Etowah - 3 - Highway 9 to Highway 136

Etowah, Georgia, US


3 - Highway 9 to Highway 136

Usual Difficulty II(IV) (for normal flows)
Length 14.8 Miles

Etowah Falls

Etowah Falls
Photo of Will Reeves by Will Reeves

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
usgs-02389150 100 - 5000 cfs II(IV) 00h36m 137 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); 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.


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.

StreamTeam Status: Verified
Last Updated: 2006-05-30 08:25:26


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Highway 9 (Lumpkin County)Putin
0.8Chuck ShoalsIIHazard Playspot
4.0Etowah FallsIVPortage Hazard Waterfall Photo
4.0Lower Drop of the Falls (a/k/a Rocky Road)IIHazard Playspot Photo
5.6Island ShoalsIIHazard Playspot
5.8Middle ShoalsIIHazard Playspot
5.9Castleberry RapidIIHazard Playspot
6.0Castleberry BridgeAccess Hazard
9.5Etowah TunnelII+Hazard
14.8Highway 136 BridgeTakeout

Rapid Descriptions

Highway 9 (Lumpkin County)
Put in under the south (river right) end of the bridge. Parking is available under the bridge.

Chuck Shoals (Class II, Mile 0.8)
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 4.0)

Old Style

Old Style
Photo of Tommy Price by William Reeves

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 4.0)


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)
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)
Another technical rapid with a small playspot or two. Cleanest route is on river right.

Castleberry Rapid (Class II, Mile 5.9)
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
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)
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
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.

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