Etowah - 4 - Highway 136 to Kelly Bridge Road

Etowah, Georgia, US


4 - Highway 136 to Kelly Bridge Road

Usual Difficulty I(II) (for normal flows)
Length 18.2 Miles
Avg. Gradient 6 fpm

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02389150 100 - 5000 cfs I(II) 00h36m 499 cfs (running)

River Description

Sources: B. Sehlinger and D. Otey, Northern Georgia Canoeing (1980); S. Welander, B. Sehlinger and D. Otey, A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to Georgia (2004).

With only Class I-I+ rapids, this reach perhaps stretches the definition of "whitewater" despite a fairly rapid flow. But with agricultural or wooded scenery, minimal residential or road intrusion, a quiet, rural atmoshphere and year-round availability, it is an excellent respite from the challenges of steeper rivers or the cold swims of winter. The reach is really two sections, an upper section from Highway 136 to Highway 9 and a lower section from Highway 9 to Kelly Bridge Road.

The 9.1 mile upper section from Highway 136 to Highway 9 snakes through a broad, flat plain consisting mostly of farms: with traffic noise mostly absent except for the highway crossings, boaters often hear the mooing of cattle. Residential development is still minimal right along the river, so the scenery remains agricultural. Though their traffic can only rarely be seen or heard, two roads parallel the Etowah on river right, Etowah River Road for the 4 miles from Highway 136 to Highway 53 and Thompson Road for the 2.6 miles from Highway 53 to Highway 9.

While the section is generally described as "Highway 136 to Highway 9," it may actually be preferable to take out at the Hugh Stowers Road bridge (about 1.8 miles upriver of Highway 9) or at one of the accesses in the Dawson Forest WMA. The hill down to the water at Highway 136 is steep, as is the hill up from the water at Highway 9: traffic is fast and somewhat dangerous at both bridges and parking is limited at the Highway 9 bridge. Directions to the alternate accesses are below.

UPDATE 02/06: The Georgia Department of Transportation has allocated $32,000 of $40,000 needed to build a "canoe put in" at Highway 9 on the Etowah. Dawson County will provide the remaining $8,000 in "like kind" funding such as site work. The project will include off-road parking, a gravel parking lot, portable toilet(s), trash can(s), picnic table(s) and possibly a changing booth. At least initially, parking will be free. Unfortunately, due to the lengthy documentation and permitting process to obtain the state approval that comes with the money, construction will not begin until probably 2007.

The 9.1 mile lower section from Highway 9 to Kelly Bridge Road is even more beautiful. Most of the lower section is within the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA), eliminating the usual residential development. The WMA includes several vehicle roads, but they are generally well removed from the river and the traffic usually seen while paddling consists of occasional hikers, bikers and horses. Deadfalls are common on the narrow river, but most can usually be easily avoided: there are a couple of bank-to-bank logs that may require getting out of the boat at low water levels.

In addition to the put-in at Highway 9 (or about 1.8 miles further upstream at Hugh Stowers Road), there are four access points within the WMA: three are reached by entering the WMA from Highway 9 and the other by entering from Highway 53. Once past these three locations, there is no other access for put-in or take-out until Kelly Bridge Road.

NOTE: the WMA is closed for maintenance from mid-May to June 1 each year. During this period, use of the river is permitted but the gates are closed, preventing road access within the WMA.


To reach the put-in at Highway 136, take Highway 136 west from Highway 400 or east from Highway 9 to the bridge. There is space along Highway 136 to park at any of the four corners, but the designated parking area is about 100 yards west of the bridge on the north side of Highway 136. Beware of fast moving traffic, especially coming around the curve just west of the bridge.

The Highway 53 bridge over the Etowah is not recommended as a put-in/take-out. The traffic is heavy and fast moving and the roadside parking is minimal, not particularly safe and discouraged by local authorities. If you must access the river at the Highway 53 bridge, the least bad alternative is the south (downstream, river left) corner of the bridge, where the double traffic lane starts.

