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Difficulty II(IV)
Length 14.8 Miles
Gauge ETOWAH RIVER NEAR DAHLONEGA, GA
Flow Range 100 - 5000 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 5 years ago 269 [CFS] 👍 ⚠️
Reach Info Last Updated 05/30/2006 8:25 am

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); Appalachian Outfitters (706-864-7117).

This attractive run can be broken into two parts by putting in/taking out at Castleberry Bridge near the town of Auraria.

The 6-mile section above Castelberry Bridge includes most of the significant whitewater to be found on the Etowah. This section has wooded banks (which are giving way to residences) and several rock bluffs. The river has several Class I-II rapids and two rapids worthy of particular attention, Class II Chuck Shoals and Class IV Etowah Falls.

Chuck Shoals is a fairly straightforward slide that is normally run at an angle from left to the center chute. Scout from the rocks on the right as the banks are private property. Check for logs and debris that tend to accumulate at the top and bottom of the rapid.

Warning Drop, a two-foot ledge located shortly downriver of a large waterside residence on river left, serves as a warning for the upcoming Etowah Falls. Warning Drop can be run using any of several chutes, but the chutes on the left are clearer when the water is low. A long pool below Warning Drop, also known as Look Back Lake, provides ample opportunity to move right in preparation for portaging the Falls.

Etowah Falls, consisting of a 10+ foot ledge between two smaller drops, is just beyond the left turn at the end of Look Back Lake and presents a clear horizon line and a pronounced roar. The first small drop should not be run unless you also plan to run the main drop. Portage along the path on river right, beginning at or above the large rock: the land is owned by the family that operates Appalachian Outfitters, which permits boates to use the path.

The main drop of Etowah Falls can be scouted from the high rocks on river right, also reached by the path: check for others playing in at the Lower Ledge/Rocky Road. In 1980, the main drop was considered a mandatory portage by Sehlinger and Otey and most Etowah boaters portage it, but it has been run often, especially at higher water levels. At normal levels, the usual procedure is to boof the chute just left of center into a narrow landing area: other options are available at higher levels.

The end of the path presents an opportunity to scout the Lower Ledge of Etowah Falls, also known as Rocky Road, and options to run or portage it. Just before the end of the path is a steep drop where it is easier and safer to pass boats than to carry them.

The last half mile before the take-out at Castleberry Bridge includes three technical Class II rapids, Island Shoals, Middle Shoals and Castleberry Rapid: the cleanest path through the first two is on river right and for Castleberry Rapid is on river left. Move right after Castleberry Rapid for the take-out at Castleberry Bridge. Take out at or just below the prominent rocks on river right or, if you prefer, run the last small rapid and take out under the bridge. The walk to Castleberry Bridge Road is short and easy.

The 8.8 mile lower section is much flatter, with only Class I-II rapids, but has pleasant woods and bluffs. The lower section also includes a truly unique feature: 3.5 miles below Castleberry Bridge, much of the river's flow disappears into a quarter-mile long abandoned mining tunnel on river left. Look for a fast-moving stream running away from the river to the left and into a big hole in the side of the mountain: eddy out at tje split to check for debris, strainers, etc. Get out of your boat and look for the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel: if it beckons, even advanced boaters will enjoy the ride. If you can't see the light from the far end when scouting, or if it is partially blocked, avoid the tunnel and stay on the main river.

There are slides in the tunnel (to correct the alignment of the crews working from each end to drill it), there's virtually no light and the noise is intimidating, so hang on, stay seated and keep your limbs in the boat for a fun ride. There's also a hole at the end of the tunnel on river right and a potentially dangerous rock shortly below the tunnel exit, also river right. Because the tunnel is extremely dark, it is important to leave enough time between boats so that anyone swimming in the tunnel can reach safety at the lower end. The tunnel is a challenge, especially at higher water levels, and first-timers should be in a group that includes someone who knows the tunnel.

The usual take-out is under the Highway 136 bridge. Both banks are steep enough to be a challenge when carrying a boat and other gear, and the designated roadside parking area is 100+ yards west of the bridge. Some roadside parking is available on the east (river left) side of the bridge, the climb is easier (or, more accurately, less difficult) on river left, and a gradually climbing path leads from the downriver side of the bridge to the roadside at the southeast corner.

DIRECTIONS:

To reach the put-in, take Highway 9 about 4.5 miles southwest from Dahlonega or north from the intersection with with Highway 136 (about 7.2 miles) or Castleberry Bridge Road (about 5.1 miles). The put-in is under the south (river right) end of the bridge: look for a dirt road on the west side of Highway 9. Parking is available under the bridge.

