.
Have done same at full release but not as pleasant - better waves to play, but freight-train current and you miss the super clear water quality of minimal release.
8 years ago
This gauge records direct release levels at the dam. Notice it usually gets turned on for a few hours a day then goes to zilch. During extended periods of rain the releases are more continuous and can be huge on occasion. Get daily pre-release info by dialing the Buford Dam info number: 770-945-1466.
Permits are not required for this reach.
From Ga20 take Swanee Dam north until it ends at Buford Dam Road. Make a left on Buford Dam and make first left onto dirt road after crossing the dam
Greg Simpson playing on "the hump"
Rookie on the River
My 1st swim
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Claude Terry, paddler, outfitter, and conservationist, died on November 20th, 2019. He was 83. A microbiologist by training, Terry began paddling in the mid-1960's while a professor at Emory University. He took to whitewater readily, and it became an important focus of his life. In 1969 he met veteran paddler Doug Woodward, and in 1971 the two became the technical advisers for the movie “Deliverance.” Afterwards, Terry and Woodward purchased the rafts Warner Brothers used in filming and bought 19 acres near the river. This became Southeastern Expeditions, one of the Southeast’s first whitewater outposts on the Chattooga. In 1974, Terry took then-Gov. Jimmy Carter on three trips on the Chatooga River, totaling 57 miles. This inspired Carter to get the Chattooga included in the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act and influenced later decisions protecting rivers across the U.S.“Terry adopted me as one of his students,” Carter told Outside Online in a 2017 interview. “it opened my eyes to the relationship between a human being and a wild river that I never had contemplated before that. When I got to be president I vetoed 16 different dam projects all over the United States.” Terry eventually quit his Emory University job and started full time career in environmental advocacy, including founding American Rivers, a principal U.S. conservation group. For the next 30 years he specialized in environmental projects involving rivers and wetlands and later, when he became a board-certified toxicologist, he developed an expertise in hazardous waste cleanups. He was an active paddler until sidelined by Parkinson's Disease. A passionate teacher and advocate, he is sorely missed by all who knew him. Click through for an excellent obituary and a photo of Terry taking Governor Carter over Bull Sluice!
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