The alternative to access from Highway 53 or Highway 9 is the bridge on Hugh Stowers Road, about 2.7 miles downstream of Highway 53 and 1.8 miles upstream of Highway 9. To reach Hugh Stowers Road from the Highway 53 bridge, go northwest (towards Dawsonville) on Highway 53 for .75 mile, turn left on Thompson Road, follow Thompson Road for 1.1 miles to the 4-way stop and turn left onto Hugh Stowers Road. To reach Hugh Stowers Road from the Highway 9 bridge, go north .8 mile, turn right on Thompson Road, follow Thompson Road for 1.5 miles to the 4-way stop and turn right onto Hugh Stowers Road. Once on Hugh Stowers Road, go .8 mile to the bridge. To reach Hugh Stowers Road from Dawson Forest Road, turn north onto Grizzle Road at Black's Mill Elementary School and keep going straight when Grizzle Road turns to the right: the bridge is 1.7 miles from Dawson Forest Road. Access is available under either end of the bridge, but the north (river right) end is easier. Parking is roadside, but do not block the pasture access road at the northeast corner of the bridge.

To reach the Highway 9 bridge, take Dawson Forest Road west from Highway 400 (the intersection is at the light just south of the outlet mall and just north of Outside World) for 4.1 miles. Turn right onto Highway 9 and go .5 mile to the bridge (just past Riverview Middle School on the left). Minimal off-road parking is avaialble at the southeast corner of the bridge, but stay on the right of way and off the private property just upstream. Being careful of the rocks, go down the hill at the parking area, cross under the bridge just above the concrete support and put in at the southeast corner of the bridge. (When you pause to rest, look across to the river right bank just downstream of the bridge and think how great it'll be when the canoe launch is there.)

About a mile below Highway 9, the Etowah enters the Dawson Forest WMA. There are four accesses to the river within the WMA, three reached from Highway 9 and one from Highway 53 west of Dawsonville. There is no fee for parking or river access in the WMA.

From Highway 9, take Dawson Forest Road (found .5 mile south of the Highway 9 bridge) west. To reach the Shoal Creek Road access, turn right shortly before the entrance gate and go .4 miles to the bridge; the best access is at the southwest corner of the bridge and be careful not to block the road or any gates when parking.

The main entry gate, 1.5 miles from Highway 9, is open except from mid-May to June 1, when the WMA is closed for mainenance. To reach the other 2 river accesses, continue on Dawson Forest Road for 2.6 miles, where the pavement will end; angle right onto unpaved Railroad Road. The Blue Trail Ford access is on the Blue Trail, a horse trail running left from Railroad Road about .2 miles after the end of the pavement: look for a pine-straw covered path and blue dots on the trees on the left. The put-in is easy and the carry is fairly flat and just a couple of hundred yards long, but does tend to be muddy and .... well, what you'd expect for a horse trail, so step carefully. Parking is very limited, and you may need to go back and park at the clearing where the pavement ends. (The access from Highway 53, described below, reaches the river at the same point but from the other side.)

To reach the Railroad Road access, continue on Railroad Road another 1.6 miles until it is blocked by the concrete support for a long-gone bridge. (Railroad Road is also part of the WMA's Blue Trail, so drive slowly and watch carefully for hikers, bikers and especially horses.) There are paths down to the river on both sides of the road: neither path is all that easy, but the path to the left as you face the bridge support is easier.

To reach the WMA access on the north (river right) side of Blue Trail Ford, take Sweetwater Church Road south from Highway 53: the intersection is 1.2 miles east of the Highway 53 bridge over Amicalola Creek, 2.25 miles west of the Highway 53/Highway 183 intersection. (Look for signs advertising "River Tubeing - Kayaking" and "Sweetwater Baptist Church.") There is a second entrance to Sweetwater Church Road .3 mile further west: they soon merge. Once inside the WMA, where the pavement ends for the first time, Sweetwater Church Road becomes North Gate Road. To reach the river access, follow North Gate Road for 4.5 miles until it ends. (When you see the end of the second paved section coming, you'll need to angle left on the dirt road). Carry about 50 yards past the "road closed" gate to the right, then turn left on the Blue Trail and follow it about 30 yards to the river. The access and carry are fairly easy, but be prepared for mud and whatever else you'd expect to find along a horse trail.

To reach the take-out at Kelly Bridge, turn west from Highway 400 on Jot-em-Down Road in extreme northern Forsyth County. Go 1 mile to the 4-way stop, then continue west on A.C. Smith Road for 2.2 miles to Highway 9. Turn right onto Highway 9, go .7 miles and turn left onto A.T. Moore Road (right across Highway 9 from the new CITGO station). In .7 miles, A.T. Moore Road will merge into Kelly Bridge Road. Stay on Kelly Bridge Road for 5.7 miles to the bridge. The take-out is at the northeast (upstream, river-right) corner of the bridge: the driveway is blocked by a gate that is closed but not locked: to keep this private take-out available, please pay the $2 per person parking fee, fill out the card and keep the gate closed except when you're actually driving through it. Stay away from the gate across the road, the one with the "trespassers will be shot, then prosecuted" sign.

