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) 00h51m 752 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.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 10 2014 (1655 days ago)
Georgia BoydDetails
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.
July 22 2013 (2008 days ago)
jtebbel (155130)
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.
July 15 2013 (2015 days ago)
jtimmons (155717)
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!
March 19 2012 (2498 days ago)
corsair (154127)
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.
November 1 2010 (3002 days ago)
Jamie HigginsDetails
Tunnel Section below 100 cfs is not recommended. Ran it and it was extremely scrapy and not worth
August 20 2010 (3075 days ago)
Jamie HigginsDetails
I've made a you tube video that films most of the rapids...check out:
I also did a video of GCA members going over chucks shoals:
August 18 2010 (3077 days ago)
hcfd1211 (151669)
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 ?
October 6 2009 (3393 days ago)
x (1)
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.
September 24 2009 (3405 days ago)
x (1)
POST FLOOD: Ran the river from Hwy 9 to Castleberry Bridge, Tues 9-22-09 @ 2 pm. Level on the gauge
at Buckhorn Tavern was 5.7 ft. There is a large pine tree fallen across the river, less than 1/2
mile from the put in. After the put in the river turns west and meanders behind the Pine Valley Rec
Area. The tree is near the end of the rec area as the river turns briefly north. The tree
completely crosses the river. We floated over it at 5.7 ft, but it will be a problem as the river
returns to normal level (anything below 5 ft). Note at this level, Portage Rock located at Etowah
Falls, river right, is almost non-existent. There was also some pretty impressive holes which had
developed at both the upper and lower drops at this level along with a very impressive rooster tail
at the center of the falls (right where the big rocks are at normal levels). Lower part of this
section had alot of fun waves. Took a bunch of pictures to post, but lost the camera just below the
falls (it's a blue Canon, reward if found).
August 30 2009 (3431 days ago)
x (1)
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.
July 10 2009 (3481 days ago)
Jack ForesterDetails
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.
February 20 2008 (3987 days ago)
PaddleHard Details
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.
June 26 2007 (4226 days ago)
Ralph PhillipsDetails
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.
June 8 2006 (4609 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
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.
June 4 2006 (4613 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
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
April 14 2006 (4664 days ago)
Allen PogueDetails
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.
February 2 2006 (4735 days ago)
Rick BellowsDetails
Streamkeeper: Rick Bellows,