To reach the access at Castleberry Bridge, take Castleberry Bridge Road west about a mile from Auraria Road (the turn is at the largely abandoned town of Auraria, 6.7 miles north of Highway 136: look for a "historical site" marker on the left or an old, brown, abandoned hotel building on right) or east about 3.1 miles from Highway 9 (the turn from Highway 9 is 5.1 miles southwest of the put-in or 2.1 miles north of Highway 136 (turn just past the tall water tank on the right)). Roadside parking is available and the access is down the path at the northwest corner of the bridge.

To reach the Highway 136 take-out, follow Highway 136 west from Highway 400 or the south end of Auraria Road or east from Highway 9. The designated parking area is roadside and west of the bridge, at the end of the long guardrail on the north shoulder of the road: parking is also available on the other three corners of the bridge. Be careful, as traffic on Highway 136 tends to move fast and lines of sight are limited.

Rapid Descriptions

Highway 9 (Lumpkin County)

Class - Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Put in under the south (river right) end of the bridge. Parking is available under the bridge.

Chuck Shoals

Class - II Mile - 0.75
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
A 100 foot long slide. Scout from the rocks on the right bank, noting any logs and debris. No good portage due to private property on both banks. Run from the left, angling towards the center chute.

Etowah Falls

Class - IV Mile - 4
A set of 3 ledges totalling about 12 feet, the Falls is easily picked out by the horizon line and the roar. Scout from the rocks on the right bank: check for boaters playing at the smaller ledge below. Runnable at higher water levels, usually by boofing just left of center. For the less experienced or at lower levels, the Falls can be portaged via a good path on river right.

Lower Drop of the Falls (a/k/a Rocky Road)

Class - II Mile - 4
The lower level of the Falls is much less challenging and is often used as a playspot. (Be alert for boaters coming over the Falls.) There are several paths down the lower ledge.

Island Shoals

Class - II Mile - 5.6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
A technical, read-and-run rock garden with many possible routes and a couple of small play spots. Cleanest route is to river right.

Middle Shoals

Class - II Mile - 5.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Another technical rapid with a small playspot or two. Cleanest route is on river right.

Castleberry Rapid

Class - II Mile - 5.9
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
A thid techical rapid, this time with the cleanest line on river left. Move to the right below the rapid for take-out at Castleberry Bridge.

Castleberry Bridge

Class - Mile - 6
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Take out on river right, at or shortly below the large rocks, for easiest walk to road. Alternative is to run small rapid and take out under bridge.

Etowah Tunnel

Class - II+ Mile - 9.5
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Dark, loud and wavy, the tunnel is an intimidating challenge for any first-timer. The upper half of the tunnel includes two waves sufficient to roll a boat: the lower half is generally flat water until the hole on the right at the tunnel exit. A rock on river right shortly below the exit can also be a hazard if you exit the tunnel out of control. If possible, safety dictates that you move downstream from the exit to the reconfluence with the main river in order to avoid danger from boats following through the tunnel.

Highway 136 Bridge

Class - Mile - 14.8
Rapid Thumbnail Missing
Take out on either side of the bridge, depending largely on where vehicle is parked. The hill to the left is less difficult, but be careful of rocks at water's edge under the bridge.

Comments

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Ralph Phillips
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11 years ago

Floated the Etowah between Castleberry Bridge and GA 136 on 6/23/07. Haven't had much rain in this area for quite some time, but the river moved pretty good, only had a few times when my boat scrubbed and had to get out and walk a few feet. As said above, stay right at Sawyer's Island (I think it's the first island you come up on), the river to the left is completely blocked. I ran into two spots where a tree blocked the path of the river: one at the cave entrance and one not far above the 136 pull-out. Both are pretty easy to get over. Even at low water levels, the waterflow thru the cave is very quick and deep enough. The ride thru the cave is not one to be missed, one of my best experiences on the river. But be prepared, it is very dark in there. A headlamp may not be a bad thing to have with you.

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Rick Bellows
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12 years ago

Ran from Castleberry Bridge to Highway 136 on 06/04/06, despite very low level (2.95 ft/90 cfs on the Dahlonega gauge, 4.28 ft./127 cfs on the Dawsonville gauge). Very bony, with several areas of shallows in the first half (above the tunnel) with no passable channel. A lot of deadfall, old and new, including several double and triple sets and several river-wide blockages. Stay right at Tom Sawyer's Island (about a mile below Castleberry Bridge) as left channel is totally blocked by deadfall. Also, some idiot ran a zip line across the river just above the tunnel - no problem at these low levels, and probably not at any reasonable level, but be aware of it. Finally, at low water, Class III-IV take-out carry at Highway 136 becomes a muddy (river right) or rocky (river left) Class IV+/V.