To reach the take-out from Highway 53, turn south onto Cowart Road from Highway 53 1.5 miles west of the Amicalola Creek Bridge (5.25 miles west of the Highway 53/Highway 183 intersection). Take Cowart Road 2.5 miles to the 4-way stop at Kelly Bridge Road and turn left. Stay on Kelly Bridge Road 3.4 miles to the bridge: the driveway to the take-out will be on the left shortly before the bridge (look for the gate on the left with signs on it - stay away from the gate on the right).
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2006-08-07 09:35:16


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Highway 136 BridgePutin
4.6Highway 53 BridgeAccess
7.3Hugh Stowers Road BridgeAccess
9.1Highway 9 BridgeIAccess Hazard
10.6Shoal Creek Road BridgeAccess
12.1Railroad RoadAccess
13.6Blue Trail FordAccess
15.3One RockIHazard
17.3Two RocksIHazard
18.2Kelly Bridge RoadTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Highway 136 Bridge
Put in under the bridge on either side of the river. The hill down to the water is steep on either side: the river-left side is less steep, but be careful of the rocks near the river.

Highway 53 Bridge
Put-in/take-out is not recommended at Highway 53. If you must put in or take out at Highway 53, the downstream river-left corner of the bridge is best alternative.

Hugh Stowers Road Bridge
A good alternative to putting in at Highway 53 or Highway 9. The river can be accessed under either end of the bridge, but access is easier on river right.

Highway 9 Bridge (Class I, Mile 9.1)
To put in, park river left upstream of the bridge. Carry down at that corner, cross under the bridge just above the concrete support and put in under or just downstream of the bridge. Rocks dropped along both banks to limit erosion represent a possible hazard that can be easily avoided by staying near river center.

Shoal Creek Road Bridge
The first access in the WMA. The easiest carry is at the southwest corner of the bridge. Park on the right of the road about 100 yards past the bridge: do not block the gate on the left or the horse passage beside it.

Railroad Road
The second access within the WMA by water, the third by road. There are paths to the river on both sides of the road, but carry and put-in are easier down the path to the left.

Blue Trail Ford
Two accesses, one on each side of the river, where the Blue Trail in the WMA fords the river. Carry is short and access is easy, but be careful of slippery mud and horse droppings. From the river, look for old steel bridge just upstream of the accesses.

One Rock (Class I, Mile 15.3)
The channel to the left of the rock has two small drops, the second of which is very scrapy at low water levels: stay close to the left bank. If you go around the rock to the right, stay close to the right bank.

Two Rocks (Class I, Mile 17.3)
The log that made the straight chute between the large rocks dangerous has been removed and the chute is now runnable. At low water levels, stay to the left of the chute to avoid rock just below the surface on the right side. If you prefer, can still go around to the right.

Kelly Bridge Road
Take out at the paved boat ramp in the river-right bank about 100 yards before the bridge. The property is privately owned, so pay the small fee and follow the rules posted on the gate at the driveway.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
April 5 2011 (2808 days ago)
TippeCanoe (152931)
On 03 April 2011, we paddled the 11 mile section from Hugh Stowers Rd to Kelly Bridge Rd. We were
impressed that a flatwater creek moved at a nice clip (cfs was ~320). There were 2 riverwide
strainers in that first 2 mile section between Hugh Stowers & Hway 9; the first was less than a
half mile from the put in. We removed SOME of it, opening up a decent gap (though still requiring a
"duck under") on river-left immediately along the bank that will be safe ducking under at lower
water levels (say, <400). However, at higher water levels that "duck under" on the left will be
dangerous, but the center might become open allowing a scoot-over. The second strainer is about 1/4
mile before (upstream of) the Highway 9 bridge & ramp. This huge mess is a fresh fall, and in
addition to several trees, was also a thick jungle of thorny vines. We managed to clear enough of
it on river-right next to the bank to scoot over & through. At low currents (below <400), it
should be slow enough to ease through the narrow opening we cut right next to the right bank.
(Portaging didn't seem judicious; both banks were high & very steep for a ways downstream, and the
thorn vines looked just as bad or worse on top as down on the river.) I'll post photos later. Rest
of the trip from Hway 9 to Kelly Bridge was fantastic (and no riverwide strainers); we averaged
3.5mph with very little paddling. We loved the gorgeous 80ft cascading falls up the Barefoot Creek
tributary, about 1.5 - 2 miles before the takeout.
August 23 2010 (3033 days ago)
dpass1982 (152322)
The water Sunday was great on this not so popular for WW. The work Jamie Higgins and his group did
to remove some of the recent downed strainers made it very enjoyable and kept the pace going
nicely. Water was a lot faster than normal and water level was above normal as well die to the rain
we received prior. Had a blast just wished the river stayed this way :D BTW It would be great if as
mentioned by the below poster if the Description could be updated to let everyone know there's a
new put in at the bridge with parking and bathrooms. They've also provided a swing and picnic
tables for observers to watch yakers putting in and witnessing the occasional rookie roll.
August 20 2010 (3036 days ago)
Jamie HigginsDetails
I did a video of folks from the GCA paddling the Etowah River - Dawson Forest Section. FYI. The
strainer has since been removed.
September 24 2009 (3366 days ago)
x (1)
so what is the right way to clear a tree?
July 2 2009 (3450 days ago)
Jack ForesterDetails
Ran Hwy 136 to Hwy 9 (River Park) with the kids in my We-no-nah Prospector 15.5'. Water level was
around 120 cfs. Took 3 hrs at a leisurely pace. Several downed trees to deal with. One that we
pulled the canoe over with the two 3 yr olds still in the boat (probably 8" of log above water).
One spot with 2 logs about 3 ft apart 10" above the water that required a boat exit of all members
(the kids seemed to like that). Later, we got to see 3 cows in the river with lots more on river
right. I reminded the kids why you don't want to drink the water... ;) All in all, a good trip, but
would be nice if someone could clear those trees. We saw GK carved into a downed tree that had been
cleared (Georgia Kayaker). I remember seeing Richard clearing trees last fall in this section. Time
for another clearing trip! ;)
March 17 2009 (3557 days ago)
x (1)
Austin Jowers: Are there any primative camping spots along this section of river?
February 6 2009 (3596 days ago)
x (1)
The Hwy 9 put-in/takeout is really nice now (or for a while now).. Can you update the detail on the
"rapids" page? It has a full parking lot, pavilion, and steps down to the river.
October 29 2008 (3696 days ago)
Jack ForesterDetails
Kelly Bridge Takeout is now $3/person. Open dawn to dusk.
October 10 2008 (3715 days ago)
x (1)
Saw Richard Grove ( and some of his friends out in early Sept, after the big
storm in late August, clearing deadfall. He said they cleared from 53 (I think) all the way to
Kelly Bridge.
June 6 2008 (3841 days ago)
x (1)
are they any good rapids on this section?
July 30 2007 (4153 days ago)
x (1)
Martin Wilson (Hugh Stowers to Kelly Bridge) Recreational kayaks. Navigable deadfall that could be
problematic with higher water levels. River thin but runable. Distance - 11.56 miles Time; 3:18 Avg
Speed; 3.5 mph Max Speed; 7.4 mph Water Level; 3.7 Obviously with the water level so low we had to
work for our speed.
June 25 2006 (4553 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
To accomodate Paddle Georgia 2006 on 06/24/06, branches of river-side trees and deadfalls were
trimmed back. For at least a while, that will make the branches less of an issue than usual.
June 12 2006 (4566 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
Paddled the Dawson Forest section with a group on 06/11/06 to cut deadfall for Paddle Georgia. A
few low-water spots and slower current than usual, but still very runnable despite very low water
level (4.05 feet, 102 cfs). Biggest "danger" from two bank to bank logs and a couple of
areas where shallow river middle requires paddlers to deal with the hanging branches along one bank
or the other.
March 22 2006 (4648 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
Paddle Georgia 2006, June 24-30, will begin at Highway 9 in the middle of this reach. The 120 mile
paddle will continue to Rome, where the Etowah and the Oostanaula converge to form the Coosa. On
Saturday, June 24, the portion of the river from Highway 9 to Kelly Bridge Road will be filled with
some 300 paddlers, many with minimal experience. They will put in at Highway 9 and take out at
Highway 372 (Ball Ground Road), 6.9 miles downstream of Kelly Bridge Road.
March 16 2006 (4654 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
The Etowah Scenic River Committee is working to have 6.8 miles of the Etowah River and 14.4 miles
of Amicalola Creek, mostly within the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area, included under
February 2 2006 (4695 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
Streamkeeper: Rick Bellows,

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