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Allen Pogue
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13 years ago

Two kayakers in our group ran the falls well below 300 cfs on 04/09/06. Good boof technique will prevent contact with rock but the line is not more than the width of a boat. The lip of the drop is just left of center.

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Rick Bellows
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12 years ago

There is a fallen sycamore tree partially blocking the river left path through the last section of Castleberry Rapid. At current low water levels, it is not really a danger. At higher levels, it could be a risk to canoers. The river left channel can still be run, but stay to the right of that channel.

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Jim Tebbel
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5 years ago

At around 4.8 ft on the Dahlonega gauge, you should be able to see a small light at the far end of the mining tunnel from the tunnel entrance. At levels above that, the light will become blocked.

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Andrew
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7 years ago

This stretch of river is a real gem. A buddy of mine and I ran this yesterday from Hwy 9 to Castleberry bridge. The river was at 5.17 feet on the Dawsonville Guage and 275 cfs. It was a great run! One of the easiest put-ins and take-outs around. Very little scraping in our inflatable kayaks, and we opted to walk around the falls. We will be bringing our pre-teen children back for this section of river. Other than the falls, the rapids are large enough that they will have a blast without being too dangerous for them. There was one tree fully across the right side of the river a ways downstream of the falls. We pulled the boats across the log and kept going with no problem. This was a sweet spot for river flow and height, I dont' know that I'd want to go any lower than 5 feet and 250 cfs.

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9 years ago

Ran the Etowah from Hwy 52 to Castleberry Bridge on 10/4/09 at 225 cfs. The strainer that was mentioned could be negotiated. You can wiggle underneath the tree on far river right. At a bit higher levels, it might be impassable and require portaging. At 225, the Etowah was boney, but passable. I wouldn't go down it any lower then that.

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Jack Forester
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9 years ago

Ran this on 8/27/2008 from Hwy 52 to Castleberry. Online gauge said it was down to 200cfs by the time we hit the water at 5:30pm (after work). We finished by 8pm, before sundown. We were paddling in 9' kayaks, and at 200cfs. http://trail.motionbased.com/trail/activity/6624316

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Jamie Higgins
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8 years ago

I've made a you tube video that films most of the rapids...check out: http://www.vimeo.com/10540640 I also did a video of GCA members going over chucks shoals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-SJxdLGQ7Y

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PaddleHard
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11 years ago

We ran the river yesterday from the Hwy 9 bridge to the hwy136 bridge. The flow was 140cfs and was ample flow for an nice float. The entrance to the tunnel was 90% blocked but with a little Kayak Limbo, we made it in. What a ride! Just before the Hwy 136 bridge, there is a tree down completely blocking the river. You must go over it to pass.

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Georgia Boyd
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4 years ago

Ran Hwy 9 to 136 on 7/6/2014 - 203cfs. Some significant deadfall between the mine tunnel and Hwy 136. The first was impassable - with help from members of our large group we were able to walk the boats underneath - not too deep up river of log but much deeper on the other side. The second one is a bit better to cross in small space on river right. At higher levels these could be better or a bit worse - either way use caution. The whole run took about 6 hours with a brief stop at the falls for a snack.

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9 years ago

Ran Hwy 9 to Castleberry Bridge on 8/28/09. Level on the GA9 gauge was 173cfs at 4.5 feet. I wouldn't run below 5 feet unless you enjoy getting out to walk your boat across the rocks. One riverwide strainer was navigable by going under on the left of the river. Took 3 and a half hours with several breaks, including stopping at the Falls for 20-30 minutes. Beautiful run, and enjoyable if the water levels are a little bit higher.

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KEN HENDERSON
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8 years ago

Have a queston ? Was gonna run this river tommrrow but talked to a guy and he said it was not a good run but on this site it is showing runnable anyone know ?

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Rick Bellows
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13 years ago

Streamkeeper: Rick Bellows, chestateer@yahoo.com.

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Jamie Higgins
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8 years ago

Tunnel Section below 100 cfs is not recommended. Ran it and it was extremely scrapy and not worth it.

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Jonathan Timmons
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5 years ago

We ran the river this past weekend from Hwy 52 to Hwy 136. River was running at 6.30 feet and 500 cfs. Being our first ever river-kayaking trip, it was quite a challenge and we spent alot of time in the water. We had a great time and it took us around 6-7 hours to make it the whole way. Be cautious of a few strainers on the bottom half of the run, with one requiring a fairly long portage, right above the abandoned Mill. Can't wait to visit the river again!

Gage Descriptions

Online gauge is at the put-in. Flow information also available from Appalachian Outfitters, 706-864-7117.

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Directions Description


We have no additional detail on this route. Use the map below to calculate how to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.

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Rick Bellows